Animals in the Emergent Layer of the Amazon

Updated March 23, 2017

The Amazon rainforest in South America is undoubtedly one of the richest and most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Its four layers---namely, the emergent, canopy, understory and forest floor---contain a rich array of plant and animal species that compete fiercely for survival. The emergent layer of the Amazon is the highest level, where the treetops reach toward the sky. This layer consists of a myriad of birds together with insects, butterflies and occasionally, even monkeys looking for food.

The Harpy Eagle

One of the highest flying animals in the emergent layer of the Amazon is the harpy eagle, which also weighs in as one of the heaviest flying animals in the region, weighing up to 9kg. It has a strong, hooked bill and piercing eyes. Its long tail and wide feet allow for balance and flight stability. Its feathers are usually grey, with black and white interspersed in several areas. One of the harpy eagle's most distinctive features is its black crest of feathers that show when it sits. The harpy eagle is said to be the biggest and strongest eagle in South America.

Scarlet Macaws

The scarlet macaw---with the scientific name of ara Macao---is the archetypal bird of the Amazon. Its bright red plumage, with other hues underneath its feathers, make it an exemplary example of the Amazon's attractive wildlife. These parrots use their claws and powerful beaks to feed on hard nuts, but also eat fruits like bananas and papayas located along the treetops that make up the emergent layer.

An unusual fact about these birds is that in the wild, they leave the emergent layer and gather on exposed river banks to feed on red clay. The explanation for this behaviour is still uncertain.


A dozen or more species of toucans reside in the Amazon rainforest, and some of them are quite common in the emergent layer. Toucans have a large but hollow yellow bill, making it light and easy for them to move. Its black and white plumage is interspersed with blue or yellow toward the bill and to its feet. Toucans feed on ripened fruits as well as small snakes, insects and young nestlings of birds or bird eggs.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Steve Johnson is an avid and passionate writer with more than five years of experience. He's written for several industries, including health, dating and Internet marketing, as well as for various websites. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Texas.