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Oberlin College

Publication Date

Fall 2016

Program Name

Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation


The Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja), the largest and most powerful bird of prey in the Americas, is declining throughout its range in Neotropical forests. Hunting and deforestation threaten populations in the most important remaining eagle habitat in Central America, the Darien province of Panama. These eagles may have the longest postfledging juvenile dependency of any raptor, though juvenile behavior during this period is poorly studied. This study monitored an 11-month-old juvenile for 7 days at a nest near the indigenous community of Pijibasal in order to study behavior and diet. Researchers recorded the juvenile’s location and behavior, studied prey remains and wildlife in the area, and witnessed 2 prey deliveries from the parent birds. The juvenile depended on the parents for food, but had begun exploring the area around the nest and practicing hunting motions. No behavioral information on wild H. harpyja at this age has been published, although the findings from this study agree with the hypothesis that juveniles progressively gain independence and disperse from the parental territory during their first 2 years.

The nest-monitoring project began several years prior to this study, involving members of Pijibasal as well as other organizations such as ANCON and Fondo Darién. Interviews were conducted with community members to learn about local involvement and perceptions on conservation. Judging by interviews, tourism and research projects in Pijibasal successfully reconcile local needs with biodiversity conservation. H. harpyja conservation efforts should focus on preserving H. harpyja habitat, studying juvenile dispersal, and involving local communities, particularly given the potential of this flagship species to promote tropical forest conservation by attracting international support.


Animal Sciences | Animal Studies | Environmental Studies | Latin American Studies | Life Sciences | Population Biology | Poultry or Avian Science | Systems Biology | Zoology


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