Harpy Eagles’ return signals success for Belize’s bird conservation

Scientists recently discovered a Harpy Eagle nest in the Bladen Nature Reserve, located in the southern Maya Mountains of Belize in central America. The eagles were thought previously to be extinct in the country.

“This is incredibly significant for bird conservation in the region. It shows that our work in Belize is effective; protecting wildlife and habitat from overhunting and disturbance, while also sending a positive message about the benefits of conservation to the local communities” said Lee McLoughlin, Protected Areas Manager for the Ya’axché Conservation Trust, which manages the Bladen reserve.

Harpy eagles are have a wingspan of over two metres and are the largest bird of prey in the Americas. They have grey-black feathers and a white underside. They have 13cm long talons and they eat a variety of mammals, including monkeys, sloths and birds like macaws.

Scientists from the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education found the nest and the Ya’axché Conservation Trust have now increased their protection of the nest site until the chick is reared.

The adult pair of harpy eagles in Bladen Nature Reserve. Credit: Sharna Tolfree.

“The main conservation threats in the southern part of the Harpy eagle’s range are habitat loss due to deforestation and hunting. Low overall population densities and slow reproductive rates increase the impact and severity of these threats,” explained McLoughlin.

Harpy eagles had been thought to be extinct in Belize and extirpated from Mexico and most of Central America north of Panama. Harpy Eagles (Harpia harpyja) are designated as ‘Near Threatened’ worldwide by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and are considered ‘Critically Endangered’ in Belize.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) have helped Ya’axche secure and manage a number of projects that ensure that the Bladen Nature Reserve remains suitable habitat for one of Belize and Central America’s rarest birds. Bladen is one of three nature parks in Belize.

The Ya’axché Conservation Trust is an NGO based in the city of Punta Gorda in the Toledo district in the south of Belize.

Main photo (top): Harpy Eagle. Credit: Evan-Bowen Jones