Emperor of the skies
One of the rarest birds of prey in the world, the magnificent Philippine Eagle is not simply a threatened species on the islands, but also an important symbol of biodiversity and wildlife conservation in the country.
Like a lovely set of pearls strewn on the Asian continent, the Philippines was born due to furious underwater action between vast tectonic plates a long time ago, creating a menagerie of more than 7000 islands—7,107 to be precise—with a rich mix of flora, fauna, and a melting pot of assorted cultures.
The biodiversity of the Philippines can be seen in a wide range of habitats—from sandy beaches to mangrove swamps, grassy plains and towering mountains. One-third of its nearly 550 bird species are endemic, where arguably, the most awe-inspiring and magnificent is the Philippine Eagle. Also called the Monkey-eating Eagle, and known locally as Haribon (or Bird King), it is one of the largest and most powerful forest-dwelling eagles in the world. The bird is endemic to the Philippines and can only be found on the islands of Eastern Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao.
A symbol of strength and power, the majestic Philippine Eagle hovers over the forest canopy and the peaks of Mount Apo, the reigning king of Philippine skies.
Meet his highness
The Philippine Eagle, also known as the Great Philippine Eagle, is considered the largest of the extant eagles in the world in terms of length; the Steller’s Sea Eagle and the Harpy Eagle being larger in terms of weight and bulk. Among the rarest and most powerful birds in the world, it was declared the national bird of the Philippines on 4 July 1995, by President Fidel V.Ramos.
The Philippine Eagle’s nape is adorned with long, brown feathers that form a shaggy crest. These feathers give it the appearance of possessing a lion’s mane, which in turn resembles the mythical griffin. The eagle has a dark face and a creamy-brown ape and crown. The back is dark brown, while the underside and under wings are white. The heavy legs are yellow, with large, powerful dark claws, and the prominent large, high-arched, deep beak is a bluish gray. The eagle’s eyes are blue-gray as well. Juveniles are similar to adults except that their upper-body feathers have pale fringes.
The Philippine Eagle is typically reported as measuring 86–102 cm in total length, with an average of 95 cm for males and 105 cm for females. The most frequently heard noises made by the eagles are loud,high-pitched whistles ending with inflections in pitch.Additionally, juveniles have been known to beg for food by a series of high-pitched calls.
This eagle is the apex predator in its range. The primary prey varies from island to island depending on species availability, particularly in Luzon and Mindanao, because the islands are in different faunal regions. The primary preys seen in Luzon are monkeys, birds, flying foxes, giant cloud-rats and reptiles such as large snakes and lizards. The Flying lemur could make up an estimated 90% of the raptor’s diet in some locations. While the eagles generally seem to prefer Flying lemurs where available, most other animals found in the Philippines, short of adult ungulates and humans, may betaken for prey. This can include Asian palm civets, macaques,flying squirrels, tree squirrels, fruit bats, rats, birds (owls and horn bills), reptiles (snakes and monitor lizards), and even other birds of prey. They have also been reported to capture young pigs and small dogs.
Philippine Eagles primarily use two hunting techniques. One is still-hunting, in which it watches for prey activity while sitting almost motionlessly on a branch near the canopy. The other is perch-hunting,which entails periodically gliding from one perch to another. During perch-hunting, they often work their way gradually from the canopy down to the branches,and if not successful in finding prey in the initial foray, they will fly or circle back up to the top of the trees to work them again. Eagles in Mindanao often find success using the latter method while hunting for Flying lemurs, since they are nocturnal animals who try to use natural camouflage to protect them by day. Eagle pairs sometimes hunt troops of monkeys cooperatively, with one bird perched nearby to distract the primates, allowing the other to swoop in from behind, and hopefully unnoticed, for the kill.
God save the king
In 1965, the Philippine Eagle was declared an endangered species as it suffered a loss of habitat due to extensive mining, uncontrolled exploitation of its habitat and hunting. Today, it is estimated that less than 450 Philippine Eagles survive and remain in the wild. To ensure a constructive effort to the conservation of the national bird, the Philippine Eagle Foundation was organized in 1987. It has been operating previously as a project undertaking research, rehabilitation and captive breeding. Staffed by highly trained and dedicated personnel, it has evolved into the country’s premier organisation for the conservation of raptors.
Nestled at the foothills of the majestic Mt. Apo, the PEC (Philippine Eagle Center) is the Philippine Eagle Foundation’s facility for the care and propagation of the endangered Philippine Eagle. Primarily a research facility, the center is also a vital education venue and a key tourist attraction where visitors are given a glimpse of the country’s forest ecosystem. The Center houses Philippine Eagles, a host of other raptors and many other animal and plant species that are unique to the Philippines. Many eagles have been raised as part of the captive-breeding programme administered by the Philippine Eagle Foundation. While the first attempt was in 1982,they were finally successful in 1995, when Pagasa– the first captive-bred Philippine Eagle was born. The eagle’s name, on translation, means“hope.”
Philippine Eagle Center
“The Philippine Eagle foundation firmly believes that the fate of the Philippine Eagle, the health of our environment, and the quality of Philippine life are inextricably linked. We are therefore committed to promote the survival of the Philippine Eagle, the biodiversity it represents, and the sustainable use of our forest resources for future generations to enjoy.”
Location – The Philippine Eagle Center is about an hour drive from Davao City and can be reached either by private or public transport. Manila, Philippines to Davao
City – flight time is 1.45 minutes.
Entrance Fee – Adults – 50 Pesos, Youth (18 years & below) – 30 Pesos
Timings – Open from 8 am to 5 pm daily, including holidays
Address – The Philippine Eagle Center, Malagos, Baguio District, Davao City 8000 Philippines
This article was first published in the 2014 February edition of Saevus magazine.