One of those “obligatory” stops in Davao is the Philippine Eagle Center, home to 36 Philippine Eagles, 18 of which are captive-bred. There are only about 600-800 Philippine Eagles left in the wild–and that’s the optimistic number. This three-digit statistic means that this species is close to extinction.
Before visiting the Center, I didn’t know a lot about the Philippine Eagle, or birds in general. I’m not a “bird person.” In other words, I don’t get the appeal looking for birds all day with heavy binoculars. I’d rather be underwater gawking at nudibranchs (a.k.a. sea slugs). But my best friend Kester told me that the Philippines has the highest endemicity in bird species, which means we have many birds that can only be found here. Perhaps I just haven’t met the right person who has shown me how fascinating and entertaining bird watching can be.
Seeing the Philippine Eagle in real life was spectacular. It’s GORGEOUS. It perches on trees with swagger, like it knows just how guapo it is.
The Philippine Eagle conservation movement, to quote my friend Medel, is both inspiring and sad. Here are some fun and not-so-fun facts about our national bird:
1) The Philippine Eagle is also known as the “monkey-eating eagle.” This is a bit problematic. While it does eat monkeys, it actually prefers flying lemurs and civets more. But I guess “civet-eating eagle” just doesn’t sound as fierce.
2) Philippine eagles are monogamous. As in, they mate for life. (Talo pa ang mga tao.)
3) During breeding season, the male eagle offers food and nesting materials like twigs and branches to his chikababes to convince her that he can provide for their family. He does this EVERY FREAKING BREEDING SEASON. ATTENTION, MEN: pa wine and dine naman muna every time your hormones are raging.
4) Male and female eagles share parental responsibilities. They take turns sitting on the egg during incubation and watching the chick when it finally hatches. My House Husband ang peg.
5) They do not mate again until they know their baby will be able to survive on its own. This is why they only have one kid every two years. FAMILY PLANNING AT ITS FINEST.
6) A couple of decades ago, the government gave up on the conservation of these birds. “Lost cause” daw kasi. The staff took over and waived their salaries for an entire year, just so the eagles would have food and a fighting chance for survival. One man had to miss the birth of his kids, because he was in the Center witnessing the birth of Philippine eagles.
7) The Center has many ways to raise funds–corporate and individual donors, sponsorships, etc. Adopting one Philippine eagle costs PHP150,000/year. That’s like one year in a private college. A simpler way is to buy a block for the walkway. For 300 pesos, have your name or a quotable quote engraved on a cement block.
8) The Philippine eagle is disappearing rapidly because it is shot. Out of the six released last year, four were already killed. (Just writing that makes my heart wince.) Sometimes they’re killed because they eat the crops of farmers. Other times, people hunt them because they think the birds look prettier stuffed and displayed in a living room or on a dinner plate.
9) Habitat loss is probably the most alarming reason. You see, the Philippine eagle is a biological indicator of healthy forests. They’re like the sharks of the sky. A pair of Philippine eagles needs at least 7,000-13,000 hectares of forest to raise a family. We lose over 270,000 hectares of forest a year. Pre-Spanish occupation, we had 2.7 million hectares of forest cover. Studies published in 2003 show that we have lost more than 80% of that. AFRAID.
10) Why should the loss of Philippine eagles matter to Filipinos? Because huge loss of forest cover threatens our survival too. We depend on the forest for a bunch of things. It’s our site for ecotourism, source of raw materials, and protection from flooding and soil erosion. Saving the Philippine eagles means saving the Filipino people too.
Vote for the Philippine Eagle at the Bird World Cup Finals here.
Visit the official website of the Philippine Eagle Foundation here.