Trying to find Big Harpy Eagles in Panama

Trying to find harpy eagles

Panama ranks as top-of-the-line birdwatching spots on this planet and plenty of uncommon species thrive on this tropical isthmus. However I used to be drawn to go to the slender strip of land linking South and Central America by one of many world’s largest and most opulent birds of prey: the harpy eagle. 

close up of harpy eagle in trees beak open as it calls

Panama’s nationwide hen

The harpy eagle is the nationwide hen of Panama and has been on my bucket listing for a while. Named after the harpies of Greek mythology, ugly girls with the our bodies of birds, this gigantic eagle is probably the most highly effective raptor on earth and its rear talons can measure 5 inches – greater than the claws of a grizzly bear. 

A protracted journey to seek for harpy eagles

To see it, I travelled from the UK to the Darién rainforest the place I used to be a visitor of Cover Camp. This eco-lodge is situated on the fringe of this dense jungle and I had had been instructed that the guides there knew the place there was a nest with a harpy eagle chick on it.

brightly coloured rufous-motmot bird perched on branch
A vibrant rufous motmot hen

After my lengthy journey I used to be desperate to search for it right away, however I couldn’t assist however be distracted by the thrill of wildlife within the camp. Type the very high of the tree cover proper to the bottom, the place teemed with brightly colored birds and unique animals.

Tourism is significant to Panama’s economic system and the house owners of Cover Camp had been eager to indicate off the sheer number of wildlife this area has to supply. Hummingbirds flashed on hen feeders not noted to draw them and troops of monkeys dashed about snatching up bananas from feeding stations. I noticed a motion via the dense undergrowth and moments later a band of white-nosed coatis appeared, their stripey tails held aloft as they foraged.  

white faced capuchin monkey chewing on stick
White-faced capuchin monkey

Then some white-faced capuchin monkeys got here to the feeding space. I watched one seize as many bananas because it may and scurry away with one in its mouth, one in its palms and one tucked beneath its armpit. Additional up within the timber on a protracted horizontal department had been a bunch of Geoffroy’s tamarins. Their high-pitched calls gave their location away they groomed each other in flip. In the meantime all about had been extra brightly colored birds than my mind may soak up.  

Journey to the Darien Hole

On my second day we got down to attempt to see the harpy eagle. We had a 40-minute drive down the Pan American Freeway. This 30,000 km community of roads take you proper throughout the Americas, from the very high of Alaska to Tierra del Fuego on the very tip of Argentina. mist hanging over jungle in darian gap panama

The highway additionally kinds Panama’s central freeway because it travels alongside the size of this slender nation. But it surely stops 97kms earlier than the Colombian border the place a decent community of rivers, mountainous terrain and dense jungle vegetation is makes the area just about impenetrable.  Generally known as the Darién Hole, this area is without doubt one of the wildest locations on this planet and is simply actually traversable by boat. On the Chucunaque River, Panama’s longest, we swapped our automotive for a dugout canoe and headed downstream. 

a canoe with photographers filmin the darian jungle on the chucunaque river
Canoeing on the Chucunaque River

Traversing swamps on horseback

After 35 minutes we arrived at a farm and lifted our heavy digicam gear up a muddy financial institution earlier than treading haphazard board walks to satisfy Mariano, the pinnacle of the González household who personal La Escondida farm. Chickens and muscovy geese ran at our ft and herds of cattle grazed the swampy land. There have been no farm buildings, only a breezeblock home with a tin roof the place the household lived. On the home we discovered a row of horses ready for us. Mariano and his household are enormously pleased with the truth that they’ve harpy eagles nesting on their land and had been very eager to take us to see them. 

artist robert e fuller on horse back with farmhouse behind

However the subsequent stage of our journey was probably the most tough. Enormous, darkish clouds had been gathering above us, threatening to flood the already water-logged floor and make it much more tough to traverse. However at this level in my journey nothing was going to cease me attending to the harpy eagle nest.

Dripping in sweat from the humidity, I acquired steadily wetter as I loaded my digicam baggage onto the ready horses.  I hadn’t been on a horse since I used to be a younger boy, and I started to really feel equally childish when considered one of Mariano’s sons reached lead me and horse throughout the panorama.  But it surely quickly grew to become apparent why we would have liked horses. The mud reached as much as the animal’s knees and the lads repeatedly misplaced their boots within the bathroom. Not solely had I just lately torn a ligament in my knee, however even when I hadn’t there was no means I may have carried my heavy digicam gear throughout this swampy land on foot.  

First sighting of a harpy eagle

After an hour, the moist pastures gave solution to timber and shortly we had been again within the forest. Right here the forest was too dense for horses and so we continued on foot. I used to be getting scorching and feeling saddle-sore by the point our information, Eliecer, ultimately pointed a finger to a small hole excessive within the tree cover. 

And there it was. An enormous nest, resting within the fork of a cuipo tree. Cuipo timber are the biggest timber of this area and measure as much as 200ft excessive, towering excessive of the remainder of the cover.  All the pieces on this forest appeared super-sized, and so after I noticed a feminine harpy eagle sitting contained in the nest, it felt so surreal. Like coming throughout a legendary big in an outsized land.  

harpy eagle with chick in nest

Harpy eagles are revered all through the Americas

Right here was the world’s strongest hen of prey, simply 60m away. As I scrambled to get my cameras, I couldn’t fairly consider my eyes. The harpy eagle is so spectacular it’s revered throughout Central and South America. As I educated my lens on it, it referred to as out, a protracted whistle that rang out throughout the forest.  

Eliecer mentioned the sound meant she was hungry and was calling for the male to carry meals. After which a small white head appeared over the rim of the nest. A chick about one month previous. The feminine leaned over it, her solely chick, and for a second she regarded fiercely protecting.  Mesmerised, we watched her and her chick for a complete of six hours, ignoring the humidity. All through, the feminine referred to as repeatedly for meals. Then she took flight, her big two-metre wings at full unfold as she headed off into the forest. 

Ready for a male harpy eagle

However she didn’t go far, and I may simply see her in a close-by tree. She was tussling with one thing which made me suppose she was looking, however then she arrived again with a department and it appeared that she was simply refreshing the nest with some greenery. 

She did, nonetheless, appear hungry and stored looking the nest for meals in useless. Males don’t carry meals day by day we had been starting to surrender hope on seeing her mate in any respect after we heard the male lastly return the feminine’s calls.  Then hastily, the male flew into the nest carrying prey. It was onerous to see what he had introduced because it stuffed his talons, however we watched the feminine take it from him and start to feed it to the chick. 

male harpy eagle perched in branch of tree

The male was smaller than the feminine. We watched him look across the nest earlier than flying as much as the department above. He was there lengthy sufficient for me to get some superb footage of him after which he took flight, melting again into the forest.  

Harpy eagle has nearly legendary standing

Though harpy eagles are extremely strong- they repeatedly catch sloths and monkeys – their wingspan is considerably smaller than that of, say a sea eagle, which is smart as a result of they stay in dense forest the place they want to have the ability to fly between timber.  It was tough to pull myself away nevertheless it was time to move again and so we set off to observe our journey in reverse: strolling via the forest, driving on horseback throughout the swamp, canoeing down the river and at last again into the automotive.  

As we re-joined the Pan-American Freeway a rainstorm burst over our heads. However I barely observed it as I believed concerning the unbelievable day I had had. Harpy eagles are so uncommon and elusive, I felt I had entered a fabled world and watched a mythological hen.  


Robert Fuller was a visitor of Cover Tower ( To expertise an identical wildlife watching journey to Panama, he has teamed up with UK-based tour operator Wildfoot Journey to create bespoke wildlife and hen watching itineraries. For extra data observe this hyperlink: 


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