Early explorers in South America must have been stunned at the sight of this huge bird. They were so impressed that they named it after a frightful half-avian, half-woman monster of Greek mythology-the harpy.
Today the striking appearance of the harpy eagle inspires wonder. Standing three feet tall and having a wingspan of up to seven feet, this bird of the Central and South American rain forests is one of the biggest and most powerful eagles in the world. Commensurate with this size, harpy eagles are armed with powerful talons that grow to about five inches in length, twice that of bald-eagle talons. Moreover, according to National Geographic Today, harpy-eagle talons are so strong that they can crush the bones of their victims, often killing them instantly. Despite the harpy eagle’s great size and formidible weaponary, however, it flies so quietly that it my not even be noticed as it pases overhead.
Although humans have little to fear from the harpy eagle, the bird has cause to fear man. Poaching and the destruction of the forest habitat put the bird on the endangered species list, and sightings in the wild are now rare. In an effort to save the harpy eagle, Panama declared it the national bird, and convicted poachers there face stiff sentences.