Indonesia; Papua New Guinea
Elusive, forest-dwelling apex predators in New Guinea, Papuan eagles are classified as vulnerable and rapidly declining due to enormous deforestation for mining and palm oil in Papua New Guinea and West Papua along with hunting threats. They are poorly studied birds and therefore estimates of their populations may be severely overestimated, meaning that they are in much more serious strife than we know.
Regal forest-dwellers in #WestPapua, the #PapuanEagle’s main threats incl. #hunting #mining #timber and #palmoil #deforestation. They have no protections in place. Help them and #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4WildlifeTweet
Papuan Eagles became the apex predators of the islands of New Guinea following the ancient extinction of megafauna like giant monitor lizards and large carnivorous marsupials. They primarily predate upon small to medium sized marsupial mammals like Matschie’s tree kangaroos, phalangers (cuscus), ringtail possums along with woolly rats.
However they are opportunistic hunters and will also eat doves, chickens, hornbills, cockatoos, dwarf cassowaries (weighing 13.5 kg), wild pigs, new guinea singing dogs, and large reptiles such as monitor lizards and pythons.
Despite their large eyes, Papuan eagles are diurnal hunters (like other eagles) and they glide inconspicuously and silently from branch to branch to hunt during the day listening for sounds of movement in the undergrowth and shaking and tearing at foliage to force small mammals to poke their heads out.
Papuan eagles can move and run along the ground with surprising speed and agility in order to hunt forest-floor dwelling prey such as megapodes (chicken-like terrestrial birds).
While there have probably never been high densities of the Papuan eagle, evidence indicates that they are declining rapidly.
Estimates range from between 1,500 and 15,000 individuals, but it is not known if this describes all individuals or merely just the breeding population, but it is certain to be a very rough estimate. It is possible that the entire population is considerably under 10,000 individuals.
Their main threats are anthropogenic and relate to deforestation for mining, palm oil and timber along with illegal hunting. They have no known protection or conservation in place.
Mating and breeding
Little is known about the breeding of Papuan eagles, however they appear to breed during the dry season between April and November. Nests are placed on the canopy of trees at least 30 metres high, deep in the forest. Eggs are placed over the top of mosses. Their nests are enormous, often measuring three metres in diameter.
Based on the fact that not more than one nestling nor the remnants of more than one egg have ever been found in a Papuan eagle nest, it is assumed that they lay only a single egg.
However, other details of the egg-laying, incubation, nestling and fledgling process in this species are not known to date. Evidence suggests that they may only be able to breed every two years.
New Guinea singing dogs (which are able to climb trees) are known to take the bird’s eggs and in retribution they are sometimes killed by Papuan eagle pairs.
Endemic to West Papua and Papua New Guinea, the Papuan eagle was once found on every part of the island, however their range has shrunk rapidly due to deforestation for palm oil, timber and mining. Their main habitat is undisturbed tropical rainforests, monsoon scrub forests, dry woodlands and in extremely rare cases, forest edges and they are found at elevations of up to 3,200 – 3,700 metres.
This powerful raptor has unusual body proportions with a large prominent head, a powerful large bill and large eyes with piercing brown or orange irises. Their robust and chesty build tapers down to extremely elongated legs in a brown-grey or orange colour. They are the only member of the genus Harpyopsis.
As Papuan eagles age, the colour of their eyes becomes more vivid, with one 30 year old eagle possessing red eyes.
There is sexual dimorphism with females around 34% larger than males. They have a shorter wingspan than other large eagles of around 121 – 157 cm in length and a body mass of between 1.6-2.4 kg. They are a greyish brown colour with a creamy coloured underside speckled with darker feathers. The tail is the same colour as the back and is tipped with a white and black bands along with a cream coloured undertail. Juvenile birds possess a slightly paler grey brown colour.
The call of the Papuan eagle carries very well in the forests of New Guinea and varies from a startlingly loud uumpph, suggesting a very loud hiccup or taut bowstring. Their main call is occasionally followed by a chicken-like but more loud and powerful buk-buk-buk. Also, a deep resonant bungh-bungh may be uttered at 2-3 second intervals. A high-pitched whining call has also been reported. Pairs may call at dawn and dusk and even call during night.
Protecting the Papuan eagle would also protect many other plant and animal species in Papua New Guinea and West Papua
You can support this beautiful animal
There are no known conservation activities in place for this animal. Make sure you #Boycottpalmoil and #Boycott4Wildlife in the supermarket and raise awareness of these beautiful birds to support their survival! Find out more here
BirdLife International. 2016. Harpyopsis novaeguineae. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22696007A93538251. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22696007A93538251.en. Accessed on 06 September 2022.
Papuan Eagle Harpyopsis novaeguineae. Wikipedia
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