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Harpy Eagle Releases in Belize
Marta Curti — in Harpy Eagle Conservation and Research    ShareAt the end of October, I flew to Las Cuevas Research Station, in Belize to check on the status of the four Harpy Eagles we had released there in April and June of this year, respectively. I was excited to see the birds again. It had been more than four months since I had last set eyes on these particular Harpies. I was also going to meet two new volunteers for the first time and help them set up individual feeding trees for the eagles.

Eva Mac and Jennifer Struthers at the Las Cuevas Research Station
Eva Mac and Jennifer Struthers at the Las Cuevas Research Station
Feeding trees are an important aspect of the release program as they allow us to control the amount of food that each individual bird is getting. In this manner, we can encourage the older birds to begin hunting on their own by cutting back slightly on the amount of food they receive from us.

The first step in setting up a remote feeding station is tracking and locating the birds using radio telemetry. Once the bird has been found, ideally in an area away from the hack site and any human activity, we locate a sturdy branch that is visible and easily accessible to the eagle, and relatively high up from the forest floor. We then use a sling shot to shoot a line over this branch. Rats or other food items can then be tied to this rope, hoisted, and secured to the tree limb from the ground. If all goes well, the bird will continue to return to this site to feed.

After a long day of traveling, I arrived late in the evening at Las Cuevas, as the road was hard going, as always, and made worse by the onset of the rainy season. So, I would have to wait until the following morning to get a look at the eagles I had traveled so far to see. However, I did get to meet Shelly Johnson and Jennifer Struthers, our two newest volunteers. I also got to see Eva Mac again, our veteran volunteer who will be heading back home in less than a month.

The following morning, we began our day at 5:30 a.m., attempting to locate Stella, (Blue LG) the younger of the two females and, out of the four, the one that has traveled the farthest through the Chiquibul area. Unfortunately, she was on the move that day and pretty soon all four eagles were feeding at the hack box. Though this didn’t bode well for our feeding tree efforts, it was great for me as I had the opportunity to see all four Harpies and they looked great. Ophelia, the oldest female, and, admittedly, the least adventurous of the bunch, continues to spend her days hanging out very close to the hack site. The other three, Penta and Flicker, both males, and Stella have all traveled extensively, for Harpy Eagles that is, and return every two or three days to feed. On that same day, I also had the pleasure of seeing a Bat Falcon sharing a perch with a Turkey Vulture and later, a gray fox lurking through the hack site!

Shelly Johnson tracking eagles at the Las Cuevas Research Station
Shelly Johnson tracking eagles at the Las Cuevas Research Station
Over the course of the week, we made several other attempts to set up feeding trees for the eagles, without luck. Finally, the day I was scheduled to leave, we located Flicker, the young male, a good distance from the hack site at approximately 5:45 a.m. He was located in a dense part of the forest with very few choices of limbs that would make good feeding trees. Any clear limbs were too high to shoot a line over, other lower branches were covered in leaves, vines, and epiphytes, making it difficult for the eagle to both see the food and land on the branch. Finally, by 7:45 we had located a good limb and had managed to set up the feeding tree. Flicker, all the while, remained perched high above us. I left Las Cuevas only a few hours later.

Today I received word that the feeding tree worked and Eva, Shelly, and Jen have already set up an additional tree for Penta, the older male. In the next few weeks, each eagle should have its own feeding station and we can then begin to incrementally reduce the amount of food for each bird, thus gently pushing them towards independence; the next major phase of the release program

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