The Philippine Eagle

The Philippine Eagle is a magnificent bird that was discovered in the island of Samar by the English Naturalist John Whitehead and was described by Ogilvie Grant before the Ornithologists’ Club on December 16, 1896. Following Whitehead’s observation that he eagle fed almost exclusively on monkeys, the bird was given the generic name Pithecophaga (from the Greek words pithekos which means monkey; and phagein which means eater); and the specific name Jefferyi, derived from the name of Whitehead’s father, Jeffrey. In the Philippines and elsewhere, the bird became popularly known as the Monkey-eating eagle.

Dioscoro Rabor’s Warning

Barely 75 years after its discovery, the eminent Filipino scientist, Dr. Dioscosro Rabor, warned that the species was on the verge of extinction. Rabor had extensively studied the fauna of more than 30 of the 7,100 Philippine islands including Mindanao, where most of the Monkey-eating Eagles could be found. Based on actual sightings, Rabor concluded that there were fewer than 100 surviving birds. He attributed the specie’s decline to the excessive and licentious destruction of virgin forests and to over-hunting. The high price that a single live Monkey-eating Eagle commanded when smuggled through Brunei further aggravated the eagle’s predicament.

Charles Lindbergh’s Visit

Rabor’s countrymen virtually ignored his warnings but he did manage to generate concern abroad. This led to the visit of Charles A. Lindberg who, as a representative of the World Wildlife Fund, campaigned for the preservation of the Monkey-eating eagle and another endangered animal, the Philippine Tamaraw.

Lindberg’s trips to the Philippines between 1969 and 1972 also resulted in the establishment of a Monkey-eating Eagle conservation program. Then in 1977, a captive breeding project was initiated by the Bureau of Forest Development (BFD) and the American conservation group, Films and Research for an Endangered Environment Ltd. (FREE).

The Philippine Eagle

In 1978, after much lobbying by a Peace Corps volunteer named Robert S. Kennedy, a presidential directive officially changed the bird’s name. It has since been called the Philippine Eagle. Although the alteration was made because the phrase “monkey eating“ was considered degrading, it was also a timely if not appropriate move because the eagle had by then ceased to feed largely on monkeys. Studies made by several biologists and naturalists at that time revealed that only a small portion of the eagle’s diet consisted of monkeys. The studies, however, also confirmed fears about the bird’s hope for survival.

The Tallest Eagle in the World

The Philippine Eagle ranks second to the Harpy Eagle of South and Central America in terms of weight. It is, however, the tallest eagle in the world. Adult birds can weigh as much as eight kilograms and grow as high as one meter. It also has the longest wingspan which can exceed eight feet.

The Philippine Eagle inhabits tropical rain forests and is characterized by broad wings and a long, squared-off tail which enable it to fly and maneuver with great speed through dense foliage. Unlike other eagles, it seldom soars. It nests mostly on the highest available spot. The Philippine Eagle breeds once every two years and the female lays only one egg each time. Incubation takes 60 days. the young eagle is then dependent on the parents for the five months it remains in the nest, plus a few more months as it learns to fly.

Philippine Eagles are known to be monogamous, so they mate with the same partner for life. Its average lifespan is 40 years.

The Philippine Eagle Foundation, a private, non-stock, non-profit organization now oversees the protection of the Philippine Eagle and its habitat.