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Harpy Eagles Are So Big They Look Like People In Costumes

Ryan Ford 1 Oct 2019

It's one thing to know that some animals are large. It's another thing entirely to get a real sense for the sheer size of some of them compared with us puny, fang- and talon-less humans. It really puts our place in nature in perspective, doesn't it?

Well, the latest absolute unit of a creature weirding folks out is the harpy eagle, and it's hard to blame them for their reactions.

Harpy eagles are nothing if not imposing birds.

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And, as the largest eagles in the world, that's only right and proper.

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With a wingspan of up to 7-1/2 feet, harpy eagles certainly live up to their mythological namesakes, the monsters from Greek legends that carried people off to Hades, torturing them along the way.

Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Harpy..jpg

It would be easy to see how those mythological creatures were inspired by the real harpy eagles if harpy eagles lived anywhere near Greece. They don't.

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The birds actually got their name from early explorers roaming South America.

Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Harpy_Eagle_(7117520549).jpg

They noticed some similarities between these birds and the "frightful, flying creatures with hooked beak and claws" of legend.

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It probably doesn't hurt that the females of the species can be up to twice the size of the males, either.

Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Harpia_harpyja_-Fort_Worth_Zoo,_Texas,_USA-8a_(1).jpg

But if they were just cute and cuddly, they wouldn't have earned that title, either.

Harpy eagles are nowhere near the bottom of their food chain.

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Just check out how their talons compare to grizzly bear claws.

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You don't want to find yourself staring down the business end of a harpy eagle!

Their talons might be meant for feasting upon things like sloths and monkeys in the jungles where they live, but they look like they wouldn't have too much trouble carrying off a Volkswagen if they really wanted to.

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Harpy eagles also have wonderfully expressive faces.

Reddit | crg339

Somehow both majestic and derpy, they simultaneously look like they could give you some sage life advice, but also get wrapped up in a multi-level marketing scheme.

Does this thing not look desperate to offload a garage full of LuLaRoe leggings?

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The weird thing is that their size is deceptive.

Reddit | crg339

Somehow, this bird that would tower over toddlers tops out at about 22 pounds. You sure wouldn't think it to see it standing next to a full grown man, would you?

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Which is exactly what prompted some folks to make a curious observation.

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Over on Reddit, a post about harpy eagles took off, and more than one person suggested that there was more to these birds than meets the eye.

"I first thought it was a person in a costume," wrote one.

"It looks like a person wearing a costume," commented another.

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No word on whether they think it's a full-grown person or possibly a kids-in-a-trenchoat situation.

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I mean, either way, it's getting into that rated-R movie if it wants to anyway. Are you going to say no to this thing? Me neither.

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And it is kind of easy to see where that mythological connection comes from, isn't it?

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That expressive face, coupled with the sheer size of them, adds up to, yeah, a sort of human/bird hybrid.

And they're at least as large as R2D2, and Kenny Baker wore that costume for what, half a dozen movies? So why not?

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If not a person in a very convincing feathery suit, you could also be forgiven for thinking they came out of Jim Henson's workshop.

Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait-of-a-Harpy-Eagle.jpg

Get this guy a news desk and a microphone, amirite?

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Seriously though, harpy eagles are all business.

Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Harpy_Eagle_clutching_captured_bird_-_Itirapina_Reserve.jpg

They can stand in one spot, just waiting for some tasty prey to wander along, for up to 23 hours!

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And when it does spot a promising meal, it doesn't soar over the tree tops like you might think.

Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Harpy_Eagle_with_wings_lifted.jpg

No, it'll speed down below the forest canopy at up to 50 mph and snatch up a monkey or a sloth — up to about 17 pounds of meat — and crush it with those fearsome talons. It might as well be a trip to Hades.

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Although harpy eagles are indeed top predators, both mighty and majestic, they're also in jeopardy.

Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Harpia_harpyja_-falconry_-head-8a.jpg

Habitat loss hits them especially hard because they don't migrate, preferring to hunt an established range of a few square miles.

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Their habitats include the Amazon rainforest — you know, the one that made headlines for how much of it was on fire this year?

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And they don't reproduce in great quantities; one pair raises an eaglet every two years at most, so their numbers don't bounce back quickly.

It's...not a great situation, so let's all appreciate these noble creatures for what they are — definitely not people in costumes, but beautiful, mighty creatures just doing their best in a world stacked against them.

h/t: San Diego Zoo

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