Neotropical Birds logo
Version 1.0

This is a historic version of this account.  Current version


Harpy Eagle Harpia harpyja

Thomas S. Schulenberg
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2009


Distribution in the Americas

The Harpy Eagle formerly occurred on the Atlantic slope of Central America north to Mexico southern Veracruz. The population in northern Central America is greatly diminished (Vargas et al. 2006); see Historical Changes. In Mexico the Harpy Eagle persists only in a few small areas in southern Veracruz, eastern Oaxaca, and eastern Chiapas (Vargas et al. 2006). Very small numbers persist in Guatemala and Belize, although populations Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama remain more robust (Vargas et al. 2006).

On the Pacific slope of Central America, Harpy Eagles occur on the Osa Peninsula (Vargas et al. 2006) and locally in Panama (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989).
The Harpy Eagle also occurs on the Pacific slope of northwestern Colombia in Chocó (Hilty and Brown 1986). At least formerly it was present in the middle and upper Magdalena valley, south to Tolima; but this region now is largely deforested (Hilty and Brown 1986), and perhaps it no longer occurs there. The Harpy Eagle was not reported from western Ecuador until the early 1970s, where perhaps it once was widespread; the last report from western Ecuador was in 1983, and it is feared that it may extirpated, or nearly so, from this area so soon after its presence there first was detected (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001).

The Harpy Eagle also is widespread from eastern Colombia east to Amapa, Brazil (Haverschmidt 1968, Hilty and Brown 1986,Tostain et al. 1992, Hilty 2003), and south to central Bolivia in Cochabamba and Santa Cruz and east to eastern Brazil south of the Amazon (Sick 1997, Ridgely and Greenfield 2001, Hennessey et al.. 2003, Schulenberg et al. 2007). There also is a disjunct population in eastern South America, from Espirito Santo, Brasil, south to northeastern Argentina in Missiones and southern Paraguay.

The Harpy Eagle is resident throughout its range.

The Harpy Eagle primarily occurs at low elevations. The upper elevational limit in Mexico is 500 m (Howell and Webb 1995), and in eastern Ecuador the records are below 400 m (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001). Most records in Colombia are below 800 m (Hilty and Brown 1986). At least locally or occasionally, however, the Harpy Eagle can occur much higher, with upper elevational records of 2000 m in Costa Rica (Stiles and Skutch 1989), to 1600 m in Colombia (Hilty and Brown 1986), and to 1800 in Venezuela (Hilty 2003).

Distribution outside the Americas

Endemic to the Americas.


The Harpy Eagle occurs in forest, primarily in tropical lowland evergreen forest. The Harpy Eagle tolerates habitat disturbance, as long as a mosaic of habitats that includes sufficient forest is retained.

Historical changes

The Harpy Eagle formerly occurred on the Atlantic slope of southern Mexico in Veracruz, where reported as "not uncommon" in the extreme southeastern portion of the state as late as the late 1940s (Lowery and Dalquest 1951); Tabasco, where apparently known only from 19th century specimens (Brodkorb 1943); northeastern Oaxaca, from which state there are two 19th century specimens (Binford 1989, Escalante-Pliego and Peterson 1993); and in Chiapas (Alvarez del Toro 1971). From southern Mexico the distribution formerly extended south through northern Guatemala and southern Belize south along the Atlantic coast to eastern Panama (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989, Stiles and Skutch 1989, Howell aand Webb 1995). It now is scarce or extirpated from much of this region. Evaluating its status is difficult, however, because the Harpy Eagle may be present at only low densities even in areas where it is present; not surprisingly, the relatively clear picture of its status in an area often emerges only as a result of focused research (Vargas et al. 2006).

The most comprehensive recent overiew of the status of Harpy Eagle is presented by Vargas et al. (2006). Their results are summarized here, but the original paper should be consulted for more detailed information.

In Mexico, there are a few only records in the past 35 years, from only a few small regions in southern Veracruz, northeastern Oaxaca, and eastern Chiapas. See also Howell and Webb 1995 and Peterson et al. 2003.

The Harpy Eagle remains known from multiple sites in Honduras and Nicaragua. Populations are greatly reduced in Costa Rica, however, and the only recent reports are from the Osa Peninsula on the southwest coast (Vargas et al. 2006). The status of Harpy Eagle on the Atlantic slope of Costa Rica is not known, but it may be extirpated from this region, or at least populations there are greatly reduced, although it may persist in the Cordillera de Talamanca or near the Nicaraguan border (Stiles and Skutch 1989).

Although there have been local extinctions throughout the rest of its range, from Panama south, the general distribution of most of the southern populations of Harpy Eagle has not changed. It formerly was more widespread in Atlantic Brazil, however, but the distribution in this region now is greatly restricted (Sick 1997) and it has disappeared entirely from the southernmost areas that it formerly occupied in Rio Grande do Sul (Belton 1984). The Harpy Eagle apparently also once occurred in Salta, northwestern Argentina (Dabbene 1910), but there are no recent reports from this region.

Fossil history

No information.

Distribution of the Harpy Eagle - Range Map
  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Distribution of the Harpy Eagle

Recommended Citation

Schulenberg, T. S. (2009). Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.hareag1.01