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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Harpy Eagle Releases in Panama
Marta Curti — in Harpy Eagle Conservation and Research    ShareThings have been pretty active at the Harpy Eagle release site in Panama these past few weeks. We now have 15 free-flying eagles, several of which began to disperse long distances from the release site all at the same time! Though this is good news for the project and for the birds – as it means they are becoming more independent and are beginning to hunt a bit on their own, it means a lot of hard work for the volunteers and staff who have to keep up with them.

We have had the good fortune of being able to see most of the birds that are far from the hack site (there are currently five of them) with wild caught prey at least two or three times so we know that they are able to catch food on their own. One female named Pannaba, however, is on the move and we have not once seen her with prey. We have also gotten some good looks at her feet which will turn a bright yellow once she has begun to hunt regularly, but we have seen little change in their color. Right now, she is our greatest concern as we do not know if she can survive yet on her own without supplemental food from us. So, every five days or so (Harpy Eagles do not need to eat everyday and in the wild may eat about two times a week, or so) we have to trek through the forest in order to find her and get her some food. She is an elusive bird that tends to move around a lot, and we often do not even pick up her signal from where we saw her only days before. This complicates things a bit as we can spend hours and even days hiking through the forest looking for her with no luck! This week, after more than seven days had passed without even getting a signal, we decided we had to track her from a small plane, locate her signal, get the GPS point, and then send in the volunteers from the ground.

While all this was happening, we had also begun trapping several of these eagles in order to change their transmitters, as the batteries tend to last only a little more than a year and many will soon be on their “last legs.” To make things even more complicated, two young Harpy Eagles had fledged in the flight chambers and were ready to be placed in the hack box, while another two, already at the hack site, were ready for release. With three volunteers, Angel and myself, it goes without saying that we had our hands full.

As the saying goes, however, all is well that ends well. Angel was able to locate Pananaba’s signal from the air and the volunteers are on their way to look for her. Two new eagles were placed in the hack box and two more were successfully released and are doing well.
Tomorrow we head out again, this time to trap an independent bird that we hope to re-release in Bocas del Toro, Panama. If we are successful, we will all be able to take a breath and relax, if only for a day!

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