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Philippine Eagle soars high in Eastern Visayas

/ 12:07 AM June 18, 2011

TACLOBAN CITY, Leyte—The Philippine Eagle continues to soar in the skies of Eastern Visayas, particularly on Samar Island where it was first discovered 115 years ago.

Reports of sightings of the country’s national symbol have reached the Regional Eagle Watch Team (REWT) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which is tasked with monitoring the rare and elusive bird.

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According to team leader Arnulito Viojan, the last time the Philippine Eagle was observed was on Sept. 18, 2010, in Mt. Nahulopan, Barangay San Rafael, Taft town in Eastern Samar.

Two of the guides, whom Viojan identified only as Jonar and Winston, were resting when they saw the eagle perched on an abandoned nest tree.

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Recent sightings were reported in MacArthur town, also in Eastern Samar, and in Barangay Aguingayan, San Jose de Buan town in Samar.

Earlier reports pointed to Mt. Lublob in Sulat, Mt. Nahulopan in Taft, and Mt. Guintubli in Maslog, all in Eastern Samar; Mt. Huraw in San Jose de Buan, Samar; and Mt. Capotoan in Las Navas, Northern Samar.

Many other sightings were reported in Burauen and Jaro, both in Leyte; Calbiga, Samar; and Basey, Samar.

Surveys were scheduled this September during the breeding season, when the Philippine Eagle builds its nest, courts and mates.

“Our target area is from Borongan City down to MacArthur town in the south because the forest there is still in good condition,” Viojan said.

It is not easy to locate the Philippine Eagle because it is elusive and intelligent.

Loud and high-pitched whistles usually alert people of the presence of the Philippine Eagle.

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“When the bird swoops down to perch on a tree, you can feel its presence. But when you look around, you can’t locate it anymore,” Viojan said.

Endemic to the Philippines, the majestic and mighty bird can only be found in eastern Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao.

It was discovered by John Whitehead, an English explorer and naturalist, on Samar Island 115 years ago. His servant Juan, brought him the bird of prey on June 13, 1896, after it was caught in the village of Bonga in Paranas, Samar.

The name given to the newly discovered eagle was Pithecophaga jefferyi, from the Greek word pithecus (ape or monkey) and phagus (“eater of”) because it was believed then that the great eagle exclusively preyed on monkeys.

The jefferyi commemorates Jeffrey Whitehead, the father of John Whitehead.

It was only later when it was discovered that the Philippine Eagle also eats civets, large snakes, monitor lizards and flying lemurs, among others.

In 1978, the monkey-eating eagle was renamed the Philippine Eagle. In 1995, it was declared the national bird.

A mature Philippine Eagle weighs from 4.7 kilograms to 8 kg and has a wingspan of 184 centimeters to 202 cm.

Its nape is adorned with long brown feathers that form a shaggy crest. It has a dark face and a creamy-brown nape and crown.

The bird’s back is dark brown, while the underside and underwings are white.

The Philippine Eagle is monogamous. But if one of the pairings dies, the remaining bird often searches for a new mate. Courtship is done by nest building and aerial displays.

Breeding begins between September and February. The complete breeding cycle lasts two years, with the female maturing sexually at five years of age and the male at seven.

The female eagle typically lays one egg. Incubation lasts up to 68 days. The eaglet acquires flight feathers after four or five months. Both parents take care of the young for about 20 months.

Each breeding pair requires a home range of 25 to 50 square miles to successfully raise a chick, and thus the species is extremely vulnerable to deforestation.

The bird’s life expectancy ranges from 30 years to 60 years.

Viojan underwent training at the Philippine Eagle Foundation Center in Davao City, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the endangered Philippine Eagle and its rainforest habitat.

At the center, the trainees are taught ways to spot the eagles and how to handle retrieved raptors.

In 1998, the REWT-8 was able to observe a couple of adult eagles and an eaglet on a nest tree in Mt. Nahulopan.

On July 31, 1999, then President Joseph Estrada signed Proclamation No. 155 establishing the 3,720-hectare Taft Forest Wildlife (Philippine Eagle) Sanctuary on Samar Island. The place includes Mt. Nahulopan.

Viojan said a viewing deck would be built at Station No. 5 in Mt. Nahulopan, which has a good scan of the mountain, including the abandoned nest tree that is still frequented by eagles, and its surroundings. It would have a height of 25 to 30 meters.

“We will jointly undertake this project with a resort owner in Taft, who is a wildlife registration certificate holder,” Viojan said.

This year, a satellite wildlife rescue center with the same resort owner may be put up, he added.

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TAGS: Animals, Conservation, Philippine Eagle, Samar Island
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