Papua New Guinea: The bismarck hen is the most bizarre bird in the world

THEh, why do you do that to yourself? And that in the South Pacific, on an island in Papua New Guinea, where you could also laze down on the beach? Why instead do visitors jump over even hotter mineral springs in the tropical heat, climb through sulfur clouds, climb the crater rim of a volcano? It cannot be due to the magnificent view from 700 meters above Simpson Harbor and the whole of Blanche Bay.

Not even the more fascinating, because more gruesome view over the crater rim into the seething volcano. This is roughly how one imagines hell. It smells just like that, somehow pungent. It’s stifling, but the real warmth comes from the rocks. As if someone had switched on underfloor heating. In contrast, the more than 30 degrees warm air is almost refreshing.

But these exertions are worth it. Excursions to the Tavurvur at the easternmost tip of New Britain, a Pacific island of the Bismarck Archipelago off the island of New Guinea, are popular because they are exclusive and usually booked out at the same time. Only a few visitors are allowed to go up the volcano with trained guides. Because the Tavurvur is still active.

The Bismarck grouse in New Britain uses volcanoes

Not far from the bay’s beach, the path leads through a field of black lava sand dotted with funnel-shaped holes. It looks like a battlefield after days of shell fire. And here of all places, in a seemingly dead lunar landscape, tens of thousands of very special birds live. A biotope of extremes.

They used to be hunted, but today the Bismarck chickens are strictly protected in New Britain

Quelle: Education Images/Universal Image

A couple of men crouch on the edge of some of the craters. Inside, at a depth of several meters, others dig deep into the warm soil. “We’re looking for eggs,” explains 30-year-old William Pidik. And shows a brown specimen the size of an avocado, three times as heavy as a normal chicken egg. His companion Chris Simon crushes the egg and lets the yellow yolk run into his mouth with relish.

These large eggs are considered a delicacy and come from one of the strangest birds in the animal kingdom, which in the course of evolution has settled in this hostile area of ​​all places. The animal has the potential for a quiz show: Which bird has black plumage, a red part of its face, a yellow beak, uses the geothermal properties of the volcanic soil for breeding and also has a German name? Correct answer: the bismarck hen.

Papua New Guinea: When digging and scratching, the Bismarck hen checks the temperature of the soil.  It lays its eggs where it is exactly 33 degrees

When digging and scratching, the Bismarck grouse checks the temperature of the soil. It lays its eggs where it is exactly 33 degrees

Quelle: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The black and brown chicken got its name during the German colonial period from 1884 to 1918, when the former Chancellor Otto von Bismarck served as the namesake for islands and parts of the sea – and for flightless birds.

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The poultry, which belong to the big footed fowl family, are the only birds in the world that allow their eggs to hatch using volcanic heat and do not care for the brood. A comfortable two-legged friend, if you will, but one that fits the zeitgeist: He has always used regenerative energies and can therefore devote himself to other things during this time. For example, doing nothing.

Finding the delicacy is dangerous

This is a very progressive, but also risky strategy, because animal and human egg thieves have to see it as an invitation. It has also taken care of that with quantity: it lays eggs all the time, up to 50 eggs per year.

First it digs and digs, pauses, checks the temperature of the ground, and continues digging. Its beak has a sense of warmth like a thermometer. Then it only lays eggs where it is exactly 33 degrees. That can be close to the surface, but also three meters in the volcanic sand.

The animal then leaves hatching to the comfort of the volcanic soil. Because of its unique and fairly well-cooked breeding behavior, it is also called the thermometer chicken, which the locals of the Tolai people call it Ngiok.

Papua New Guinea: Only a few locals from the nearby village are allowed to look for the eggs of the Bismarck chickens

Only a few locals from the nearby village are allowed to look for the eggs of the Bismarck chickens

Source: Harad Stutte

For the professional egg hunters from Matupi, the chickens are a source of modest prosperity. Only a few locals from the nearby village are allowed to look for these eggs with the blessing of the provincial government of New Britain.

Each of these collectors has their own little territory, which they mark with sticks for the next day. However, this search is not safe, sometimes the holes dug deep into the loose earth collapse and spill the searchers. That is why someone is always sitting on the edge of the crater and paying attention.

Papua New Guinea: The ground nests of the Bismarck chickens are marked with a stick

Found: The ground nests are marked with a stick

Source: Harald Stutte

After the chickens have buried their eggs in the lava sand in the morning, the work of the men begins. Only a few clutches are dug up. The lazy birds, incapable of any real flight skills, are now sitting in the undergrowth, watching the men from a distance while they are doing their work.

The eggs are very fragile shortly after being laid, which is why the men are more careful the deeper they dig – almost like archaeologists. The shell of the egg only hardens in the sun.

The chicks are immediately on their own

After several weeks, the chicks hatch from the remaining clutches and are immediately self-employed as nests. They are on their own and are scared away by the old animals. “We only get freshly laid eggs and leave older ones in the ground so that the population is secure,” says William Pidik.

Also out of self-interest: “Otherwise we would eventually run out of income.” This endeavor to achieve sustainability works well. The animal welfare organization “Bird-Life International” does not consider the egg hunt in New Britain to be a cause for concern.

Papua New Guinea: Only a few visitors are allowed to go up the Tavurvur with trained guides, because the volcano is still active

Only a few visitors are allowed to go up the Tavurvur with trained guides, because the volcano is still active

Quelle: Getty Images

In their volcanic home, the chickens have to live with another threat that has been recurring since prehistoric times: eruptions. The Tavurvur last erupted ten years ago – with it the dense undergrowth that offers the flightless chickens protection from hawks and foxes disappeared. Since the most recent outbreak in 2011, however, a lot of bush has grown back and the density of Bismarck chickens has increased accordingly.

A relatively good salary in Papua New Guinea

“Egg time” is only in the dry season from March to November. When, in November, the wind, which had previously come from the south-east, turns in a north-westerly direction and the rainy season begins, the egg-laying time is over. In the past, the men of the Tolai people who live in New Britain in the Bismarck Archipelago also hunted the chickens. But they are strictly protected today. Poaching is punished.

William Pidik and the other egg collectors dig where they find traces of the Bismarck chickens in the black sand. Each of the seekers brings home between ten and 20 eggs in the evening. “One egg brings three kina on the market,” says William Pidik. That’s the equivalent of around 75 cents. His wife sells the eggs on a market stall. That means you can earn around 300 euros a month – a comparatively good salary in impoverished Papua New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea: A local sips the yellow yolk of an egg with relish

A local sips the yellow yolk of an egg with relish

Source: Harad Stutte

There is a daily market on Maluguna Road in the northern part of Rabaul. It was mostly women who exhibited their products under colorful parasols – bananas, coconuts, betel nuts, but above all many artfully stacked pyramids made from bismarck chicken eggs.

Here is 38-year-old Colleen Darby from Matupit. However, the woman in the colorful dress did not sell many eggs that day. “They’re pretty expensive for the people here. You don’t buy them every day, ”she says. “But sometimes people from other parts of New Britain drive here just for the eggs.”

In the capital, Kokopo, they are considered a delicacy. The first market women are already dismantling their stalls. “What I don’t sell, we eat at home,” says Colleen Darby.

The eggs boil in the hot spring

The men’s egg hunt over at the foot of the Tavurvur is also over. William Pidik and Chris Simon wash sweat and volcanic dust from their bodies in the sea. Before rowing your canoe to Matupi, you stop at one of the hot springs, which, before it pours into the bay, forms a basin at one point.

The men build a basket out of branches and plant fibers, in which they lay several eggs and hang them in the boiling hot spring with a long stick. After 15 minutes the eggs will be cooked.

Volcano hikers from other regions of New Britain appreciate this snack for the equivalent of around one euro. Foreign holidaymakers often do not dare to try the egg. And miss a culinary highlight that no star restaurant in the world has on its menu: Bismarck chicken eggs hard-boiled in volcanic spring water. A lot of yolk, little protein, an intense taste of egg yolk with a fine mineral note.

Neubritan in Papua New Guinea

Source: WORLD infographic

Tips and information

Getting there: For example with Singapore Airlines or Lufthansa to Singapore. With Air Niugini then via Port Moresby to New Britain. Entry is currently only allowed with a special permit, Covid-19 test and 14-day quarantine. A tracking app must be used during this time.

Volcano tours: Some operators offer round trips to Papua New Guinea including a volcano tour. For example 23 days from 9340 euros, each with a day tour to the Bismarck chickens ( 14 days from 5749 euros ( Four-day tour of New Britain from 1420 euros from / to Port Moresby (

Accommodation: The chalets of the “Kokopo Beach Bungalow Resort” are located on the beach, double rooms from 160 euros (

In the “Gazelle International Hotel” in Kokopo all rooms have a view of the volcano, double rooms from 159 euros (

Further information:

Participation in the trip was supported by the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at

This text is from WELT AM SONNTAG. We will be happy to deliver them to your home on a regular basis.

Source: Welt am Sonntag


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