Harpy eagle - Meet the strongest and largest eagle in the world.

Picture of a harpy eagle.

When zoologists first examined the harpy eagle, they were reminded of the winged monster of Greek mythology named harpyja.

According to Greek legends, harpyja would snatch humans with its enormous vulturelike claws.

So this big-clawed eagle was appropriately named harpy, which means, “the snatcher.”

Call it what you wish, it is the harpy’s reputation as a snatcher that prevails—and frightens some people.

To what extent, though, has it earned this notorious name?

Harpy eagle facts

Picture of a harpy eagle.

Because the harpy always keeps a majestic distance between itself and an observer, it does not easily reveal its fascinating secrets.

What does a harpy eagle look like?

The harpy is a solemn study in black, gray, and white.

 Picture it perched like a carved statue in the top of the highest tree of a forest.

Standing three feet (0.9 m) tall, the adult female (one third larger than the male) is the world’s strongest—and largest—eagle.

In size and brute strength, it is the rain forest’s unchallenged aka-granman, or “chieftain of the birds of prey,” as local residents respectfully call it.

True, the harpy’s wingspread is shorter than that of soaring birds of prey like the condor.

But the harpy’s territory has little room for soaring; swift maneuvering and high speed are needed in the dense forest.

And the harpy is well designed for speed.

With strong, deep wingbeats and short glides from treetop to treetop, it swiftly brushes through the forest’s canopy, listening and watching for signs of prey.

There under a tree branch hangs a sloth!

Quickly building up speed to a dazzling 40-50 miles per hour (64-80 km/hr), the harpy dives on its victim.

When only a few feet away from the prey, it turns sideways, thrusting its claws fully forward.

It grabs the sloth, snatches it from the tree, and carries it off victoriously—“snatcher” indeed!

The sudden air raid, though, throws the animal kingdom into turmoil.

What do harpy eagles eat?

Parrots, tree porcupines, opossums, agoutis, and coatis all vanish—and with good reason.

They are all on the harpy’s menu.

But most panic stricken of all are the monkeys.

“As soon as monkeys spot the eagle,” they beat the alarm.

They scream at the top of their voices, knowing it is a matter of life and death.

I have seen them simply drop themselves from treetops, like ripe mangoes falling on the forest floor.

Even the black spider monkeys are scared to death!