The Crested Eagle (Morphnus guianensis) is a very large Neotropical eagle, with a somewhat similar appearance the even larger Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja). Not to be confused with the Long-crested Eagle (Lophaetus occipitalis) which is a bird of prey species found on the African continent.
These eagles are found in tropical rainforests extending discontinuously from Central America to central regions of South America. Crested eagles occur in low densities throughout its massive range.
They are found in many countries including northern Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, northeastern Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname, north Argentina, Panama, southeastern Peru, eastern Ecuador, eastern Bolivia, Paraguay, and Colombia.
Crested Eagles have 2 morphs, the pale morph and a dark morph which was in the past even classified as a separate species. They have a length of 71 to 84 cm with a wingspan ranging from 138 to 176 cm and weigh between 1.75 and 3.0 kg.
The crested eagle usually has a blackish coloration above and is pale below, with a distinct single pointed crest on its head, hence its name. While the dark morph individuals have a blackish head and breast and dark barring below.
The much more frequent pale morph display a gray head, lighter underside, and cinnamon, reddish-brown or reddish barring below.
In juvenile Crested Eagles both, the head and underside are white, while their wings are barred with white and black. Their crest is black with a white base and tip, they only attain full adult plumage after about 3 years.
In Brazil, the species has suffered tremendously from habitat destruction and now is found only in the Amazonian basin. Crested eagles are almost always observed alone or in pairs.
Subspecies / Taxonomy / Etymology
The crested eagle belongs to the monotypic genus Morphnus, with no subspecies recognized by scientists. The species was first described in 1800 by François Marie Daudin a French zoologist.
Their genus, Morphnus is a Greek word and translates to "a kind of eagle or vulture". While the species-specific name, guianensis, derive from the location where its first specimen was collected, Guyana.
Diet / Feeding
The crested eagle has a varied diet comprised of various arboreal and terrestrial animals, both mammals and reptiles. Probably to avoid competing directly with the larger harpy eagle they feed generally on smaller prey.
Birds form a large portion of their diet including trumpeters, jays, cocks-of-the-rock, and guans. But these powerful avian predators also hunt small mammals such as opossums, kinkajous, squirrels, several other arboreal rodents and small monkeys like tamarins, spider monkeys, woolly monkeys or capuchin monkeys.
The crested eagle also eats reptiles such as arboreal snakes like the emerald tree boa (Corallus caninus) or other terrestrial snake species, lizards and iguanas. It seems that they are a still-hunter, often observed scanning the surrounding forest visually while perching for long periods.
Few details are known about the breeding or brooding behavior of the crested eagle. The breeding season starts in the late dry season and beginning of the wet season around March or April.
They often build a large nest with a shallow cup using bulky sticks. Typically located in the main fork of a large tree, the nest is concealed in greenery near the canopy.
During the incubation period, males are the sole provider for both parents getting the food that the incubating female needs. The clutch size is usually 2 eggs, but normally only one hatchling is reared by the female.
When the eggs hatch females will stay near, attending and brooding the chicks. She will start delivering food to them about a month after hatching. Only females feed the young eagles and clean the nest.
Conservation status and major threats
Even though the crested eagle has a fairly large range the species is currently classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN.
These eagles have consistently appeared to occur at lower densities than other species, their estimated breeding population in the wild is only around 1,000 to 10,000 mature individuals.
As a consequence of their noticeably high dependence on sprawling forests, the species is definitely very affected by habitat destruction. In former breeding areas where extensive forest areas have been cleared crested eagles no longer occur.
They are listed as endangered in Mexico, due to habitat loss during the last century it's estimated that their population declined 50% or even more in Mexico.
They are also sometimes hunted by local people, it's relatively easy to shoot them since they usually perch for a long time. Crested eagles are listed as a CITES Appendix II species.
Species: M. guianensis