Crowned eagle (Harpyhaliaetus coronatus)

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Crowned eagle on ground
IUCN Red List species status – Endangered ENDANGERED

Top facts

  • The crowned eagle is one of the largest birds of prey within its range, and is named for the prominent crest of blackish feathers on its head.
  • The diet of the crowned eagle consists mainly of mammals and reptiles, particularly armadillos, skunks and snakes.
  • The crowned eagle’s call is a powerful, high-pitched whistle.
  • The young crowned eagle is dependent on its parents for over a year, meaning the adults only breed around every 2 years.
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Crowned eagle fact file

Crowned eagle description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderFalconiformes
FamilyAccipitridae
GenusHarpyhaliaetus (1)

Also known as the crowned solitary eagle, the crowned eagle (Harpyhaliaetus coronatus) is a large, powerful bird of prey of open habitats in eastern and southern South America (2) (7). A predominantly slaty-grey bird, it is named for the prominent and distinctive crest of blackish feathers on its head (2) (3) (5).

The wings of the crowned eagle are long, broad and slightly darker than the rest of the body, while the relatively short tail is black with a conspicuous white band and a white tip (2) (3) (4) (5) (7). The undersides of the wings are grey, with black wing tips and black trailing edges (3) (4). The crowned eagle can also be recognised by its yellow legs and feet, bluish-horn beak and yellow cere (2) (3) (7).

The male and female crowned eagle are similar in appearance (3), but juvenile birds are browner above with a cream-coloured head, dark stripe behind the eye, and creamy-white underparts that are streaked with brown (2) (3) (4) (5). Like the adult, the juvenile crowned eagle has a prominent crest on the head (3) (4).

The crowned eagle resembles the closely related solitary eagle (Harpyhaliaetus solitarius) in appearance, and the two birds have sometimes been considered to be the same species (4) (8). However, the crowned eagle is larger than the solitary eagle and has paler plumage, narrower wings, a longer tail and a clear crest (4) (7).

The call of the crowned eagle is a long, powerful, high-pitched whistle (2).

Also known as
crowned solitary eagle, crowned solitary-eagle.
Synonyms
Harpyia coronata, Urubitinga coronata.
Spanish
Aguila Coronada, Aguila de Azara.
Size
Length: 75 - 85 cm (2) (3)
Wingspan: 170 - 183 cm (4)
Weight
up to 3 kg (5)
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Crowned eagle biology

This large bird of prey feeds on a variety of medium-sized mammals, birds and reptiles, as well as some fish and carrion (2) (5) (8) (9) (10). Mammals usually make up most of the crowned eagle’s diet, followed by reptiles (11) (12), with typical prey species including armadillos, skunks and snakes (2) (4) (7) (11) (12). The crowned eagle hunts from a low perch (7) and is usually most active at dawn and dusk (2) (4) (7) (9).

The crowned eagle is usually seen alone or in pairs (5), sometimes accompanied by a juvenile (8). In Argentina, this species usually lays its eggs between August and October, with hatching occurring in November and December (8) (10), while in Brazil it is reported to breed between July and November (5). The crowned eagle’s nest is a large platform of sticks built in a high tree or ravine. In some parts of Argentina, the crowned eagle also sometimes uses the colonial nests of the monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) as a supporting platform for its own nest (10).

The female crowned eagle lays a single white egg (2) (5) (8) (9), which hatches after about 39 to 45 days (5) (10). The egg is usually incubated by the female, with the male only visiting the nest to deliver food (5) (8) (10).

Juvenile crowned eagles leave the nest after approximately 65 to 70 days (10), but may remain dependent on the adults for over a year or more. The breeding pair is therefore only likely to nest every other year (4) (5) (10).

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Crowned eagle range

The crowned eagle ranges from eastern Bolivia and southern Brazil south into Paraguay and Argentina (2) (3) (5) (7) (8). It has previously been recorded in Uruguay, but is now believed to be extinct there (2) (5) (8).

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Crowned eagle habitat

A species of open and semi-open habitats, the crowned eagle is usually found in grassland, bushland, savanna, marsh and open woodland in lowland areas (2) (4) (5) (7) (8) (9).

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Crowned eagle status

The crowned eagle is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (6).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered

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Crowned eagle threats

The crowned eagle is believed to have a very small, highly fragmented population and is thought to be undergoing a significant decline (2) (8). One of the major threats to this species is habitat destruction, with its preferred grassland and wooded habitats being rapidly destroyed by agriculture, cattle ranching, burning, and the planting of non-native trees such as eucalyptus (2) (4) (5) (8) (9). Invasive grasses are also likely to be modifying the crowned eagle’s habitat (2), and increased agriculture has led to the overuse of dangerous pesticides (2) (4) (5) (8).

Another serious threat to the crowned eagle comes from hunting and persecution, often due to the belief that this species preys on domestic livestock (2) (5) (12) (13). This belief appears to be misguided, as studies have shown that the crowned eagle feeds almost exclusively on native prey and that livestock predation is very rare (12) (13). Unfortunately, the crowned eagle’s tameness makes it an easy target for hunters (4).

Other potential threats to the crowned eagle include collisions with cars and power lines, and some individuals have been reported to have drowned in water tanks (2) (13). This eagle may also be at risk from lead poisoning through exposure to lead ammunition residues in the carcasses of animals which have been shot (14).

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Crowned eagle conservation

The crowned eagle is legally protected in Argentina and Paraguay, and hunting of this species is also banned in Brazil (2). Any international trade in this large eagle should be carefully regulated under its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (6).

There appear to be only a few records of crowned eagles within protected areas, but it has been found in Emas and Brasília National Parks in Brazil, Beni Biological Station in Bolivia (2) (9) and a number of protected areas in Argentina (2) (10).

Relatively little is currently known about the crowned eagle and the threats it faces, so it would benefit from further population surveys and more studies into its biology and behaviour (2) (9) (13). Legal protection of this species needs to be enforced (2), and education and awareness campaigns are needed to reduce persecution (2) (12). Conservation and research activities for this species should preferably involve local communities (10) (12).

Research and educational campaigns are already being carried out in Argentina by the Centro para el Estudio y Conservación de las Aves Rapaces en Argentina (CECARA) (15), but similar initiatives are still needed in other parts of the crowned eagle’s range (13). Further recommended conservation measures for this large and charismatic bird of prey include establishing habitat ‘corridors’ to link fragments of suitable habitat, as well as creating more protected areas and investigating other causes of mortality in this species (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

Find out more about the crowned eagle and its conservation:

More information on bird of prey conservation in Argentina:

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Authentication

Authenticated (27/12/12) by Darío Fernández-Bellon, Raptor Conservation Project, BirdWatch Ireland / BirdLife.
https://sites.google.com/site/dfernandezbellon/

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Glossary

Carrion
The flesh of a dead animal.
Cere
In birds, an area of skin at the base of the upper mandible of the beak, surrounding the nostrils.
Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. BirdLife International - Crowned eagle (July, 2012)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3496
  3. Blake, E.R. (1977) Manual of Neotropical Birds. Volume 1: Spheniscidae (Penguins) to Laridae (Gulls and Allies). University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.
  4. Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the World. Helm Identification Guides, A&C Black Publishers, London.
  5. Aves de Rapina do Brasil - Águia-cinzenta (July, 2012)
    http://www.avesderapinabrasil.com/harpyhaliaetus_coronatus.htm
  6. CITES (July, 2012)
    http://www.cites.org/
  7. Schulenberg, T.S. (Ed.) (2010) Crowned eagle (Harpyhaliaetus coronatus). In: Neotropical Birds Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
    http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=126356
  8. Global Raptor Information Network: Species Account - Crowned solitary eagle (July, 2012)
    http://globalraptors.org/grin/SpeciesResults.asp?specID=8041
  9. BirdLife International. (1992) Threatened Birds of the Americas. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK. Available at:
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/userfiles/file/Species/AmRDBPDFs/Harpyhaliaetus_coronatus_eng.pdf
  10. Maceda, J.J. (2007) Biología y conservación del águila coronada (Harpyhaliaetus coronatus) en Argentina. Hornero, 22(2): 159-171.
  11. Lobos, R.P., Santander, F.J., Orellana, S.A., Ramírez, P.A., Muñoz, L. and Bellón, D.F. (2011) Diet of the crowned eagle (Harpyhaliaetus coronatus) during the breeding season in the Monte Desert, Mendoza, Argentina. Journal of Raptor Research, 45(2): 180-183.
  12. Sarasola, J.H., Santillán, M.Á. and Galmes, M.A. (2010) Crowned eagles rarely prey on livestock in central Argentina: persecution is not justified. Endangered Species Research, 11: 207-213.
  13. Sarasola, J.H. and Maceda, J.J. (2006) Past and current evidence of persecution of the Endangered crowned eagle Harpyhaliaetus coronatus in Argentina. Oryx, 40(3): 347-350.
  14. Saggese, M.D., Quaglia, A., Lambertucci, S.A., Bo, M.S., Sarasola, J.H., Pereyra-Lobos, R. and Maceda, J.J. (2009) Survey of lead toxicosis in free-ranging raptors from central Argentina. In: Watson, R.T., Fuller, M., Pokras, M., and Hunt, W.G. (Eds.) Ingestion of Spent Lead Ammunition: Implications for Wildlife and Humans. The Peregrine Fund, Boise, Idaho.
  15. Centro para el Estudio y Conservación de las Aves Rapaces en Argentina (CECARA) (July, 2012)
    http://www.cecara.com.ar/english/index.htm
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Image credit

Crowned eagle on ground  
Crowned eagle on ground

© Eduardo Pio Carvalho / sosfalconiformes.org.br

Eduardo Pio Carvalho / sosfalconiformes. org. br
EPC Wildlife Productions / S.O.S. Falconiformes
Belo Horizonte, MG
Brazil
eduardo@sosfalconiformes.org.br
http://www.sosfalconiformes.org.br

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