The Philippine eagle has been the national of the Philippines since 1995 and is one of the rarest birds of prey in the world. The harpy eagle is the national bird of Panama, depicted in the coat of arms as a symbol of sovereignty. Who would win a fight between these two powerful raptors?
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The Philippine eagle, also known as the haribon in Philippine, is a magnificent large bird of prey with long brown feathers on its head with an impressive cream-brown mane on its neck that resembles the lion’s mane. It has a dark face matched with dark-brown dorsal feathers. This eagle has white undersides, strong yellow legs, and highly curved dark talons. Its beak and eyes have a graying-blue color. Juveniles are not entirely different from adults apart from bright edges on the dark brown plumage of the dorsal part.
The harpy eagle is the largest and most powerful forest raptor named after harpies of Greek mythology which were predatory frightful flying creatures with hooked beaks and claws. This raptor has a distinctive look with feathers on its head that fan into a bold crest whenever threatened. It also has small gray feathers around its head that create a facial disk to focus sound waves hence improving the bird’s hearing abilities. It is generally covered in dark plumage on their backs with gray abdomens, yellow legs, and massive black talons. It has brown or gray eyes.
Female Philippine eagles are typically larger than males with a body length of 3ft 5 in (105cm) and a weight of 13 pounds (6kg) while males are about 3ft 1 in (95cm) long and 10 pounds (4.5kg) heavy. Philippine eagle’s wingspan ranges between 6-7 feet (183-213cm). The bird’s tarsus reaches about 4.8 to 5.7 inches (12.2-14.5cm) while the beak is over 2.76 in (7cm) long.
A harpy eagle, on the other hand, can attain a wingspan of 6.5 feet (198cm). Females can weigh twice the size of their mates, ranging between 13 to 20 pounds (6-9kg) while males weigh between 9-11 pounds (4-5kg). They may measure between 2ft 10in and 3ft 6in (86.5-107cm) in length. Its tarsus ranges between 4-5 in (11.4-13cm) long.
As their name suggests, Philippine eagles are only found in the Philippines. Although the Philippines consists of more than 7000 islands, this bird is only seen in four of them. That is, the Luzon, Mindanao, Samar, and Leyte. The largest population is recorded on Mindanao, hosting between 82 and 233 breeding pairs. In Luzon, they live on the mountains of Sierra Made and the dominant volcano Kitanglad on Mindanao island. Only six pairs can be found on Luzon and two on Leyte.
The largest breeding population of the harpy eagle is found in Panama, close to the border with Colombia. Some were also found in Southern Mexico through Central and South America all the way to northern Argentina. Harpy eagles are a rainforest species hunting in canopies or sometimes on the ground.
The life expectancy of the Philippine eagle in the wild is approximately 30 to 60 years. Harpy eagles are believed to have a longevity of nearly 25 to 35 years in the wild.
Eagles mate for life. Once paired with a partner, they choose to remain a couple, hunting together and raising their offspring together. These birds are apex predators that form an umbrella species. Therefore, conserving them protects other wildlife species.
The haribon is diurnal which means it hunts, builds nests, mates, and goes about its business during daytime hours. Nightfall is time for rest. They are solitary and territorial creatures. Each breeding pair requires about 4000-11000 hectares of forest land to thrive in the wild. The female haribon lays a single egg every two years which is incubated by the parents. This is because they wait for their offspring to make it on their own before they can produce another.
Similarly, harpy eagles are diurnal birds. They spend most of their time perched in trees when they are not hunting or searching for food. Even so, they do not hunt every day because they can feed on the same kill for several days in a row. Unlike the haribon, the female lays two eggs every two to three years, the second one acting as a contingency plan in case the first fails to hatch.
Philippine eagles produce a distinguished noise, typically loud and high-pitched whistles that end with inflections to signify their fierce and territorial characteristics. Juveniles produce a series of high-pitched calls when begging for food.
Harpy eagles do not vocalize much, especially away from their nests. Most calls are let out at the nest or near the nest when the parents announce their deliveries to their offspring. When heard, they can wail, a sound similar to ‘wheee-ooo’, croak, whistle, click, or mew.
The Philippine eagle is an opportunistic predator. Whatever is easiest to catch or most abundant at that particular moment will make a meal. Their diet is highly dependent on region but generally consists of flying squirrels, owls, and hornbills, reptiles, giant fruit bats, flying lemurs, Philippine deer, and not forgetting the macaque monkeys hence their name monkey-eating eagles.
The magnificent harpy eagle preys on heavy sloths or monkeys, macaws, rodents, rabbits, reptiles, frogs, opossums, porcupines, young deer, and iguanas. Heavier kills are consumed on low branches or a stump since they cannot be carried whole to the nest.
Monkey-eating eagles have a quite phenomenal grip pressure of more than 500 pounds per square inch which is ten times stronger than the average grip of a human hand. They are damned with excellent eyesight, eight times clearer than a human’s. This makes them able to locate their prey when soaring high in the skies. Their sharp, powerful talons allow them to cut through prey easily.
Harpies have deadly talons able to exert a grip strength of 530 pounds of pressure per square inch. This is more than enough to crush the human skull and squash your brain like a grape. When hunting, harpies aim for the victim’s spine, crushing its bones to a million pieces and instantly killing them.
Philippine eagles are fast and agile in the air, reaching excess speeds of 40mph (64kph). They can soar vertically between trees at great speed as well.
Harpies have short but broad wings allowing them to fly almost straight up to attack their prey from below and above as well. In a serious chase, they can achieve speeds of 50mph (80kph) but they prefer traveling slowly from tree to tree through the forest.
Haribons have several hunting strategies for scoring a meal. They can either sit and wait for up to 23 hours until they spot their prey or fly from perch to perch through the canopy. Alternatively, some can probe the dense tangles and knotholes in trees searching for a tasty meal. During hunting activities, the pair combine their efforts to easily catch a kill. Usually, one member would act as a distraction to the targeted victim while the other attacks it from behind.
Harpy eagles are exceptional hunters as well but they are not built for true soaring. Their short wings and long tails act like a rudder on a boat to steer through dense vegetation. In fact, they are great at saving their precious energy and would seldom be spotted soaring over the top of a rainforest. Instead, they fly low and use their keen eyesight – so keen to see something less than an inch in size from 200 yards (200m) away – and elevated hearing to pinpoint prey.
Who Would Win?
Well, both raptors are an epic armory damned with large hooked beaks for ripping flesh, strong muscular legs, and powerful talons. To top it all off, they are both apex predators in their respective habitats. It is therefore difficult to predict the winner in a head to head fight. Although the harpy eagle is the largest in the world, crowning it based on size is not a clear cut. Their Philippine cousins are also large in physical dimensions.
Even so, it is possible that this face to face combat could go either way depending on the individual species but the harpy eagle is most likely to bring home the bacon. Here is why. Harpy eagles have a much stronger grip pressure compared to their counterparts, potent as the jaws of a Rottweiler dog. Additionally, the harpies have the longest, record-breaking sized talons in the eagle kingdom which are about 3-4 inches (12cm) long, the same size as a grizzly bear’s claws. This is more than enough to damage the bones of its victims.
Harpies also have a sturdy physique because they have evolved to become truly dominant for a greater number of years. Though the harpy would seize the throne, the might of the haribon is not to be underestimated.