Harpy eagles were first exhibited at the San Diego Zoo in 1940. In 1987, a zoo-bred male arrived from Germany’s Tierpark Berlin and, with the intent of forming a breeding pair, was joined in 1991 by a female from a zoo in Colombia. The pair produced a chick in 1992, which unfortunately died in the nest at less than nine days of age. In November 1994, their second chick, a male, made avian history as the first harpy eaglet successfully hatched and raised in captivity in North America.
Today, you can enjoy wonderful views of one of our harpies on exhibit on the Zoo's Eagle Trail. The exhibit features a full-flight enclosure with large trees and lush vegetation. A permanent structure at the rear of the exhibit provides a nesting platform. Nesting material is placed in the exhibit, but the size, shape, and form of the nest is up to the birds. The rocky outcropping that serves as the nesting platform hides a chamber that allows keepers to gain access to the nest. We also have harpy eagles on breeding loans to other zoo institutions.
You would think that the massive harpy eagle is invincible. But think again. Each harpy eagle pair needs several square miles of undisturbed forest to thrive. Since these eagles are nonmigratory, they hunt their established range continuously. Years of logging, destruction of nesting sites, and poaching have eliminated this bird species from much of its former range, especially the northern part, and it is now rare in many areas. Their most current threat comes from hunters shooting the birds for sport. Harpy parents raise, at most, a single eaglet every two years, so once the number of harpy eagles in a particular area has been reduced, it is hard for the population to recover.
Until recently, the San Diego Zoo was the only zoo in the United States to breed this rare species. Now Zoo Miami has reared a chick from parents that originated from our Zoo! Fifteen harpy eagles have hatched here since 1992, and in 1998, two offspring were released into their native habitat in Panama. We continue to work with The Peregrine Fund, which launched the Harpy Eagle Release Project in 1989, to help harpy eagles in the wild and keep these magnificent eagles aloft.