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Home Sections Ecology and the Environment The Haribon (Philippine Eagle)
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Sections - Ecology and the Environment
Sunday, 12 August 2007 16:00

The Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) is one of the rarest, largest and most powerful birds in the world. This bird of prey belongs to the family Accipitridae.

Upon discovery in 1896, it was first called the Monkey-eating Eagle, based on reports that it preyed exclusively on monkeys (hence its generic name, from the Greek pithecus ("ape or monkey") and phagus ("eater (of)") . Later studies revealed, however, that they also prey on other animals such as colugo, civets, large snakes, monitor lizards, and even large birds like hornbills. This, and the fact that the same name applied to the African Crowned Hawk-eagle and the South American Harpy Eagle resulted in a presidential proclamation to change its name to Philippine Eagle. It is also known as Haribon or Haring Ibon, meaning "Bird King"

The Philippine Eagle can be found in rainforests of four major Philippine islands - Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao.

Its numbers have slowly dwindled over the decades with only an estimated 500 pairs left. The Philippine Eagle may soon no longer be found in the wild, unless direct intervention is taken. Go to the Philippine Eagle Foundation or the Haribon Foundation for more information.

{moseasymedia media=http://www.youtube.com/v/1K_G6xQGduw}

The largest eagle in the world

with permission)
Largest or second largest?
By Blas R. Tabaranza Jr.

Norita Scott-Pezett of Audubon-Panama, a fellow BirdLife International Global Council member (1999-2004), was shocked when I told her that, as far as I know, their Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) is the largest eagle in the world! “What?” she responded incredulously. “I thought all along that your Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) is the largest in the world!” Huh? Really?

Since then I started to doubt what I used to know and gladly suspected that she was right. I began to believe that the Haring Ibon is the largest eagle in the world even without any solid basis yet, save for my hazy recollection of two specimens displayed in the Smithsonian Museum at Washington, D.C.

Who or what authority proclaims which eagle is the largest in the world, anyway? What would be the basis? I personally had no access to any documents about it. Or perhaps, I was not looking hard enough in the right places.

Then on September 26, 2004, Haribon Executive Director Anabelle Plantilla and I had a meeting with Dr. Robert Kennedy at the Harvard University Museum of Natural History in Boston. (Dr. Kennedy is the principal author of the book A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines. He has extensively studied the Haring Ibon with excellent video documentation. He is a founding member of the Haribon Foundation).

The author compares an eagle specimen with Dr. Robert Kennedy of the Harvard Museum of Natural History

After a discussion on fund-raising strategies for Haribon, Bob showed us some Philippine bird specimens. And naturally, the Haring Ibon was the first of those specimens! I found myself asking which is larger between the Philippine Eagle and the Harpy Eagle. To my pleasant surprise, Bob believes that our Haring Ibon or Philippine Eagle is the largest eagle in the world!

“The term largest can have different meanings,” he said while pulling out and handling the specimens one by one like a delicate baby. “The Harpy Eagle maybe the largest in terms of bulk or weight, but the Philippine Eagle is the largest in terms of wingspan and height.” There you go—confirmation from no less than Dr. Kennedy!

Bob had a few large specimens of the Harpy and the Haring Ibon to compare before us.

Excitedly, Anabelle took pictures. That did it! The Haring Ibon really is the largest eagle in the world! “But easy, Blas,” I cautioned myself, “pictures are not enough proof!” I eagerly wanted to start doing some measurements but Bob’s wife Ann was already waiting for us at the parking lot. “Wait until you get to Chicago in three weeks,” I consoled myself yet hardly willing to wait that long.

Finally, I got my chance. David Willard, Bird Collections Manager of the Field Museum, graciously led me to steel cabinets number 45 and number 46. He unlocked them and pulled out two large trays with three Harpys on one and two Haring Ibon on the other. “There are two other specimens upstairs, one of each. You can look at them as well, after you’re done with these,” he said and left me to establish proofs for my thesis.

Philippine Eagle Illustration

The specimens were vintage collections dated 1953, 1959, and 1960 (Table 1). One problem I had to deal with was that the only information available on the species were notes on the specimen labels, which lacked important external measurements. When I asked David whether I could get more information from the catalogue, he said “What you see on the labels are what we have in the catalogue.”

I took several photos of the specimens. Then, I started measuring them. The bill, tarsus, talon, and wing measurements were relatively easy. The total length measurements (from the tip of the bill to the tip of the longest tail feather) were tricky because the skins could have been prepared to be bigger or smaller, longer or shorter than they actually were depending on the taxidermist who prepared them. But since there was no other way to do it, I just had to do it as best as I could and hoped the variances or errors were not that significant. The tail length could not be measured because I would risk damaging the specimens if I did it.

When I pulled out the tray containing the two specimens from the cabinet upstairs, large eagle specimens of other species (Golden Eagle, American Bald Eagle, and a Kenyan Eagle) were on the same tray. I decided to measure them too. At the end of the day, I shared my findings with Dr. Larry Heaney of The Field Museum, Chicago and Danilo Balete of Laksambuhay. Not surprisingly, Larry and Danny concurred that there are ways of interpreting what “largest” means. The Harpy Eagle may be the heaviest eagle in the world but certainly the Haring Ibon is the largest eagle in the world based on the documented measurements that I gathered from the available specimens at the Field Museum.

Which is the larger eagle? The harpy or the haribon? Comparing raptor notes.

The raw data are shown on Table 1. Based on a very limited available number of specimens and selected external measurements, we have the following:

Total Length (from tip of bill to tip of longest tail feather):
1. Haring Ibon (average) = 1021 mm or 1.021 meter
2. Harpy Eagle (average) = 900.75 mm or 0.90075 meter
3. Golden Eagle (single) = 884 mm
4. Kenyan Eagle (single) = 855 mm
5. American Bald Eagle (single) = 829 mm

Bill Gape
1. Haring Ibon = 73.66 mm
2. American Bald Eagle = 71 mm
3. Harpy Eagle = 64.75 mm
4. Golden Eagle = 60 mm
5. Kenyan Eagle = 55 mm

Bill Culmen
1. Haring Ibon = 72.33 mm
2. Harpy Eagle = 51 mm
3. American Bald Eagle = 50 mm
4. Golden Eagle = 45 mm
5. Kenyan Eagle = 45 mm

Bill Height
1. Haring Ibon = 50.66 mm
2. Harpy Eagle = 36 mm
3. American Bald Eagle = 33 mm
4. Kenyan Eagle = 33 mm
5. Golden Eagle = 27 mm

Tarsus (Foot length)
1. Haring Ibon = 145 mm
2. Harpy Eagle = 121.25 mm
3. Kenyan Eagle = 115 mm
4. Golden Eagle = 110 mm
5. American Bald Eagle = 95 mm

Talon (Hind toe claw)
1. Harpy Eagle = 64.75 mm
2. Kenyan Eagle = 62 mm
3. Haring Ibon = 55.66 mm
4. Golden Eagle = 55 mm
5. American Bald Eagle = 39 mm

Wing Chord
(from bend or shoulder to tip of longest primary feather)
1. Golden Eagle = 654 mm
2. Haring Ibon = 608.66 mm
3. American Bald Eagle = 570 mm
4. Kenyan Eagle = 545 mm
5. Harpy Eagle = 544.75 mm

External measurements of 5 largest eagle species taken by BRT on stuffed specimens (dry skins) at the Field Museum of Natural History (FMNH) on October 20, 2004. Tail lengths of the 5 species could not be taken from the specimens. Measurements were taken for lack of these information on the specimen labels and FMNH Catalogue.
Species
Bill
(gape culmen)
mm
Bill
(height)
mm
Wing
(shoulder to tip of primary)
mm
Tarsus
mm
Talon
(hind toes)
mm
Total length
mm
Notes taken from specimen labels
Pithecophaga jefferyi
(Philippine Eagle)
FMNH # 213208 (male)
72
77
51
614
150
57
1003
Davao Gulf Mindanao
Pithecophaga jefferyi
(Philippine Eagle)
FMNH # 224493
January 11, 1959
77
75
51
612
145
56
1121
Brookfield Zoo
Pithecophaga jefferyi
(Philippine Eagle)
FMNH # 227023
(immature male)
April 19, 1956
72
65
50
600
140
54
940
Gandawan
Mt. Malindang
Wt. 4041g
Harpia harpyja
(Harpy Eagle)
FMNH# 246538
(immature male)
60
53
33
431
115
55
827
April 8, 1959
Harpia harpyja
(Harpy Eagle)
FMNH# 260141
(Female)
65
55
40
595
125
77
964
Surinam November 26, 1960
Harpia harpyja
(Harpy Eagle)
FMNH# 32150
62
47
34
575
120
61
897
British Guyana
Harpia harpyja
(Harpy Eagle)
FMNH# 371026
march 19, 1953
72
49
37
578
125
66
915
Quito, Ecuador Wt. 14 lbs
Haliaeetus leucocephalus alascanus
(American Bald Eagle)
FMNH#102771
(Male)
71
50
33
570
95
39
829
1932
Aquila chrysaetos canadensis (Golden Eagle) FMNH#101184 (Female)
60
45
27
654
110
55
884
Alberta, Canada
Stephanaeetus coronatus
(Kenyan Eagle)
FMNH#192306
(Male)
55
45
33
545
115
62
855
Ngongong, Kenya

The Haring Ibon tops in 5 of the 7 external measurements, namely, total length, bill gape, culmen, bill height and tarsus. The Harpy tops in 1 out of 7 measurements, namely the talon. In the wing measurement or wing chord, Haring Ibon is only second but Harpy Eagle is fifth.

Well, this is just a simple exercise to illustrate that we now have a basis for proclaiming that “Haring Ibon or the Philippine Eagle is the largest eagle in the world.”

The Harpy Eagle is the “heaviest eagle in the world,” at least one book says so (i.e. Cambridge Encyclopedia of Ornithology (1991)). But we have nothing on hand in terms of data. Surely, there are ways of getting some information on the weight of the Harpy Eagle. This could be done later. And perhaps, it may be nice to check from our friend Dennis Salvador of the Philippine Eagle Foundation if they have data on the Haring Ibon in terms of weight. Who knows what the data might reveal?

Photos by Alejo P. Manaloto
Illustrations by Oscar Figuracion Jr.
Photo of harpy eagle taken from belize zoo website


Notes about the author

Blas Tabaranza Jr. is Director of the Terrestrial Ecosystems Program of the Haribon Foundation. He is a Professor of Zoology at the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology with extensive field experience in ornithology and mammalogy. He was the first president of the Wildlife Conservation Society of the Philippines (1993-2000) and a research associate of the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History.



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Last Updated on Monday, 16 March 2009 09:55
 

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