Why Are Philippine Eagles Drowning?

Philippine eagles are washing ashore in Mindanao.

On September 19, a Philippine eagle washed ashore on the coast of Sarangani. It was not the first time the national bird of the Philippines had washed ashore. Eight previous cases of drowned Philippine eagles had been recorded in Mindanao, three of which were found in one specific place: Maasim, Sarangani, according to the Philippine Eagle Foundation

The latest case of a drowned Philippine eagle was significant because the eagle was untagged: It was a wild eagle, offering hope that there are pairs in the wild that are actively breeding. According to the Philippine Eagle Foundation, an air gun pellet was lodged inside its left thigh but there was no open wound, which means the shooting happened some time ago and the wound already healed. No other body injuries were visible.


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A Drowned Philippine Eagle That Washed Ashore on September 19, 2022

Photo by Philippine Eagle Foundation.

Photo by Philippine Eagle Foundation.

“Based on its weight and physical characteristics, the Philippine eagle is estimated to be a young female, less than 4 years old. This age suggests that the eagle is yet sexually immature, unpaired, and without a territory. It belongs to a segment of the wild eagle population that is referred to as ‘floater’” or ‘surplus’—eagles that wait until they are ready to mate and occupy their own territory,” the PEF wrote in its report. 

Drowned eagles point to the leading threat to the species’ survival: Habitat loss

With insufficient forest cover, it is more difficult for eagles to find safe places to rest on. Apart from suffering from the effects of their shrinking hunting grounds and habitats, Philippine eagles are extremely sensitive to human activity, which affect their breeding. In fact, disturbances in adjacent lots near the Philippine Eagle Center are stressing out the birds, which in turn refuse to breed. When Philippine eagles can’t find a place to roost, they keep flying over the sea, eventually succumbing to exhaustion and falling into the water. 

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With fast-dwindling forest cover in Mindanao, the highly territorial Philippine eagles are losing the battle for survival. “A single Philippine Eagle needs at least 7,000 hectares of land to thrive,” writes the PEF. 

“This is an incredible challenge considering the current state of the Philippine forests. In fact, one of the largest threats to the survival of the species is habitat loss due to illegal logging, upland farming, and forest encroachment.”

Conserving eagles is not just about breeding them in cages. It’s more about protecting and rehabilitating their forests. 

“To sustainably conserve our eagles, we need to protect our remaining old-growth forests,” writes the PEF. 

The partner forest guards of the Philippine Eagle Foundation are one of the species’ last hope for survival. To date, they have planted 11,000 native trees that they have grown from their own nurseries and have removed over 200 native traps making the forests safer for the Philippine Eagles. But their fight is long from over. 

‘Our forest guards do the important work of protecting the forests where our national bird nests. Without them, this daunting mission would be impossible,” writes the PEF. “But this is not enough as not all Philippine eagle nest sites are protected.”

The Philippine Eagle Foundation is seeking help in supporting its forest guards, the eagle’s last allies in protecting their forest sanctuaries. They accept donations made through their page

Forest guards help ensure the survival of the world’s rarest eagle by combatting habitat loss due to illegal logging, upland farming, and forest encroachment. 


“We strive to strike a balance between development needs and conservation goals. In return for the clear conservation outcomes of our partner forest guards, we help with their livelihoods, educational needs, bridge access to health services, and others,” the PEF writes. 

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor-at-Large
Mario Alvaro Limos is features editor-at-large at Esquire Philippines, and heads the Lifestyle and Esports content of SPIN.ph as its section editor. Email him at [email protected] and [email protected]
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