Very little is known about the endangered Black-and-chestnut Eagle (Spizaetus isidori), so Fausto Recalde’s discovery of its nest in our Rio Zunac Reserve was exciting news for ornithologists. Ecuador’s Harpy Eagle project team came to visit our nest a few weeks ago, with Fausto Recalde as their guide. The ease of access to this nest makes it an especially good research opportunity, and the team asked our guards to make at least weekly observations and photos of the nest and baby. The team was led by Ruth Muñiz López, a Spanish biologist living in Ecuador. She is a famous expert on Ecuador’s giant eagles, especially the Harpy (Harpia harpyja).
Afterwards Ruth gave our staff and interested Banos residents an interesting talk on the Harpy and Black-and-chestnut Eagles.
Although the magnificent Harpy gets most of the global attention, our beautiful Black-and-chestnut Eagle is actually far more endangered globally, because it lives only in a narrow band along slopes of the northern Andes. The Harpy, in contrast, is sparsely but widely distributed throughout the lowland rain forests of Latin America, from Mexico (where it is close to extinction) to northern Argentina. The Black-and-chestnut Eagle is easier to see than the Harpy, though, because it soars often, while the Harpy spends most of its time below the canopy trying to ambush something.
Ruth told us that these big eagles can live for many years. There was a famous Harpy in a zoo in Tuxtla, Chiapas, Mexico, which had been captured as an adult and lived to be at least 48 years old. I visited that bird back in the 1980s, and it looked ancient even then. No one has any information about how old a Black-and-Chestnut Eagle can live. Perhaps we can help fill in that information by careful observations.
The Harpy team spends a lot of time rescuing and rehabilitating captive or injured Harpies, and Ruth told us about some of those experiences during her talk. For example, someone captured a baby Harpy Eagle by cutting down its nest tree. Ruth and her team heard about it and went to visit. They somehow convinced the person to return the eagle to the wild. They then built an artificial nest in the jungle near the original fallen nest tree, and the person who had captured the eagle placed it in the new nest. Even though three months had past, the adult returned, bringing food to the baby! The excited baby fluttered around so much that it fell out of the nest. But eventually everything went well and the baby fledged.
Our guards were impressed by Ruth’s falconry work, keeping Quito’s new airport free of collision-prone birds. They had seen her on TV using tame raptors (birds that, for one reason or another, were too tame to release into the wild) to chase off the other birds, and they imagined it was from some far-away place.
Ruth is trying to get a satellite transmitter to track our young bird after it leaves the nest. She and her team have experience with this, and they assure me that there is no danger to the young bird. They’ve also connected us with a photographer who would like to document the nest. Another photographer, Mark Wilson, is writing a book on the large eagles of the world and will also be coming to photograph it this month. Knowledge is a key to conservation, and we hope to cautiously take advantage of this opportunity to learn as much as we can about our most spectacular and most endangered bird.
Earlier posts on the Black-and-chestnut (or Andean) Eagle, Spizaetus isidori:
More photos of the oldest known Harpy Eagle: