The birth of an eagle

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Thursday, February 20, 2014


EXACTLY on my birthday, February 7, 2014, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje announced the birth of a new Philippine eagle which was hatched in the wild. The eaglet named "Atbalin," is the 4th eaglet to be hatched in the forest of Baliguian in Zamboanga del Norte. Previously, we only hear of eaglets being hatched in captivity.

Baby ‘Atbalin’, according to the DENR, is the 4th eaglet of the Philippine eagle couple Dionisio and Milia. Previous hatchlings of Dionisio and Milia were Fernando, followed by Binoni Pusaka and Mitigam. Binoni Pusaka and Mitigan are Subanen names which mean “hidden treasure” and “clever”.

Dionisio and Milia only breeds once every two years. They take care of their offspring for 22 months until the eaglet is ready to leave its parents’ territory to establish a home of its own. I guess this long breeding interval is also one of the reasons why the Philippine eagle population is dwindling.

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I am lucky to have personally seen the Philippine Eagle at the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City. The Center is home to 36 Philippine Eagles, 18 of which are captive-bred. It’s a different kind of feeling to see them flap their big wings in their cage which resemble their natural environment. The Philippine Eagle has a wingspan of 6 feet to 7 feet (wikipedia).

The Philippine eagle, also called “Haring Ibon”, is the country’s national bird. It is categorized as a critically endangered species or at high risk of extinction under the National List of Threatened Species and by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Their numbers are diminishing in the wild due to habitat destruction and poaching. Atbalin’s birth therefore is a welcome development, a cause for celebration.

The Philippine Eagle is a giant forest raptor endemic to the Philippines. It is considered one of the largest and most powerful eagles in the world. Unfortunately, it is also one of the world's rarest and certainly among its most critical endangered vertebrate species. The eagle is known to be geographically restricted to the islands of Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao.

The Philippine Eagle is a long-lived species. A captive bird in Rome Zoo was received full grown in 1934 and died in 1976, making it at least 41 years old at death. A male eaglet at the Philippine Eagle Center arrived as a young bird in 1969 and it's still alive and that makes it about 34 years old. It is still unknown how old eagles get in the wild. But based on the fact that wild birds face the many exigencies of the forest environment which is rather absent in the captive conditions, wild birds may live shorter than captive birds. (source: http://www.philippineeagle.org/index?pageval=thephileagle).

The Philippine Eagle is also known as Monkey-eating-eagle. But this is inaccurate as monkeys are only a fraction of their diet. According to the Philippine Eagle Center, their food consists mostly of Flying Lemur (54 percent), Palm Civet (12 percent), Flying Squirrel (7.8 percent), snakes (6.6%) and other birds (7.8 percent).

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on February 21, 2014.

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