1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Harpy

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HARPY, a large diurnal bird of prey, so named after the mythological monster of the classical poets (see Harpies), — the Thrasaëtus harpyia of modern ornithologists — an inhabitant of the warmer parts of America from Southern Mexico to Brazil. Though known since the middle of the 17th century, its habits have come very little under the notice of naturalists, and what is said of them by the older writers must be received with some suspicion. A cursory inspection of the bird, which is not unfrequently brought alive to Europe, its size, and its enormous bill and talons, at once suggest the vast powers of destruction imputed to it, and are enough to account for the stories told of its ravages on mammals — sloths, fawns, peccaries and spider-monkeys. It has even been asserted to attack the human race. How much of this is fabulous there seems no means at present of determining, but some of the statements are made by veracious travellers — D'Orbigny and Tschudi. It is not uncommon in the forests of the isthmus of Panama, and Salvin says (Proc. Zool. Society, 1864, p. 368) that its flight is slow and heavy. Indeed its owl-like visage, its short wings and soft plumage, do not indicate a bird of very active habits, but the weapons of offence with which it is armed show that it must be able to cope with vigorous prey. Its appearance is sufficiently striking — the head and lower parts, except a pectoral band, white, the former adorned with an erectile crest, the upper parts dark grey banded with black, the wings dusky, and the tail barred; but the huge bill and powerful scutellated legs most of all impress the beholder. The precise affinities of the harpy cannot be said to have been determined. By some authors it is referred to the eagles, by others to the buzzards, and by others again to the hawks; but possibly the first of these alliances is the most likely to be true. (A. N.)


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Harpy.