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Birds of Prey: The Philippine Eagle
Also known as the Monkey-Eating Eagle, the Philippine Eagle is considered to be the largest eagle species in the world based on its length. Found only in the Philippines on four of the country’s major islands, the Philippine Eagle is one of the rarest birds of prey in the world. With current estimates placing the population of the bird at only 180 to 500 eagles remaining in the wild, it is clear that this majestic bird of prey will need help to ensure its long term survival.
What separates the Philippine Eagle from other large eagle species aside from its sheer size is its beautiful shaggy, light brown crest that brings to mind a lion’s mane. With a dark face, dark brown back and white underside and wings, this is one stunning bird. Their large legs are vibrant yellow and this eagle has steely blue-grey eyes and a very large dark grey bill. As would be expected they have extremely large talons for hunting.
As with other large eagles the female is about ten percent larger than the average male, and can measure up to three and a half feet in length. Its six to seven foot wingspan, while shorter than other large eagle species, still presents an imposing figure.
Their weight will vary depending on their size and age with the largest females weighing up to 18 pounds. While its length makes the Philippine Eagle the largest eagle in the world, its weight is less than that of the Harpy Eagle and Steller’s Sea Eagle so crowning a “biggest eagle” champ is not a clear cut choice. Regardless, of which species is the largest, they are all magnificent creatures and will impress the heck out anyone fortunate enough to see one in the wild.
Habitat & Range
The Philippine Eagle is found only in the Philippines on the islands of Luzon, Leyte, Samar, and Mindanao. Mindanano has the highest number of eagles with between 80 and 230 breeding pairs. The other islands contain only a few birds with Leyte having only two breeding pairs. They prefer tropical lowland rain-forests and can be found from the lowlands up to about 6,000 feet in elevation.
This species does require a rather large area in which to hunt, upwards of 50 square miles. This is especially true when raising a chick and is one of the issues it faces in its long term survival. With deforestation occurring at an alarming rate in the Philippines the amount of old-growth forest remaining is dwindling quickly.
Despite their size the Philippine Eagle is a fast and agile aviator. Initially believed to feed primarily on monkeys, recent studies have found this to not be the case. The Philippine Eagle is an opportunistic hunter and will prey on whatever is available and abundant. Their diet consists of a variety of prey including lemurs, cloud-rats, lizards, snakes, monkeys, squirrels, bats and other birds. They will even go after small pigs and dogs if presented with the opportunity.
Another issue to the long-term survival of the Philippine Eagle is its long breeding cycle, which lasts two years. As with most other birds of prey the Philippine Eagle mates for life and the female is sexually mature at about five years of age. The pair will construct a nest, which can reach up to five feet in diameter and will consist of sticks and green foliage.
Most often only one egg is laid but on occasion there can be two. Both the male and female will share in the incubation duties but the female does most of the work. The incubation period will last for approximately sixty days and once the eaglet is hatched both parents will help in the feeding. Fledging takes place after four to five months and the parents will continue to care for the young eagle for up to 20 months. This long care period is why the Philippine Eagle can only breed every two years. It can take over 300 days for the young eaglet to make its first kill so they are very dependent on their parents for food for a long period of time.
- The Philippine Eagle was declared the national emblem of the Philippines in 1995.
- The first eaglet raised in captivity was named Pag-asa, which is the Tagalog (language of the Philippines) word for “hope”.
- The Philippine Eagle can live to between 30 to 60 years.
- Based on body length the Philippine Eagle is the largest eagle in the world. Factoring in weight as a measuring factor still places the Philippine Eagle as one of the top three biggest eagles in the world.
- The Philippine Eagle is also known as the Monkey-Eating Eagle or the Great Philippine Eagle.
- Despite having the name Monkey-Eating Eagle, the Philippine Eagles favorite prey is the flying lemur.
- The Philippine Eagle was first discovered by English explorer John Whitehead in 1896.
- The exact population of Philippine Eagles remaining is unknown due to the extreme difficulty in performing a census of of the bird in the dense rain-forests of the Philippines.
- Famous aviator Charles Lindbergh was so taken and fascinated by the Philippine Eagle that he traveled to the Philippines many times towards the end of his life to persuade the Philippine government to protect the species.
With so few Philippine Eagles remaining in the wild it should come as no surprise that they are listed as critically endangered. With no more than 500 eagles remaining in the wild the prospects for their long-term survival are slim. The Philippines has taken measures to protect its beautiful national bird and killing a Philippine Eagle is now punishable by law with a twelve year jail sentence.
The major obstacles facing the Philippine eagle continue to be deforestation and the ever expanding agricultural need for land in the Philippines. Between deforestation, pollution, exposure to pesticides and poaching it seems to be an uphill battle for this species.
The Philippine Eagle Foundation, established in 1987 is dedicated to protecting this species and has an ongoing captive breeding program in place, which has conducted the release of captive-breed birds into the wild. Currently home to 36 Philippine Eagles, the foundation is committed to the survival of the species and to creating an environment in which this beautiful bird can thrive. Let’s hope that this majestic bird is given a fighting chance at survival. It would be such a shame if mankind allows this king of the Philippine rain-forest to become extinct.
- Philippine Eagle Foundation Official Website
The Philippine Eagle Foundation firmly believes that the fate of our vanishing Philippine Eagle, the health of our environment, and the quality of Philippine life are inextricably linked.
© 2013 Bill De Giulio