Crested Eagle: The Ultimate Guide

The Crested Eagle, not to be confused with the Long-Crested Eagle or the Crested Serpent Eagle, is a large Neotropical bird of prey. It is also the only member of the Morphnus genus. 

If you want to learn more about this magnificent bird of prey, you’ve come to the right place! Below, you will find everything you need to know about the Crested Eagle including its appearance, nesting habits, and what it feeds on. 

Appearance

The first thing to note about the Crested Eagle is that, although they are large birds of prey, they are still considered fairly slender. From the tip of their to the top of their head, they measure 28-35 inches long. They also have a wingspan of 55-70 inches. 

This might seem like quite a short wingspan for an eagle but this allows them to fly with extreme accuracy through dense woodland and trailing foliage.

As their name would suggest, Crested Eagles have a large crest of feathers adorning the top of their heads. Their heads themselves are also pretty large, and this size is only exacerbated by the impressive plumage displayed on top. 

Crested Eagles have bare legs and their tarsus measures around 4-inches on average. They also have a fairly long tail that measures between 13-17 inches and weigh between 2.9lb – 6.6lb depending on sex.

The plumage running across the head, back, and the chest is a light brown-grey color.

Crested Eagles also have a white throat and sport a distinctive dark spot on their famous namesake crest. Another identifying feature you’ll find on a Crested Eagle is their dark mask that runs across their eyes. 

Male VS Female

As is the case with most birds of prey, female Crested Eagles are larger and heavier than males. However, that’s pretty much where the differences between the two sexes stop. 

Both male and female crested eagles are almost identical in appearance. The female’s eyes are slightly darker than the male’s, and their cere and feet are black. Other than that, it is very difficult to tell them apart. 

Are They Aggressive?

Crested Eagles can be aggressive to other birds of prey when they feel as though their territory or nests are being threatened. However, they are rarely challenged as their sheer size and powerful killing capability make them a force to be reckoned with.

Crested Eagles have also been known to attack humans, particularly during their breeding season. However, the injuries sustained have never resulted in any fatalities. 

What Adaptations Do They Have?

Crested Eagles have a few adaptations that make them extremely efficient hunters. The first of these is their shorter wingspan, which allows them to navigate through twisted woodland and dense canopies without getting trapped. 

The black mask that runs across their eyes allows the Crested Eagle to hunt without the glare of the sun affecting its vision. 

Crested Eagles also have super-sharp talons that allow them to quickly kill their prey and transport it without dropping it. These talons also come in handy for feeding, allowing the Crested Eagle to slice through flesh. 

It’s not only the talons that do all of the work, though. On the bottom of a Crested Eagle’s feet, you’ll find spicules.

These little lumps are specially adapted to increase the amount of traction the Crested Eagle has on its prey, allowing it to establish a firmer grip should it start wriggling. 

Finally, a Crested Eagle also has a sharp, hooked point on its beak. This adaptation makes it easy to tear into flesh for feeding, as well as taking smaller portions of flesh for feeding their young. 

Breeding / Reproduction Behavior

The breeding season for Crested Eagles falls between the dry and wet seasons (March-April) in their natural habitat of Central America’s tropical rainforest. This is also when the Harpy Eagle’s breeding season runs, but the two species tend to avoid each other as much as possible.

The female constructs a huge, shallow, cup-shaped nest out of sticks and leaves in the main fork of a large tree. She’ll choose somewhere that is concealed near the top canopy to keep the chicks protected from predators.

Other than this, the breeding and reproduction behaviors of Crested Eagles aren’t very well known. This is because they are a rare species that live in a fairly remote location, so documenting them is quite difficult.

The number of eggs that are laid is also unknown. However, going by the reproductive behavior of similar species, it’s believed that Crested Eagles lay 1-2 eggs. 

Their Calls / Sounds

Interestingly, Crested Eagles spend the majority of their lives in silence. The reason for this is believed to be that they need to remain as inconspicuous as possible to stay hidden from potential predators and from their prey.

They are, of course, capable of making sounds though. A Crested Eagle’s call consists of a pair of high whistles in short succession, with the second whistle being sounded at a higher pitch than the first. 

What Do They Eat? (Diet)

The Crested Eagle has quite a varied diet, but it tends to go for smaller prey as a way of avoiding direct competition with neighboring Harpy Eagles. 

Their main food source is smaller birds including Guans, Jays, and Trumpeters. However, they have also been known to feed on smaller mammals such as Capuchin Monkeys, Tamarins, Woolly Monkeys, Opossums, and Kinkajous.

Crested Eagles have also become adept at catching snakes and lizards, of which there is an abundance of in their natural rainforest habitat.

Where Do They Live? (Habitat)

Crested Eagle

Crested Eagles have quite an extensive range and are distributed throughout Northern Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Northeastern Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.

They were once distributed across Brazil, but deforestation has pushed them exclusively to the Amazonian basin.

Crested Eagles set up their homes in humid, lowland forests (most commonly rainforests) but they can also be found living in gallery strips and forest ravines. 

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

The nesting habits of the Crested Eagles are relatively unknown, and there are two reasons for this. First of all, they are quite hard to spot in the wild, and, as such, it’s quite difficult to fully understand all of their breeding and nesting behaviors.

The second reason is that the nests that they do build are located high in the rainforest canopy, which makes it quite difficult to get a clear view of what’s going on.

What we do know is that, during their breeding season, female Crested Eagles build huge, shallow, cup-shaped nests high in the trees.

Once a suitable, monogamous partner has been found and the mating process has taken place, she’ll lay her eggs and incubate them. The male is responsible for sourcing food and protecting the nest from potential predators.

How Long Do They Live? (Lifespan)

Being such a rare species, it’s not entirely known how long a Crested Eagle’s lifespan is. To take an educated guess, we have to look at their closest relative the Harpy Eagle, which has a lifespan of 25-35 years. 

What Predators Do They Have?

Crested Eagles sit pretty high on the food chain and, as such, they don’t have many predators. Their main threat comes from humans and deforestation, which has led to them losing their natural habitat. 

What Are Their Feathers Like?

While rare, it’s quite easy to identify a Crested Eagle should you ever see one. The first tell-tale sign is the impressive crest that adorns their large heads, and this is where they get their name from.

Both male and female Crested Eagles are very similar in appearance. They have light, brown-grey-colored plumage that runs across their head, back and chest. This contrasts as we get to the throat, which is white. They also have a dark mask that runs across their eyes.

Juvenile Crested Eagles, on the other hand, look completely different from adults. They are marble-grey in color overall, and their feathers turn to a sandy-grey in the second year of their life. They don’t come into their final colorings until they reach adulthood.

Do They Migrate?

Crested Eagles do not migrate, and the reason for this is simply because there is no need to. Their natural rainforest habitat is warm enough all year round, so they don’t need to fly to warmer climates for the winter.

Conservation Status

The Crested Eagle’s conservation status is “Near Threatened”. This is mainly due to human interference and deforestation.

The term “Near Threatened” simply means that Crested Eagles may be considered threatened in the near future if things don’t improve. However, for now, they aren’t classified as threatened. 

Fun Facts

A baby Crested Eagle is called an Eaglet.

A Crested Eagle can fly and dive at speeds of up to 100mph. Even more impressively, it can come to a stop at less than 20ft above the ground.

While Crested Eagles are capable of making noises and they have a distinctive whistling call, they spend most of their lives in silence.