Detmold Raptor Sanctuary
If you’re a nature lover and happen to be in northern Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia way, then you could do a lot worse than head to the beautiful medieval town of Detmold and Alderwarte Berlebeck the Raptor sanctuary in the suburban foothills. I’ve seen bird sanctuaries all over the world, but this has to be the best, even just for the surrounding picture-post card scenery in the valley below.
The sanctuary rescues injured raptors with the intention of releasing them back into the wild when they have recovered and they also breed up the birds. They have some local government funding, but rely on entry fees and donations to keep going, you can also sponsor a bird if you wish.
To drive to the sanctuary, input Hangstein Street Detmold to your GPS, the route takes you past the magnificent Detmold University of Music and into some of the most beautiful German houses in the hills, it’s worth it for the drive alone (about ten minutes out of the city centre). The ample parking area comes up on a sweeping corner to your left, half way up a hill and you walk across the road to the sanctuary entry. There were suburban buses passing all the time, so no doubt it’s possible to catch a bus from the city centre, I don’t know if there are tour buses visiting the sanctuary, I didn’t see any. Beware, there is a substantial 250 metre steep uphill climb of wide concrete stairs to reach the sanctuary! There is an access road, so you can drop people off, then drive back down to the parking area, also if you have a disabled person with you, you can park up the top as well. I would suggest that if you have an elderly person who is not a fit walker, then perhaps drop them at the top.
The entry fees are very reasonable – E6.50 adults and E3.50 for kids (5 – 14), there are also group concessions available. It’s open from 9.30am to 5.30pm and there are bird flying demonstrations at 11.00am and 3.00pm from March through to November, plus an extra show at 4.30pm during Summer. For other months and more details, refer to their website www.adlerwarte-berlebeck.de and yes, it’s in German but has an easy ‘click to translate to English’ button.
Entry is through lovely old style wrought iron gates, past a typical old German house, beautifully renovated, the lady at the entry kiosk spoke English and they also have an A4 sheet translated into English, explaining the birds on display and flying, however during the actual shows, the handlers speak in German, but hey, it’s the birds that are the show.
When you’re through the gate, there is a long single story building on your right, walking past that, you get to the kiosk, selling all the usual café food, souvenirs and beer etc. On past the kiosk, you walk down a short flight of steps to the beginning of the pathway leading through the bird display area (the toilets are to your immediate right as you come off the steps.
The display is really well laid out, however you will find all the signs on the cages etc, are in German, but if you’ve got the English sheet with you, it’s all easy, besides, you’ll know what a lot of the birds are and there are world maps showing where each bird comes from. There are displays of baby birds and a lot of the bigger birds of prey are on leather leads on a grassed area to your left. It’s all very easy to photograph and for little kids to see, everyone is well catered for. The cages are in superb condition, I don’t know how often they are cleaned, but they were spotless.
There are two flying shows, the first sees everyone seated around a platform jutting out over the valley far below, the handler sends the birds flying out over the valley, where they soar majestically. In case you’re wondering, the birds are fitted with GPS so they can be located if they decide to go exploring! It really is amazing to see these magnificent creatures return of their own accord and interact with the crowd. Remembering the commentary is in German, what you need to know, is to stay seated, or the birds will land on your head (the tallest object around!) and if they do, don’t panic, stay calm – I watched it happen several times, to little kids as well as adults, with no issues. Also put all food away, or the birds will take it straight off you! Don’t be tempted to stand to take a photo – ditto they’ll land on you! And really you don’t need to stand to take decent pics or video.
It was fascinating to watch some of the younger birds, still unsure of themselves in terms of flying, like little kids, they’re straight back to mum (the trainer) rather than soar off into the wild blue yonder, the trainer is literally calming them down, teaching them how to fly and glide. There is a real reluctance on the part of young birds to leave the nest, they expect the food to be brought to them, the trainers do exactly as the parents do, gradually put the food further and further away in order to make the young chic leave the perceived safety of the nest. It was a fabulous demonstration, with an amazing display of speed from Falcons capable of reaching 240km/h+ for short bursts! Most of these raptors can spot a mouse a couple of kilometres away. Oh and somebody asked why the different species of birds don’t fly together during the show, the handler gently reminded everyone that there is a pecking order, the bigger birds would immediately kill and eat the small birds of prey, a reminder that nature is always both beautiful and dangerous at the same time. He also told us the birds that can fly, all go flying during the day, as they get depressed if they can’t and of course wet weather stops them flying. We were there after several days of rain and consequently the birds were very happy at being able to play.
After a 45 minute break – try the chips and mayonnaise for a snack – the next demonstration is on the pretty lawn oval with a pond and waterfall. The effect of this show, is to bring the birds very close to everyone as they fly, often barely a metre of the ground. It was instructive to watch a young eagle being taught how to catch food on the wing – essential for his / her eventual survival in the wild, the trainer explained there were foxes waiting at the bottom of the valley, they knew when the birds were being trained and would eat anything the birds dropped. I was particularly astounded when they brought out an owl, I had no idea owls could be trained in the same way as an eagle, or a falcon, or even that some owls flew during the day, as such the owl was a real highlight for me. Old Hooty was followed by a family act of three Falcons, they were a lot of fun and very chatty, finally the biggest daddy of them all came in, the Australian Eagle and you realised smaller birds and animals would have zero chance of survival. It also has to be said, the trust these animals displayed to their handlers was amazing, as each bird finished its training and exercise, one of the handlers would be standing by the doorway of the long building and the birds would all fly straight to them, sitting on leather protected arms to be walked through the door into the building.
I’d allow three hours at the sanctuary, it is that interesting and don’t forget the camera – or phone, truly an awe-inspiring display of the beauty and power of nature, as well as the obvious dedication and love of these birds by their handlers. I can’t recommend Adlerwarte Berlebeck enough.