PHILIPPINE EAGLE AND BIRDS IN THE PHILIPPINES

BIRDS IN THE PHILIPPINES

Half the endemic species of bird in the Philippines are endangered. Between 1961 and 1998, more than 40 percent of the bird species from Mt. Isarog lowland forest on Luzon vanished, even though the mountain is a national park. Half the 14 birds on Cebu are extinct. The four-colored flowerpecker was not been seen for decades and was thought to be extinct because it habitats in Cebu was gone. Then a small patch of forest was found with flowpeckers in it. But new species are being discovered. Lina's sunbird is a species first collected in 1965 but misidentified as a known species and recognized as a new species in 1997.

The Philippines is home to some of the world's most exotic birds. Many species such as the Philippine eagle are found nowhere else in the world. One of the most endangered species is the exotic Kalangay or the Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia), which belongs to Psittacidae or the family of parrots. Some cockatoos can live up to 50 years. They are known for mimicking human voices. Most of them measure 33 centimeters in length and weigh 0.29 kilogram.

The Visayan wrinkled hornbill is found only in the Western Visayas islands of Negros and Panay. Reaching lengths of 65 centimeters, it is a colorful bird with a yellow tale and yellowish head and red bill. Males weigh up to 1,200 grams, females weigh up to 800 grams. Like other hornbills, it build nests in covered holes in trees. There are believed to be only 120 to 160 left and the populations are declining. [Source: Canon]

The Walden’s hornbill has a yellow face, orange casque and red bill. It is found only on the islands of Panay and Negros. It may be close to extinction. The Palwan hornbill has a white beak and casque which looks as if it has been dipped in chalk. It survives only on Palawan.

The Calayan rail is a species of bird discovered in the early 2000s on the small island of Calayan in the northern Philippines. the only place where it is found. It looks sort of like a blackbird but can’t fly and has a bright orange beak. Its closet relative is the Okinawa rail.

Philippine Eagle

With a wing span of over two meters, the Philippine eagle is the second largest eagle in world, and one of the rarest. The Harpy eagle of South America is the largest. The Philippine eagle used be called the "monkey eating eagle" but Ferdinand Marcos found the term "monkey eating" to be denigrating so he proclaimed in 1978 that from then on the bird would to be known as the Philippine Eagle in part to promote national pride. In 1995, it replaced the maya, a sparrow, as the national bird. The eagle is found on only three islands, with the largest number on Mindanao.

The great birds of prey of the rain forest—the Harpy eagle, the crowned eagle of Africa and the Philippine eagle— are remarkably similar. All have large crests, and broad relatively short wings with long tails, which allow them to maneuver through the trees. They build a large, platform nest of twigs which they reuse season after season and usually raise a single offspring that stays with the parents for about a year. One unique feature of the Philippine eagle is its blue eyes, a rarity among raptors. Both sexes raise their crests. Their large size is due in part to they fact they evolved without competition from big cats and other large predators.

Mel White wrote in National Geographic, “Exactly how big a hole would be left by the loss of the Philippine eagle? The loss of this glorious bird would steal some of the world's wonder. It glides through its sole habitat, the rain forests of the Philippines, powerful wings spread to seven feet, navigating the tangled canopy with unexpected precision. It is possible that no one has ever described this rare raptor, one of the world's largest, without using the word "magnificent." If there are those who did, then heaven heal their souls. [Source: Mel White, National Geographic, February 2008]

Eating and Nesting Habits of the Philippine Eagle

Even though it used to be called the monkey eating eagle, the Philippine Eagle it turns out it only rarely eats monkeys. What it mostly eats are flying lemurs, which aren't really lemurs and are kind of similar to flying squirrel. Naturalist Robert Kennedy who spent several years observing these eagles noted that they also eat small deer, cobras, palm civets, snakes, flying squirrels, fruit bats, birds, monitor lizards, bats, and yes a monkey or two.

When it eats a monkey the Philippines eagle swoops down on a troop of monkey. It singles out its victim when they scatter in a panic and pounces and carries the still struggling prey back to its nest where it is dismembered and eaten of the courses of several days by the eagle family.

Philippine eagle can reach a length of one meter and weigh up to six kilograms. A nesting pair requires 25 to 50 square miles of forest to find enough prey to feed themselves and the single young they produce every other year. Young often stay with heir parents for a year and a half. At first both parents provide food for the young. Breeding pairs favor tall trees with open crowns. Nests are built at 25 meters to 50 meters and often used for consecutive nestings.

Endangered Philippine Eagle

The Philippine eagle was declared near extinct in the wild in the official Red List by the World Conservation Union in 2004. It has declined dramatically in just the past 50 years, owing to extensive deforestation and loss of habitat. Estimates vary, but surveys indicate no more than 340 breeding pairs currently exist.

The Philippine eagle is found mostly in small isolated areas on Mindanao and was thought to be on the verge of extinction, due mainly to the destruction of its habitat. Recently however the eagle has been spotted with some frequency on Luzon where it hadn't been seen at all for years and throughout the country it seems to be making a comeback. In the early 1990s one was spotted in northeastern Luzon, where none had been reported for many years. In the early 1980s there were 300 to 500 eagles. In the ear;y 2000s there may have been less than 200.

Mel White wrote in National Geographic, “In the kind of irony all too familiar to conservationists, however, the very evolutionary adaptations that made it magnificent have also made it one of the planet's most endangered birds of prey. There is no competition for prey from tigers, leopards, bears, or wolves in the Philippine archipelago, the eagle's only home, so it became, by default, the king of the rain forest. Expanding into an empty ecological niche,i t grew to a length of three feet. "The birds had the islands all to themselves, and they grew big," says Filipino biologist Hector Miranda, who has studied the eagles extensively. "But it was a trade-off, because the forest that created them is almost gone. And when the forest disappears—well, they're at an evolutionary dead end." [Source: Mel White, National Geographic, February 2008]

Indeed, with deforestation rates in the Philippines among the highest in the world (more than 90 percent of primary forest may have been lost to logging and development), the eagle has been reduced to a population estimated at several hundred breeding pairs. Awareness about conservation issues, however, is rising in the Philippines. A series of devastating floods and mud slides in the past decade has convinced Filipinos that the loss of forest affects not just wildlife but people too. In recent years new protected land areas have been established in the Philippines; one, the 17,300-acre Cabuaya Forest, specifically protects the eagle. And in an effort to prevent the eagle population from dwindling further, the Philippine Eagle Foundation on Mindanao island is working to educate Filipinos about the bird. At least some of those who once would have shot an eagle for food or sport now let it soar unmolested. [Source: Mel White, National Geographic, February 2008]

Eagles are being raised in captivity through artificial insemination at the Philippine Eagle Center in Mindanao near Davao run by the Philippine Eagle Foundation. Keepers use hand puppets to feed the chicks and prevent them from imprinting on humans. As of 2008, 21 eaglets had been hatched. More than a dozen eagles are kept at the center, some of which were rescued after they were trapped or shot. The aim of the breeding program is to release birds back into the wild. In 2008, the first surviving chick in that program celebrated his 16th birthday. When he was born he was given the name Pag-asa, the Tagalog word for hope.

New Bird Species Discovered in the Philippines in 2013

A ground-warbler from the Philippines was described as a new species in 2013. Mongabay.com reported: “The species, dubbed Robsonius thompsoni, is described in the August issue of the journal The Condor. It was discovered after researchers from the University of Kansas, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, the University of the Philippines Los Baños, and the Philippine National Museum distinguished it from two closely-related ground-warblers. The first clue was the bird's coloration, according to University of Kansas biologist Pete Hosner. [Source: mongabay.com, September 18, 2013]

“When we noted the different plumage coloration between adult birds in the Cordillera and the Sierra Madre in northern Luzon, we sequenced DNA to determine if the plumage differences were individual variation within a species, or if the two plumage forms were also genetically diagnosable,” Hosner said. “We found that Cordillera and Sierra Madre birds were highly divergent in their DNA, almost as different as the distinctive Bicol Ground-Warbler in southern Luzon."

The new species is named after Max Thompson, a retired professor from Southwestern College and a research associate in the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas (KU). “He received his master’s degree from KU in the '60s for his studies on the birds of Borneo, and he has conducted avian research on every continent,” Hosner said. “When Max retired a few years ago, his extensive research collection came to the KU Biodiversity Institute. We wanted to name the bird after Max for his decades of avian research around the world and thank him for his contributions to KU ornithology.”

New Flightless Bird Found in the Philippines in 2004

In August 2004, scientists announced they had found a new species of flightless bird on Calayan Island in the Philippines, the conservation group BirdLife International said. The rare find is dramatic because flightless birds on small islands are especially vulnerable to human activities. The crow-size bird has a bright red beak and legs and dark plumage. [Source: ENS, August 17, 2004]

ENS reported: “In May, Carmela Espanola was walking in the forest on a remote island in the northern Philippines when she saw a small group of unfamiliar dark brown birds with distinctive orange-red bills and legs in underbrush near a stream. Then she saw two more of the birds cross the trail and begin turning over dried leaves with their bills. Her notes, photographs, and recordings of their loud, rasping calls showed that the species was new to science. A biologist, Espanola was part of a team of Filipino and British wildlife researchers surveying the birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians of the Babuyan Islands. She discovered the bird in lowland forest on the island of Calayan, and so the team named the new species the Calayan rail. It belongs to the family Rallidae, which includes rails, gullinules and coots, many of which are migratory birds, but the Calayan rail is flightless, or nearly so. Its scientific name is Gallirallus calayanensis.

Over the next several days, the Babuyan Islands Expedition team saw adult and juvenile birds within a two kilometer range of their rainforest camp, and estimated there are 100 to 200 pairs in the area. The sightings were made in forest with coralline limestone outcrops, caves and small streams. The team took photographs and video footage of the birds in the wild, and of one young female in the hand, together with detailed measurements. The species has lived undiscovered on Calayan for at least a century. Calayan was last visited by ornithologists 100 years ago, in 1903-04.

The Calayan rail is a relative of the internationally familiar moorhen, its bright red beak and legs contrasting with its dark plumage. Although they are not thought to be under immediate threat, the development of roads on the island may lead to new settlements, resulting in loss of habitat. Construction has already started on one road around the edge of Calayan island and another linking that road to the center of the island. Roads bring the introduction of predators such as cats and rats, the research team says. Such alien predators have been implicated in the majority of flightless rail extinctions. Eighteen of the 20 living species of flightless rails are considered threatened, and the majority of rail species that have become extinct since 1600 were also flightless.

I felt sure the Babuyan Islands would hold some interesting discoveries, but I didn’t expect to find a totally new species,said Genevieve Broad, the co-leader of the expedition. I’m thrilled for the team. I hope this will bring the recognition these islands deserve as an important site of biological diversity.” Josh Cole of the Rufford Small Grant committee, who provided funding for the expedition, said, ?We are delighted that our involvement in funding conservation work on the island has helped in such a significant scientific discovery.’

Vanishing Philippines Wetlands Threatens Arctic Bird Migration

AFP reported: “Black-crowned night herons take off to roost at sunrise as the day shift arrives for a feeding frenzy at the Candaba marsh in the Philippines. Thirty years ago the marshes covered some 32,000 hectares (79,000 acres) but thanks to the spread of agriculture and urbanisation just 72 hectares remain. Today, ornithologists count some 12,000 birds a day -- a fraction of the number three decades ago. "In the 1980s they would routinely count 100,000 wild Philippine ducks and mainland Asian garganays (wild ducks) in one day, just for the two species," said Michael Lu, president of Wild Bird Club of the Philippines. [Source: AFP, February 12, 2009 \^/]

“Among the 50 or so wetland areas in the Philippines, the Candaba swamps -- covered in reeds and water hyacinths and bisected by high earthen levees -- are a key staging ground for birds ranging from huge purple herons to tiny Arctic warblers that return to continental Asia in the spring. They had flown several thousand kilometres (miles) south months earlier, just before the winter. But as the swamp has shrunk so too of course has the supply of fish, snails, insects and other food. What remains is hemmed in by rice paddies and communities that raise hogs and domesticated ducks. \^/

“The honking transients jostle each other on a huge fishpond owned by Candaba town mayor Jerry Pelayo, who has earned his environmental spurs by setting aside half the property for the seasonal visitors. "This is the only place that remains as habitat for the birds," said Carmela Espanola, a wildlife biologist for the University of the Philippines. "A lot of the wetlands are under threat because people keep reclaiming them," Lu said. Since the area is all titled property, if owners drain the swamp the habitat would disappear and there is nothing the government could do, Lu said.

“The Philippines situation is also unique in that a lot of people still hunt wild birds, Lu said. Candaba farmhand August Sombillo used to belong to these ranks. The 38-year-old father of six told AFP he used to hunt snipes that strayed into the six hectares of rice paddies he tends nearby. The great winter migration coincides with the only time of the year that the marshwater ebbs low enough to allow rice planting. The meat of the pointy-beaked wading birds was a key protein source for his family who subsist on his annual share of the grain produce that adds up to less than 100 bags of unmilled rice. \^/

“But the mayor has banned the trapping of birds, unilaterally declaring the marsh a protected area and asking restaurants in surrounding towns to stop serving wildlife dishes. Pelayo said he has also asked hog farmers upstream not to dispose of pig waste in streams that empty into the swamp. The environment department, which conducts an annual census here, said there had been some good news with the endangered black-faced spoonbill and the rarely seen pied avocet returning this year after a three-year absence. \^/

“However the main trend is toward a decline. "The big ones like the spot-billed pelican used to come here in Candaba," Espanola told AFP. "There used to be cranes and woolly-necked storks, but they have been extirpated in the Philippines." The decline mirrors the status of birds endemic to the country -- of the 593 birds found in the Philippines, 181 are indigenous. Of these, 25 are considered endangered, half of them critically. \^/

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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