By Henrylito D. Tacio
During my elementary years, our social studies teacher told us that “maya” – the Philippine oriole – is our national bird. But during the time of the presidency of Fidel V. Ramos, he signed Proclamation No. 615 naming the Philippine eagle as our bird icon.
In a press conference that followed thereafter, Ramos said that if the national bird dies, “so will all the country’s efforts at conserving its natural resources and treasures.”
In 2005, the Philippine eagle was chosen as the official mascot of the Southeast Asian Games.
If you’re looking for forever among mates, then the Philippine eagles is more likely the best example. When it finds a partner, it means mate for life. Once bonded, each won’t court another one of their kind unless their partner dies.
The Philippine eagle – locally known as “banog,” “garuda,” “manaol,” “tipule,” and “haring ibon” – serves as the barometer of our environment. “As the species on top of the food chain, the Philippine eagle has a crucial role to play in keeping the gentle balance of the ecosystem in check,” says the Philippine Eagle Foundation, Incorporated (PEFI) in its website.
“(The bird) helps naturally regulate species population and provide an umbrella of protection to other forms in its territory. An abundant Philippine eagle population signifies a healthy forest.”
In other words, the Philippine eagle is the best biological indicator of the survival rate of the country’s forest cover. The fewer forests, the fewer Philippine eagles. “The forest is the only home for the great Philippine eagle,” PEFI says. “It is where they obtain food, reproduce, and nourish their offspring.”
A pair of Philippine eagles needs about 4,000 to 11,000 hectares of forest land to thrive in the wild, depending on the number of prey items in the area. They typically nest on large dipterocarp trees (like the native species lauan) in lowland forests.
The Philippine eagle (scientific name: Pithecophaga jefferyi) is classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “critically endangered” as there are only 400 breeding pairs remaining.
These eagles are endemic in the country. “This rare and majestic bird species can be found nowhere else but in the Philippines,” PEFI said. They are mostly found in the islands of Mindanao, Luzon, and Samar-Leyte.
The biggest threat comes from the loss of their habitat. “For decades, while no one was looking, over 100,000 hectares of forest was destroyed, forcing the Philippine eagle into almost extinction.”
Other threats include prey depletion, low reproductive rates (the female lays one egg every two years), mining activities, hunting, and poaching.
How can we save our national bird from disappearing from this part of the world? Here are some suggestions:
Keep eagle habitats from disturbance. If you notice a disturbance of an eagle’s nest habitat area by an individual or a corporation, notify immediately your local state wildlife agency. As much as possible, don’t go near the area where their nests have been seen.
Protect their sources of food. They feed on flying lemurs, lizards, palm civets, squirrels, snakes, bats, cloud rats, and monkeys. If these are not available, how can these birds survive?
Keep their eggs safe. A female Philippine eagle lays a single egg every two years. This egg is incubated alternately by both eagle parents for about 58-60 days, with the male eagle doing most of the hunting during the first 40 days of the eagle’s life while the female stays with the young.
Don’t shoot them. At least one eagle is killed every year because of shooting, according to PEFI. As their habitat is being destroyed and their source of food become scarce, they usually hunt livestock and chickens which are being raised by people. In some instances, because the eagles snatch these raised animals and birds, the owner may retaliate by killing the eagles.
Stop cutting the trees. “Illegal logging and irresponsible use of resources have resulted in the disappearance of their forest habitat that brings deathly consequences to the species,” PEFI said.
Support PEFI. “We combine scientific research and methods with cultural knowledge and practices to create a holistic approach to conserving the species,” the eagle foundation stated. “We work with local communities and different organizations to maximize our operations, in-situ and ex-situ.”
In-situ is the raising of the endangered birds in its original habitat while ex-situ is the method of propagating the species in captivity.
Efforts to save the Philippine eagle were started in 1965 by Jesus A. Alvarez and Dioscoro S. Rabor. General Charles Lindberg, an American aviator, spearheaded a drive to save the bird (which he called “the air’s noblest flier”) from 1969 to 1972.
The Philippine eagle is second only to the Madagascar sea eagle in rarity. In size, it beats the American bald eagle; it is the world’s second biggest after the Harpy eagle of Central and South America.
Its former name was monkey-eating eagle. It was given its present name through Presidential Decree No. 1732 when it was found that monkeys comprise an insignificant portion of its diet.