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Another step in our learning: GPS technology and the capture of an adult Harpy Eagle in the wilderness of Darien,Panama
José de Jesús Vargas González — in Harpy Eagle Conservation and Research    Share

Hidden among the vegetation that provide habitat for large Neotropical predators as Harpy Eagles and Jaguars, Calixto Conampia, Rutilio Calderon, Darisnel Carpio and me, waited in silence for three consecutive days (thirty-six hours time sloth between 6 am and 3 pm) until we captured the adult female Harpy Eagle in the fourth day in the province of Darien, Panama. The eagle was captured in the vicinity of the nest, which is located an hour and fifteen minutes from an indigenous Embera community that collaborates and participates in the Harpy Eagle Conservation and Research Program.

Harpy Eagle Chick in Darien

The capture took place at 2:15 in the afternoon. The main purpose to capture this Harpy Eagle was to mark her with a GPS-PTT radio transmitter, and initiate the process of satellite monitoring. This will help to enhance and enrich the bio-ecological information that we need from this endangered species, which is necessary to strengthen decision making that will contribute to safeguarding their populations. Additionally, we collected morphological data (tarsus, beak, claw, wing and body length, as well as weight, etc.).

Collecting morphological data from wild Harpy Eagle

After completing the marking procedures in approximately 90 minutes, we released the Harpy Eagle. Almost immediately, she flew up and perched in a Berba tree. She was watching the transmitter antenna with “a bit of concern” for a few minutes. After observing and pecking at the antenna, she shook her feathers and flew to another tree located near the nest. During this period, she was preening and watching her chick, which was inside the nest. An hour later, she flew to the nest, sat close to the chick, and remained there until our departure.

The next day, early in the morning, we started monitoring this impressive female Harpy Eagle. We located her few meters away from the nest, perched quietly in an Espavé tree. It's interesting how a bird as big as the Harpy Eagle, can be camouflaged so well in the forest canopy! During our observation, the eagle occasionally observed the strange "artifact – radio transmitter –" that was on her back. After perching for a couple of hours, she flew to the nest and shared vocalization with her offspring. Since the eagle was the focus of our observations, we closely monitoring her. This monitoring procedure continues until today, and everything is fine with her.

Technician Rutilio Calderón looking for the

Harpy Eagle using VHF telemetry

Undoubtedly, the Harpy Eagle is a majestic, elegant and impressive bird of prey that inhabits the forest canopy. During the waiting period (before capture), we observed twice the male Harpy Eagle bringing prey to the nest (Three-toed sloths), and also we documented, how the female rudely chased the male out of the nest, and took possession of the prey to feed. In both occasions, the female fed first, and afterwards offered the food to the chick.After that, the chick appropriated the prey and fed by itself.

During our observations, we documented interactions between this Harpy Eagle “family” (between male and female, and female and chick). After we watched that the chick stayed silent and quiet while the adult female fed, Calixto (one of the local technicians) told me that in nature, animals have different ways to communicate and it is impressive how they understand and learn very quickly to avoid danger.

This trip in Darien was the first step of a new learning experience and now we are using novel (GPS) technology to improve our human understanding on behavior and ecological requirements of this unique species.

Find more articles about Harpy Eagle, Neotropics

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