The San Diego Zoo’s Girls In Science (GIS) students were given the opportunity of a lifetime this week when we made our way out to the Zoo’s Avian Propagation Center (APC) and got to meet a very charming young fellow named Julio. Well, Julio’s not really his name, and we don’t even know for sure yet if he’s a “he” (DNA tests are pending). But the three-month-old harpy eagle being hand raised by keeper Angie Steffen is spectacular and the girls decided he was worthy of a name.
Hatched on December 4. 2006, young Julio is the 13th harpy eagle to hatch here since 1992. At the tender age of 3 months, this baby bird, still covered in gray down and not yet able to perch, weighs in at a hefty 3.5 kilograms–that’s almost 8 pounds worth of baby bird! As an adult, he’ll weigh up to 12 pounds (5 kilograms) if he’s a boy; females can weigh up to 20 pounds (9 kilograms)!
Julio has been puppet-reared thus far, meaning the keepers cover themselves in a sheet, called a ghost, and use a puppet that looks like a harpy eagle to feed him. Just a couple of days ago, he was moved from the brooder room out into an isolated enclosure. Since he is now able to feed himself, the keepers sneak in with his food once a day, hoping to avoid any contact because they want him to know that he is a bird and not to imprint on the people caring for him. While lots of other bird species have been puppet-reared here, the California condors are probably the most well known.
Right now, he’s fed either a rat or a rabbit each day. The keepers go the extra mile by stuffing his main food item with mice or carnivore meat as well, to give him as much nutrition as they can. He will live at the APC for 6 to 9 months, then the Harpy Eagle Species Survival Plan will dictate where he’ll head to next. Right now, the San Diego Zoo is the only facility in North America raising these rare birds, but we’re hopeful that other zoos will have success in the near future. Harpies are native to Central and South American rain forests, and two of the birds hatched here have been released in Panama. Maybe Julio will get to join them!
Thanks, Angie, for providing us with such an amazing opportunity. Let us know how Julio fares; hopefully, we’ll be able keep track of him wherever he goes.
Cindy Spiva-Evans is an educator at the San Diego Zoo.
Girls In Science is a program for Roosevelt Middle School girls which creates science-based experiences with professional women at the San Diego Zoo. The program is funded through the generosity of the Wells Fargo Foundation.
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