Philippine Eagle FAQ
What are the threats to wild Philippine Eagle populations?
Shooting, hunting and deforestation continue to be the primary threat to the eagles.
What are the unique behaviors of the Philippine Eagles that make them vulnerable to extinction?
The Philippine Eagles are slow breeders. A Philippine Eagle pair rears only a single chick every two years. Thus, it would be very difficult for the population to recover if many eagles are dying due to shooting, hunting or trapping.
It also takes 6-7 years for the young eagles to sexually mature and breed. If more breeding adults are getting killed, it would take a while before mature adults become available to replace those that have died. In forests where more eagles are dying than being born, a population could be lost despite the presence of a suitable habitat.
A pair of Philippine Eagles may require at least 7,000 hectares of forest to survive. Forests may exist but if they become too fragmented and too small, it will lose the ability to meet even the minimum ecological needs of a pair and their growing young.
What is the life cycle of the Philippine Eagle?
Based on the data gathered from Mindanao where we know more of the eagles’ biology and ecology, the Philippine Eagles’ life cycle are as follows:
The courtship period starts as early as July. This period is marked with the male eagle frequently staying near the nest and the pair starts nest- building. Other courtship displays include the male eagle delivering a fresh prey to the female eagle (courtship feeding), mutual soaring over their territory, dive chasing and the pair showing each other’s talons. These courtship displays are meant to establish the eagle pair’s territory as well as to strengthen their bond.
- Egg- laying
The egg- laying season can start in September and may extend up to February. Prior to egg-laying, the female spends most of her time at the nest. She also experiences what is called “egg lethargy” where she appears sickly and will not take food for as long as 8- 10 days. Her wings are drooped, she drinks a lot of water, and continually calls and builds the nest.
- Incubation, nestling and post- fledgling
In a complete breeding cycle, the female eagle lays only one egg. The incubation phase lasts 58- 68 days. Both the parents incubate the egg but the female spends more time. After the egg hatches, both will also sit (brood) on the chick to keep it warm. The eagle couple would only stop ‘brooding’ the chick once its feathers have grown and can regulate its own temperature. Both will also hunt and feed the growing chick until it fledges.
The table below summarizes the patterns of the eaglet’s development as observed by Kennedy (1985):
The eaglet leaves its parents’ territory after 17 months.
What are the effects of human intrusions to the Philippine Eagle?
When forests are modified for farming, logging, mining or residential spaces, it can lead to the disturbance of the eagle pair’s breeding and nesting activities. If the nest site is too disturbed, the eagle pair may abandon the nest altogether. The pair that abandoned their nest will look for another territory. However, other territorial eagles may have already occupied remaining suitable habitat. This means the opportunity for this pair to breed and contribute to the already very small eagle population is also lost altogether.
The Philippine Eagles will also become more vulnerable to human persecution. There is a greater chance that the eagles will be shot, hunted or trapped.
Why do we need to protect the Philippine Eagle?
We need to protect the Philippine Eagle for the following reasons:
- It is found nowhere else except in the Philippines where it is the country’s national bird. Losing the species to extinction would also mean losing a nation’s precious biological heritage.
- It represents a rare product of evolutionary creation. Based on recent genetic studies, it has no close relatives left among the living species of eagles in the world. Losing them would mean an irreversible loss of a unique species.
- The Philippine Eagle is the top predator of the Philippine tropical rainforest. It plays an important role in keeping the ecosystem in balance and provides an umbrella of protection to all other life forms in its territory.
- The Philippine Eagle is embedded in the oral histories and other cultural artefacts of several indigenous groups in the country. This indicates that it performs a role in the human production of unique cultures.
- Economically, the presence of a healthy eagle population can also be a source of livelihood for the communities living near its area through eco- tourism. A healthy forest, in turn, helps control soil erosion, mitigate the effects of climate change, minimize flooding, and provides additional sources of food, medicine, clothing, and shelter for our people.
What is being done to save the Philippine Eagle?
As PEF’s contribution to the global effort to save the Philippine Eagles, we have been working on recovering their populations through various conservation actions, both in the wild and the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City. These involve conservation breeding, education, field research and, community-based initiatives.
- Conservation breeding
The PEF breeds eagles in captivity to produce and condition young that can be released in habitats where its population significantly decreased (restocking) or have died out (reintroduction). We aim to add sexually mature eagles in the wild where they can breed and increase their species’ population. Our Conservation Breeding program employs both breeding of natural pairs and cooperative artificial insemination techniques.
- Conservation education
Furthering public awareness on the plight of the Philippine Eagle is the domain of our education program. We have launched an education campaign by working with about 1,700 teachers in 579 schools throughout the archipelago. Focusing on teachers to help educate our children enabled us to reach large numbers of people using limited resources. We complemented this campaign with our Open Classroom Project at the Philippine Eagle Center where elementary and high school students receive lessons on wildlife through workshops and encounters with our animal and plant exhibits.
- Field research
We do field research to further understand the biological and ecological needs of the eagles, the threats they face and how they are responding to these threats and other changes in their environment.
Among the research methods we do are radio and satellite telemetry. These methods have allowed us to describe and understand the actual size of habitats used by an adult pair, the manner by which they use the forests, and which part of the forests or which types are selected and avoided, among others. Knowing all of these would allow us to estimate how many eagles are left in the wild, and how habitats can be managed and protected to benefit the eagles.
Apart from natural science research, we also study how people perceive the eagles and how best people and eagles can live harmoniously together. Indeed, knowledge generated from the natural and social sciences are the backbones of our conservation actions. Using innovative methodologies, modern technologies and, practical tools we aim to generate scientific data to form conservation decisions. This way, we can come up with the best way to manage habitats for the eagles while generating benefits to local peoples as well.
- Community-based conservation initiative
We are particularly interested in community-based conservation planning where we aim to meet both eagle and human needs. We have been focusing our attention at engaging the partnership of local communities in the uplands since 1991. We believe that upland communities are the best hope we can bank on to protect our forests. Most of these marginalized communities, like the eagles, depend on the forest to survive. Our work with local communities focuses on alleviating poverty through building capacities and developing enterprises. We link local communities with other NGOs and government services to increase resources available to the community. Additionally, this helped address issues including land tenure, ancestral domain claims, health, and education.
- Conservation breeding
What is the effect of the loss of the Philippine Eagle to the human wellbeing?
The Philippine Eagle’s loss in the ecosystem has a graver threat on human welfare. We are dependent on the forest’s resources, from watersheds, food supply, raw resources for various industries, and mitigating the impact of climate change. If the forest can’t sustain the Philippine Eagle’s needs, soon it can’t provide for our own. The extinction of the eagles reflect a serious and alarming flaw in how people relate to the natural environment and wildlife. If our behavior and actions continues to pose danger to the survival of biodiversity, it won’t be long before we will suffer from our own folly.
What are the obstacles to the preservation of the Philippine Eagle?
Weak implementation of the law has been one of the obstacles in preserving the Philippine Eagle. Sanctions for harming the Philippine Eagles are not strictly implemented. This has contributed to the lack of awareness for the people living near the eagles’ home.
Other obstacles include political and economic instability in the country and the erosion of peace and order conditions in some parts of Mindanao. For organizations like the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), we rely almost exclusively on private contributions to sustain our work.
Locally, the communities living in poverty prevents them to use the forest resources conscientiously. Sustainability goals become sidelined because they opt to meet their priority of acquiring basic needs like food, and shelter.
While these conditions have admittedly hindered our projects, we do not let these challenges hinder our goals.
How many Philippine Eagles are left in the wild?
There is roughly 400 pairs of Philippine Eagles left in the wild- and this is only a conservative estimate on their population.
Why is the Philippine Eagle considered rare?
The Philippine Eagle has been considered a priority in wildlife conservation not only because it is endangered but because it is evolutionarily rare. Based on the results by a study of University of Michigan researchers, they found out that Philippine Eagle DNA is remotely related to the other five big raptors of the world- the America’s Harpy Eagle, Crowned Eagle, Solitary Eagle, and the Crested Eagle and the New Guinea Harpy Eagle. The Philippine Eagle was once grouped with these other five eagles because of their similarity in size and weight. Dr. David Mindell and his team discovered that the Philippine Eagle represents a unique lineage that is closely related to none. There is one group though that is related but only remotely: the snake eagles of Southeast Asia and Africa. Its evolutionary rarity is further affirmed by the fact that it is the only species in its genus which is Pithecophaga.
The Philippine Eagle, occurring in naturally low population densities, high death rates due to human causes, have made them even more difficult to find in the forests.
- Notes on the biology and population status of the Monkey- Eating Eagle of the Philippines, Robert S. Kennedy Vol. 89, No. 1, March 1977
- Brown and Amadon 1968
- Lerner and Mindell (2005) and Ong et al. (2011)
Ibanez, J.C. 2008. Philippine Eagle breeding biology, diet, behavior, nest characteristics, and longevity estimate in Mindanao island. Unpublished. Masters Thesis. Ateneo de Davao University, Davao City.