Harpy Eagle: National Bird of Panama

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: December 27, 2022
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Panama has around 1,000 different species of birds, from the tiny sapphire-throated hummingbird to the large colorful tropical birds like keeled-billed toucans and the blue-and-yellow macaw. With a mix of mountains and rainforests as well as a coastline on both sides of the country it is not a surprise that such a variety of birds make Panama their home. With so many amazing birds to choose from how do you choose just one to represent your country? Did Panama choose the chatty macaw or the beautiful resplendent quetzal with its emerald flowing tail feathers? What about the wise great horned owl? Read on to find out all about the national bird of Panama.

What is the National Bird of Panama?

The national bird of Panama is the harpy eagle. While the macaw, quetzal and owl would all be good choices, the harpy eagle embodies the strength and power that Panama represents. The harpy eagle is the largest eagle in the Americas. Their powerful talons are thicker than hawks and very long with some reaching 5 inches, that’s as big as a bear claw! Standing 3-3 ½ feet tall, about as tall as your average kitchen counter, these majestic birds are a fitting symbol for the country.

The national bird of Panama is the harpy eagle.

The national bird of Panama is the harpy eagle, a symbol of Panama’s strength and power.


How Did Panama Choose their National Bird?

The harpy eagle was named the national bird of Panama on April 10, 2002. The combination of strength and beauty is what makes this raptor such a favored bird. Every year on April 10 the country of Panama celebrates National Harpy Eagle Day as a way to remember to elegance of this species.

What is a Harpy Eagle?

Harpy eagles are large raptors, similar to American Bald Eagles. They have black wings with a white chest and gray head. The ornamental feathers on their heads can be spread out or lay flat. The sharp curved beak is used to tear into its prey and their yellow feet are equipped with powerful talons. Both the males and females look similar in coloration, with the females being a little larger.

Harpy eagles have ornamental feathers on their head

Harpy eagles are large raptors with ornamental feathers on their heads can be spread out or lay flat.

©Beker Yepez/Shutterstock.com

Where Do Harpy Eagles Live?

The harpy eagle lives in Central America and South America. They can be found as far north as Mexico and down to northern Argentina. In Panama they are mostly located in the eastern region of the Darien Province. They make their home in the rainforests where there is an abundance of food. Harpy eagles make massive nests that can get to be as big as a double bed. Harpy eagles live in pairs, sharing one nest and mating for life.

Harpy eagles make their home in the rainforests of Panama

Harpy eagles make their home in rainforests where they make massive nests and mate for life.


What Do Harpy Eagles Eat?

Harpy Eagles eat parrots, iguanas, monkeys, opossum, coatimundis, sloths and raccoons. You may have seen wildlife footage of an eagle or hawk swooping down and snatching a mouse or rat, but look at the animals on this list. These are good sized mammals and reptiles. Harpy eagles wait for prey to come to them. They will perch in trees and use their amazing eyesight to locate prey, then fly in with their talons ready to grab and snatch a plump sloth right from the branches. The females can snag and carry an animal that weighs 15-20 pounds! A large catch may be brought back near the nest where it can be eaten over a series of days.

The female harpy eagle can carry 15-20 pounds.

The female harpy eagle can capture and carry an animal that weighs 15-20 pounds.

©Chepe Nicoli/Shutterstock.com

How Did Harpy Eagles get their Name?

Harpy eagles got their name from mythology with some early versions of harpies referring to a Greco-Roman wind spirit. In the legend of Jason and the Argonauts, harpies were beast women that had bodies of eagles but the face of a woman. The harpies were sent to the Thracian King Phineus to punish him for treating his kids poorly.

Are Harpy Eagles on the Panama Flag?

No, the harpy eagle is not on the Panama flag but it is on the National Coat of Arms. The harpy eagle is featured at the top of the emblem with its impressive wings spread wide. It holds a scroll in its beak with the country’s moto “Pro Mundi Beneficio” which means “For the benefit of the world”.

Are Harpy Eagles an Endangered Animal?

According the IUCN the harpy eagle is listed as “Vulnerable” which is one step away from being categorized as being endangered. They were last assessed on August 6, 2021. The findings were that the population of harpy eagles was “declining rapidly owing to forest loss and degradation, hunting and persecution.” It goes on to explain that it is locally or regionally extinct in much of Central America, meaning that they used to live in a wider range in Central America including countries like Panama but are no longer around.

What is Panama Doing to Help Harpy Eagles?

Programs in multiple countries including Panama are in place to study the harpy eagles habitats and the effects of its ability to adjust to forest loss in certain areas. Panama and Belize both have captive breeding programs where they have released captive bred harpy eagles into the wild. These have not been as successful as planned due to very few surviving long enough to breed. One of the key strategies to help the harpy eagles is educational programs to teach the Panama people about the important role harpy eagles play in the ecosystem. The National Harpy Eagle Day is one of the educational elements of the education outreach.

What Other Animals Live in Panama?

There is a vast range of animals that live in Panama. The lowland forests are teeming with wildlife from big cats like jaguars and pumas to noisy chattering monkeys like white-faced capuchins, Geoffroy’s tamarin and howler monkeys. There are large venomous snakes like the deadly Fer-de-lance as well as massive bushmaster.

Panama has the Caribean see to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south so there is a wide range of coastal animals as well. You might find sea turtles along the sandy beaches and bottlenose dolphins off the coast. The waters off the coast of Panama are a popular breeding ground for the humpback whale. There are also plenty of sharks including the biggest shark the whale shark.

What is the Difference Between a Harpy Eagle and a Bald Eagle?

Harpy eagles are the national bird of Panama and bald eagles are the national bird of the United States. Harpy eagles look very different the bald eagles, you can easily tell them apart. The head of the harpy eagle has fluffy gray feathers and ornamental feathers that stick up around the back of its head. Bald eagles have a white head of smooth feathers and a bright yellow beak. Harpy eagles bodies are black with a white chest while bald eagles have brown feathers.

Another big difference is their size, harpy eagles are bigger than bald eagles. Harpy eagles can get to be 11-20 pounds whereas bald eagles rarely reach more than 14 pounds and are typically in the 6-14 pound range. Bald eagles do have a bigger wingspan than harpy eagles with the wingspan of the bald eagle being 6-8 feet and the wingspan of the harpy eagle being up to 6 ½ feet.

What is One Thing Harpy Eagles and Bald Eagles have in Common?

One thing harpy eagles and bald eagles both have in common is they are both featured on their countries’ coat of arms. The harpy eagle is at the top of the Panama coat of arms and the bald eagle is the centerpiece of the United States coat of arms. Their symbolism is respected in each country and both eagles represent their country well.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Alfredo Maiquez/Shutterstock.com


  1. Audubon, Available here: https://www.audubon.org/news/10-fun-facts-about-harpy-eagle
  2. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Harpy
  3. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/place/Panama#ref40995
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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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