DAVAO CITY — With an estimated 400 pairs left, it is a rare sight in the wild to see or encounter the critically endangered Philippine eagle.
However, the Philippine Eagle Foundation spotted a new family of the country's national bird in an expedition that started in July 2019.
The PEF, together with the Energy Development Corp., and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) launched a project called “Search for the King of Birds” in 2019, where they began searching in the Mount Apo Geothermal Reservation in Kidapawan City.
This led to the discovery of an immature Philippine eagle, around 2 years old, during expeditions in July and September 2019.
The team continued the search as the presence of an immature eagle indicates that its parents could be nearby. After going through quarantine in compliance with COVID-19 health protocols, the team embarked on a month-long expedition last month.
It was after spending 192 observation hours deep in the forest that month that the team detected one eagle pair and their 2-year old young in a feeding area within the Mount Apo Key Biodiversity Area.
"There were at least eight instances that Philippine eagles were documented or a total contact time of 1,590 minutes or 26.5 hours. That is binge-watching 30 episodes of the 'Game of Thrones.' Those exhilarating moments of watching the family of eagles comprise only 14.0 percent of the 192 observation hours of the entire expedition," the PEF said in a statement Wednesday.
With numerous hours spent by the team, its members have also witnessed what appeared to be a courtship routine and breeding behavior of the eagle couple as this time of the year is within the nesting season for Philippine eagles in Mindanao.
"Our hearts raced at the sight of the eagles doing their elegant aerial rituals. The two eagles mutually presented their talons in mid-air called 'talon presentation'. They also did several bouts of flying together in spirals or 'mutual soaring'," the PEF said.
The team also witnessed "food-begs" when they heard loud, crying calls from a hungry young eagle. And what excited them was the prey delivery, in which the adult eagle brought a freshly killed prey for the young eagle, proof that the bird was a juvenile.
In one of the observation platforms occupied in the forest, the team also saw a juvenile eagle trying to hunt a long-tailed macaque, which is one of their food, as they are also known as the monkey-eating eagle.
"It amused us watching the bird take on a group of long-tailed macaques. The juvenile already had its eye on the foraging macaque troop across the valley. Until finally, it leaped and darted towards the troop. This caused the macaques to run frantically in different directions to avoid the lethal claws of the immature bird," the PEF said.
"As a desperate move to corner a macaque, the bird tried to balance on a bush close to the ledge and squeezed its body through the vegetation. But the poor bird could not get through because of the thick foliage resulting in the macaque’s easy escape."
The effort is part of PEF's goal to find all eagle nesting sites within Mt. Apo (KBA) and to protect each of these sites that are ancient breeding areas, with generations of eagle pair occupied the same nest site over and over again.
Aside from detecting the Philippine eagle, there were seven other raptors seen during the expedition in Mt. Apo Key Biodiversity Area, which include Philippine Serpent Eagle, Philippine Honey-buzzard, Brahminy Kite, Philippine Falconet, Chinese sparrowhawk, crested honey buzzard, and the Peregrine falcon.