January 06, 2011
Scientists have confirmed the presence of a harpy eagle nest in the Maya Mountains of Belize. The discovery represents the most northerly breeding pair in the Americas, and signals a comeback for a species which has become locally extinct in much of Central America due to human activity.
“We had just started hiking that morning when someone said, ‘look at that huge bird’. I looked through my binoculars to see a large, gray and white eagle with a double crest. It was magnificent, and I was speechless. I told my colleagues that it looked like a Harpy Eagle, but that they weren’t supposed to be here (in Belize) any more”, said Jamie Rotenberg, an ornithologist at the University of North Carolina Wilmington who was part of a survey team which observed a juvenile in 2005.
Since then, the total confirmed eagle presence in Bladen Nature Reserve has been upped to four individuals.
From top to bottom: A pair of adult harpy eagles in 2010, by Sharna Tolfree (BFREE); a juvenile harpy in 2007, by Steven Brewer (BFREE); the newly discovered nest in 2010, by William Garcia (BFREE)
“We were out doing our regular counts and observations when we heard a Harpy Eagle calling”, said William Garcia, technician project leader of the BFREE team which made this latest discovery. "It seemed to be fixed in one location, flying occasionally but returning to the same tree."
The team climbed an adjacent tree from where they were able to see a nest.
“It was an incredible sight to see the small, white nestling Harpy Eagle chick in the nest,” said Garcia.
The nest is located within the Bladen Nature Reserve which is co-managed by the Belize Forest Department and Ya’axché Conservation Trust, a community oriented NGO based in Punta Gorda. The nest is under continual monitoring to record the birds' behavior and protect the nest from human disturbance.
"The return of breeding Harpy's suggests that effective protection of core Harpy habitat in Belize is having tangible benefits and represents a rare victory for conservation in Belize." said Lee Mcloughlin, Protected Areas Manager for Ya’axché, “We are committed to partnering with BFREE to carry out whatever measures are necessary to ensure the Harpy Eagle population in this area is maintained into the future for all of Belize."