Philippine Eagle Profile
On just a handful of islands in the Philippines, there remains an enormous raptor. An apex predator on the brink of extinction, and one with a reputation for devouring entire monkeys without breaking a sweat.
The outstanding Philippine Eagle has become the national bird of the Philippines, and with any luck, this could help save its species.
Philippine Eagle Facts Overview
|Habitat:||Elevated, montane forests|
|Lifespan:||46 years in captivity|
|Size:||1 m (3 ft) tall, 2.1 m (7 ft) wingspan|
|Weight:||Up to 8kg (18 lb)|
|Color:||Dark brown with a white front|
|Diet:||Medium-sized mammals, snakes, lizards|
|No. of Species:
The Philippine eagle is native and restricted to the Philippines and can be found on four islands: eastern Luzon, Samar, Leyte, and Mindanao.
You can always assume that a bird this good-looking is going to be high-maintenance, and this certainly rings true for the Philippine eagle.
They are slow to reproduce and highly territorial, which makes finding enough room for their needs very difficult with the increases in deforestation, and hunting that currently contribute to their demise.
While they are critically endangered, there are many good people at work to protect it, and with international collaboration, we may hopefully see numbers start to rise again.
Interesting Philippine Eagle Facts
1. They’re big!
These are one of the largest eagles on record and are considered the biggest in terms of wing surface. Despite being a forest bird, their enormous wings don’t seem to get in the way at all, and the extra surface area likely contributes to their agility at low speed.
The Philippine eagle has a wingspan of approx. 184 – 220 cm (6 ft 0 in to 7 ft 3 in) and weigh between 4.5 kg (9.9 lb) – 6.0 kg (13.2 lb).
They were given a mention in our Largest Flying Birds in The World piece, alongside the Steller’s sea eagle and Harpy eagle, which are both a little heavier on average. 1
2. They’ll team up to hunt monkeys
One of the most common names for this huge bird is the monkey-eating eagle, and it was once thought that monkeys made up the majority of their diet.
As it happens, in at least one population, flying lemurs are 90% of their protein sources, but pairs of Philippines eagles have been witnessed strategizing to distract monkeys while the second bird comes in for the kill from an unexpected angle.
Amazingly, as well as hunting from the air, the Philippine eagle will also stalk around on the ground like a dinosaur, when hunting in search of prey.
3. They have unique eyes
Their piercing pale blue grey eyes are completely unique to the species. These raptors can see 8 times sharper than man!
4. They reproduce slowly
These incredible eagles are in a lot of trouble, with their populations still declining and their numbers dwindling to the low hundreds.
One of the major reasons these eagles are struggling so much is their incredibly slow rate of reproduction. In fact, the Philippine Eagle has the longest and energetically most expensive parental investment for any bird of prey.
It can take seven years for a chick to grow to reproductive age, and even then, they’ll only lay a single egg every second year.
This long breeding pattern gives the birds a generation time of around 18.5 years.
The female isn’t subtle about her intentions to breed and will build a nest presumptuously, sitting by it until a male gets the message. After hatching, the young chick will be fully fledged within a few months, but stick around the nest area for up to 18 months.
But this small family group has a high land requirement.
5. And they need a lot of space
While they’re the dominant hunter in the forest canopy, they need a lot of food. Each pair occupies an immense home range, in which it will gather enough food to raise a chick.
These ranges have been measured to be at least 133km2 per breeding pair – 13km in every direction from the nest – and no other nest will be found inside this zone.
And this is a huge issue. The old-growth forest that they require is continuously decreasing in size, with less than 9,000km remaining within the Eagle’s range.
This really wouldn’t be as much of a problem if they could share, but they can’t. 2
6. They’re territorial
Unless part of a breeding pair, an adult Philippine eagle will defend its huge space against other eagles and live out a solitary life.
Once paired up, they’re thought to be monogamous and will stay that way until one of them dies.
This, of course, increases the size of the area they need to defend and brings us back to their major threat.
7. The Peregrine Fund is Helping the Philippine Eagle Foundation
Deforestation has pushed the Philippines eagle almost to extinction. Compounded by shooting and catching for trade, this threat has led to international collaborations for its protection.
The Philippine Eagle Foundation leads the charge here and is working on reintroductions and research with help from the Peregrine Fund in the US, and additional support and assistance.
Captive-bred eagles are being reared and released into suitable habitats, but new wild ones are still thought to be undiscovered. 3
8. And they found some good news
This collaboration has identified 28,000km2 of potential habitat for these birds, which has led to an estimate of 392 breeding pairs, given the territories they occupy.
This is fifty more than the previous estimate, which is a huge deal when dealing with such low numbers. To put this in perspective, in 1989, estimates had them at somewhere between 88 and 221 in 1989.
These findings can guide decision-making in their conservation, and the plan now is to find them all, log them, and figure out the best way to look after them. 4
9. They’re apex predators
Because of its huge size, nothing can really match the Philippine eagle in its habitat, and it has little competition from other predators, making it an important and irreplaceable component in the ecosystem.
Large, top predators keep the local environment balanced by limiting the numbers and behaviours of the animals they feed on.
So, aside from the tragedy of losing such a beautiful animal, the entire ecosystem would suffer if this animal were allowed to go extinct.
10. Killing a Philippine eagle is a criminal offence
It’s now punishable by law with up to 12 years imprisonment and heavy fines.
Despite this, the Philippine eagle is occassionally killed by hunters and a farmer in 2008 who claimed to have mistakenly killed the bird before eating it was only fined 100,000 pesos ($2,300, £1,460) in what is reportedly the first case tried under a 2001 wildlife law.
It’s believed over 30 eagles have been shot and killed since the new laws. 5
11. They are the national bird of the Philippines
In July of 1995 President Fidel V. Ramos officially declared the Philippine eagle as the national bird of the Philippines. It has subequently been featured on stamps, coins and banknotes in the country.
It has also been used for sporting events, such as a mascot for the Philippines men’s national basketball team as well as the 2005 Southeast Asian Games held in Manila.
Philippine Eagle Fact-File Summary
Fact Sources & References
- “Philippine Eagle“, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- BirdLife International (2018), “Pithecophaga jefferyi (amended version of 2017 assessment)“, The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- “Philippine Eagle“, The Peregrine Fund.
- Keith Anthony S. Fabro (2023), “New map boosts Philippine eagle population estimate, but highlights threats“, Mongabay.
- BBC News (2012), “Philippine farmer fined for shooting and eating rare eagle“, BBC.