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It's a Harpy Day in the Neighborhood

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

Coastal French Guiana, January 2020

My recent parrot conservation exploratory trip to French Guiana was a success, that is, if I let go of the devastatingly low number of parrots I observed. The causes of this I cannot affirm, because it was my first time in the country, but the past history of high exports, hunting of all parrots, three per day, (but not macaws) and the allowance of legal capture of "non-macaw" parrots for your home probably has a lot to do with it. For whatever reasons, along the coast where there was much secondary forest, the parrots were scarce, although where I lodged outside of Matoury (thank you Emerald Jungle Village!) we were able to approximately locate a roost site of orange-winged amazons (65+ coming in from the one direction). I also observed painted parakeets and dusky parrots there. The people I stayed with, and others I talked to, said the number of parrots had indeed decreased, and macaws were rare to see (red-and-green macaws mostly).

There is a harpy eagle in that big tree there, really!

Due to the relatively low population of parrots, I was astounded when I heard that there was a rare harpy eagle nest nearby. Accompanying me were local wildlife conservationists, who drove towards Cayenne, the capital city, into a more densely populated segment of the coast. Incredulous, I joked that they had placed a robotic fake harpy eagle there to draw in tourists. No way there could be such a top predator so close to people, especially in a region with a strong hunting culture. In other countries this species is absent, or if present, you have to trek into areas that take time and money to get to. Instead, for us, we were only 15 minutes from the international airport when we turned off onto a dirt road and drove a short distance when we spotted our host with his spotting scope trained on a big tree about 200 meters away.

Happy to see the Harpy, and to find humor in the event. Thank you guides!

Even at that distance, with my bare eyes I could see the huge stick nest and a giant white bird perched nearby. I continued to joke that the still bird was surely not alive, as she only moved her head now and then with her crest feathers blowing in the wind. She was very real, however, quietly perched because she was a young bird, nearly all white. Her parents were off somewhere hunting, leaving her and the nest alone. Her talons seemed as big as my hand and her ankle bones as big around as my wrist. I kept giggling, so delighted was I that I got to see such a beauty in person.

No really, there IS a harpy eagle there (phone picture taken through the spotting scope)

Those who know about the harpy nest don’t keep it a secret. They want local people to connect to this species, so that they will want to preserve it. Maybe one day, the same will be said for shot and trapped parrots in this country, so that on the way to and from the airport your hosts can show you multiple nests and roost sites of parrots, connection leading to cherishing and conservation. I see this clearly as a possible future for French Guiana, and it will take a lot of work to get there and to make this a happy neighborhood for all.

Red-and-green macaw in French Guiana watching over his nest

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