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Lower Saxony: The harpy in the Walsrode bird park is not to be trifled with

Germany Lower Saxony

This newcomer to the bird park is not to be trifled with

She looks funny, but has claws like a grizzly: A harpy is the new darling of the public in the world’s largest bird park in Walsrode. The animals are excellent hunters – the only problem is when it comes to reproduction. German zoos are also involved in breeding.

Kira Hanser

responsible editor travel/style/motor

Lower Saxony: A harpy can now be admired in the Walsrode bird park Lower Saxony: A harpy can now be admired in the Walsrode bird park

A harpy eagle can now be admired in the Walsrode bird park in Lower Saxony

Credit: pa/imageBROKER/Angela to Roxel

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Dhe’s a pretty weird bird. When he raises his feathers like a bonnet, tilts his head and looks at visitors for a long time, he looks funny. Or she, because it is a bird lady. She is the new darling of the public in the world’s largest bird park in Walsrode, Lower Saxony. She was born at the Miami Zoo in 2019 and was christened “Cupcake” there.

But this harpy, pronounced Harpje, is not to be trifled with. That’s why their large aviary looks like a high-security wing, and they’re only fed through a sluice. Close-meshed fence so that nobody fingers their mobile phone for a photo. That would not be a good idea.

Their name is no coincidence: in Greek mythology, harpies are bird-like demons. Like the mythical creatures, this giant bird is also a devilishly good hunter: the strongest griffin in the world, the most successful predator, claws like a grizzly, one of the largest of its kind.

It only flies to eat, otherwise it sits in a tree for days on end, waiting for prey. He doesn’t bother with small livestock, but catches howler monkeys, giant sloths and deer calves in a 80 km/h swoop. A top performance, compared to falcons are lame ducks.

World’s first breeding of a harpy in the GDR

The only problem is with reproduction. The harpy is solitary and as lazy in love as a panda bear. It only works every few years, and then only one chick comes. This low reproduction rate is fatal to the unique bird in its homeland: it is severely threatened by deforestation, slash-and-burn and poaching for stuffed specimens as trophies.

That is why German zoos in particular have long been involved in a harpy breeding program and are now working on artificial insemination with a gene pool reserve. For example, the Tierpark Berlin, which, by the way, was the world’s first breeder in GDR times in 1981, and the Tiergarten Nürnberg, in cooperation with the Vogelpark Walsrode, with currently two breeding pairs. Many of the hatched young animals came back to Central and South America from Germany, and their offspring have already been released there.

This has made itself felt: Costa Rica is currently celebrating the return of the harpy. For the first time in 40 years, an animal was sighted in the north of the Central American country. Colombia also reports several new breeding pairs.

The giant bird is considered an indicator of an intact ecosystem. Stable deposits still exist in Panama, Ecuador, Guyana and parts of Brazil. Wherever it is missing, its prey has also disappeared, the rainforest areas have shrunk and all the giant trees it needs have been felled.

Birdwatchers among vacationers spend a lot of money to discover these birds on jungle tours. There is exclusive “harpy trekking”, for example in Panama at, in Guyana at and in Brazil at

Or you go to the zoo. A male harpy sits in the Berlin zoo, famous for staring at visitors with dogs for a particularly long time. The new bird lady in Walsrode would be a good match.

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