The Harpy Eagle is one of those species a birder needs to see in his/her lifetime. It’s the largest eagle of the Neotropics and the most powerful raptor in the world. The wingspan of this massive beast surpasses two metres and the hind talon of an adult easily measures up to 10 cm! The Harpy stands at the top of the food chain in the rainforest but it is rarely encountered, making it a true ‘holy grail’ for birders.
The species is found in low densities in healthy tropical humid forests and is fairly widespread in Amazonia. However, its population is rapidly declining due to habitat destruction, encroachment and excessive hunting of their prey in some areas. Although protected in most countries, the species is still being shot illegally, as Harpy Eagles show little fear of humans and make an easy target. The species has been nearly extirpated in Central America and also in many parts of South America other than the Amazon basin.
A few weeks ago came the report of an active Harpy Eagle nest in the Huaorani territory near the community of Gareno, Napo province, eastern Ecuador. Since I reside in Ecuador, I went to scout the nest site and was able to confirm the report. The nest was found in a tall Ceiba tree and a nearby hillside provided a tactical viewpoint with fantastic eye-level views of the nest, the chick and the adults.
According to Harpy Eagle experts (a research team was there at the same time) the chick was old enough and the viewpoint was located at sufficient distance to the nest for the continuation of visits by birders and photographers. The juvenile is expected to be available for birders for another 1-2 years before it will leave the area in search of a new territory. The adults are expected to be frequently visiting the chick for another 2-3 months before they become more difficult to see.
The hike to the nest site takes about 1-2 hours depending on the pace. It is a moderate-to-difficult hike, with a few steep hills in hot and humid terrafirme Amazon forest. One needs to be reasonably fit in order to reach the nest site. The birding along the way can be very productive, and many other rare species have been recorded in this amazing forest. To give you a better idea of the quality birding at this site, I recorded the following species last week (all in a single day!): Spotted Puffbird, Cinnamon Neopipo, Yasuni Antwren, Long-tailed Woodcreeper (lowland taxon), Cinereous Mourner, White-plumed Antbird, Lemon-chested Greenlet, Chestnut-winged Foliage-gleaner, Banded Antbird, Purplish Jacamar, Nocturnal Curassow (HO), Pavonine Quetzal, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Lanceolated Monklet, Fiery Topaz and Rufous Potoo. The latter is almost guaranteed at Gareno!
Our private department is eager to help you set up a target trip for this dream bird and more! A quick Harpy twitch is easily organised but a longer stay in the area is, of course, also an option. Furthermore, Gareno can be perfectly combined with well-known birding destinations in the eastern Andes like Guango, San Isidro and Wild Sumaco. Please contact us here if you are interested.