Philippine Eagle
Introduction

Photograph by: Klaus Nigge, National Geographic March 2008

The Philippine eagle is one of the largest and most endangered eagles in the world. The raptor is currently documented on just four Philippine islands—Mindanao, Luzon, Leyte, and Samar. Scientists estimate that perhaps only a few hundred pairs remain in the wild.

With a wingspan of nearly seven feet and a weight of up to 14 pounds, the species, Pithecophaga jefferyi, casts an impressive shadow as it soars through its rain forest home. Its long tail helps it skillfully maneuver while hunting for its elusive prey, like flying lemurs or palm civets.

But securing prey has become increasingly difficult for one of the world’s largest raptors: Continued deforestation due to logging and development in the Philippines has pushed the eagle to the brink of extinction. Today those that remain struggle to find enough food and habitat to survive. Though some of these resourceful birds have adjusted to the reduced surroundings, development continues to threaten their existence.

Conservationists are dedicated to providing the national bird a secure home. The Philippine Eagle Foundation on Mindanao hopes to save the species from extinction through its conservation and education efforts. Officially established in 1987, the center’s captive-breeding program has raised 21 birds over the past two decades.

Bibliography

White, Mel. “Lord of the Forest.” National Geographic (February 2008).

Philippine Eagle Foundation

Philippine Eagle Territory and Prey

A breeding pair of eagles requires from 25 to 50 miles of rain forest to survive. While they often catch prey in midair, those nesting in large trees in lowland areas search for prey on the ground. Eagles hunt a variety of animals, ranging in size from small bats to 30-pound deer. The most common prey is the flying lemur, an arboreal mammal with webbed feet and claws. Other meals of choice include palm civets, flying squirrels, snakes, rats, and birds.

Bibliography

White, Mel. “Lord of the Forest.” National Geographic (February 2008).

Philippine Eagle Foundation

Philippine Eagle Courtship and Reproduction

Female eagles reach sexual maturity at five years; males, at seven. Courtship behavior includes soaring together in the air, diving and chasing each other, exposing talons, and increased vocalization. Nest building—often in dipterocarp trees, which can be 80 to 160 feet off the ground—and an increase in the amount of time spent at the nest also indicate a willingness to breed. Like other eagles, this species is thought to stay monogamous until one of the pair dies.

A breeding pair typically produces a single young every other year. In Mindanao egg-laying season starts in September and may go until February; in Luzon, it goes only from December to January, shortened perhaps because the peak typhoon season, from September to November, is not conducive to egg laying. Both the male and female incubate the egg, though the female tends to spend more daytime hours and all night in the nest. Once hatched, the eaglet stays in the nest for about five months, dependant on its parents for food. After that, it remains in its parents’ home range and partly in their care for another 12 months or so.

Though most immature birds die before reaching sexual maturity, the species has the potential for a long life span. A Philippine eagle living in a zoo in Rome, Italy, may have been up to 41 years old when it died, although the eagle’s life span in the wild is thought to be shorter.

Bibliography

Philippine Eagle Foundation

Philippine Eagle Appearance

Known for its large, deep bill and spiky crest, the eagle is arguably the most majestic creature in the rain forest. Its blue-gray eyes, unique among raptors, add to its striking appearance. The bird’s call is a loud, high-pitched whistle. Both female and male eagles display their impressive crests when on alert. An eagle twists its head to change its visual perspective and determine an object’s size and distance.

Bibliography

Threatened Birds of Asia: The BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, 2001.

White, Mel. “Lord of the Forest.” National Geographic (February 2008).

The Philippine Eagle’s Precarious Existence

The Philippines, the only country where this species exists, has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world. Over 90 percent of primary forest has already been lost, hindering the eagle’s survival. Though hunting the bird is now illegal, the government has been trying to attract investors and may favor mining interests over preserving the eagles’ habitat, which often overlaps with targeted mining sites.

Such activities change the environment in ways that also affect humans. In recent decades a series of devastating floods and mud slides as well as an increase in river siltation have taken a toll on both the Philippine human population and the region’s biodiversity.

Certain conservation measures are already in place to help protect the comparatively scant number of surviving eagles. Legislation has been passed to prohibit hunting and protect nests, as well as to survey the birds’ habitat, create public-awareness campaigns, and step up captive breeding. The bird inhabits the protected areas of the northern Sierra Madre Natural Park on Luzon and Mt. Kitangland and Mt. Apo Natural Parks on Mindanao.

Conservationists and the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) are also trying to increase awareness of the eagle’s plight. The government of Mati and the PEF recently established the 17,300-acre Cabuaya Forest as a protected area for the eagle. Dennis Salvador, PEF executive director, says, “We are working to establish six more areas in the eastern Mindanao corridor area within the next two years.”

Advocates for the eagle are also raising awareness through educational lectures and visits to the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City, Mindanao. Thousands of visitors come each year to learn about this raptor. More information is available here.

Bibliography

White, Mel. “Lord of the Forest.” National Geographic (February 2008).

Threatened Birds of Asia: The BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, 2001.

Philippine Eagle Captive Breeding

More than 21 eagles have been raised as part of the captive-breeding program administered by the Philippine Eagle Foundation. The group first attempted to breed birds in 1982. After years of failure, they were finally successful in 1995, when Pag-asa, who turned 16 in January, was born. The eagle’s name means “hope.” Workers at the center hope that captive birds as well as those rescued after being shot or trapped will one day be released back into restored habitat in the Philippine wild.

Bibliography

Philippine Eagle Center

Other Endangered Raptors

While the Philippine eagle is critically endangered, it’s not the only raptor at risk of extinction. Others include the Mauritius kestrel, the California condor, the Taita falcon in Africa, Madagascar’s fish eagle, the Ridgways hawk in the Dominican Republic, the slender-billed vulture in South Asia, and the Negev desert subspecies of the lappet-faced vulture in Israel.

Bibliography

Oriental Bird Club

Discovery of the Philippine Eagle

The first specimen was collected in 1896 on the island of Samar by British naturalist and explorer John Whitehead. It was given the name Pithecophaga for “monkey-eating” and “jefferyi” to honor Whitehead’s father, Jeffery, who financed his son’s travels.

Bibliography

Oriental Bird Club

A National Symbol

For decades the bird was known as the monkey-eating eagle. A presidential proclamation renamed it the Philippine eagle in 1978, in part to promote national pride in the magnificent endangered bird. In 1995 the Philippine eagle replaced the maya as the national bird.

Bibliography

White, Mel. “Lord of the Forest.” National Geographic (February 2008).

Kennedy, Bob. “Saving the Philippine Eagle.” National Geographic (June 1981).

How to Help the Philippine Eagle: Volunteer or donate money to help the Philippine eagle

Other Resources
Philippine Eagle Foundation

BirdLife International

The World Conservation Union’s Red List

Biodiversity Hotspots

The Lost Forest

“Giant Philippine Eagle Perched on Edge of Extinction.”

Peregrine Fund

Video of Philippine Eagle

“Philippine island earns rare logging reprieve“, CNN. August 1, 2000.

Video of Monkey-Eating Eagle

Chittenden, Robin. Birds of Prey of the World. St. Martin’s Press, 2004.

Kennedy, Bob. A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines. Oxford University Press, 2000.

Kennedy, Robert. “Saving the Philippine Eagle.” National Geographic (June 1981), 847-856.

Miranda, H.C., Jr., and others. “Summary of Philippine Eagle Reproductive Success: 1978-1998.” Journal of Raptor Research. Vol. 34 (1), 37-41.

Salvador and Ibanez, “Ecology and Conservation of Philippine Eagles.” Ornithological Science. Vol. 5 (2), 171-176.

Salvador, D.I. “Socio-economic Incentives for the Conservation of the Rainforest Habitat of the Philippine Eagle Pithecophaga Jefferyi.” Raptor Conservation Today. (1994), 277-282.