Avicultural Society visit to Belgium September 2023

The Avicultural Society’s annual foreign visits resumed this September following a break of three years as a result of the pandemic and difficulties associated with travelling. Twenty five members, a further five having had to withdraw for reasons of illness, set off for Belgium on the 8th September After a six hour delay at Folkestone, the result of a bomb scare, the party arrived at their comfortable hotel only half an hour’s drive from the first visit which was to Pairi Daiza elected the ‘Best Zoo in Europe’. Even a whole day’s visit could not do this extraordinary zoo justice. Spix and Lear’s macaws were on show as well as the remarkable shoebill which the zoo has been fortunate to breed.

Day 2 started with a visit to the inner city zoo of Antwerp, the diamond cutting centre of the world. The zoo was compact with many beautiful aviaries and an excellent bird collection, our visit being much enhanced by the enthusiastic curator of the bird collection and excellent guide, Jan Dams. A particular highlight was the enormous and iconic mixed species aviary of african species opened in 2016. Containing over twenty species of birds including starlings, turacos, ibis, storks and vultures to name only a few together with a group of Cape buffalo, it is a remarkable sight. At least as interesting is the fact that the birds are all trained to use separate enclosures within a four storied building on the far side of the aviary where they are fed and can be managed by their keepers.

The second half of the day was spent at Planckendael Zoo, Antwerp’s Whipsnade equivalent. Laid out as a series of continental collections, highlights included the rare sight of a group of West African bonobos and the South American walk through aviary featuring penguins, Inca terns and breeding flamingos with chicks of every size. On the last day we were delighted to renew our friendship with Noel Hendrix and his wife Patricia whose large collection features turacos and six species of tinamous, the miniature relative of ostriches. But that’s not forgetting great argus pheasants, parrotlike, penguins, flamingoes and everything in between, all in a suburban garden.

Our last visit was to Jean-Pierre Mommen, a larger than life character who specialised in a more limited number of species about which he was extraordinarily knowledgeable. His collection of cranes was complemented by South American jays, including eye catching and confident plush crested jays; Eurasian nutcrackers, rare members of the corvid family, which
none of the party had seen before in captivity, and Go-away birds, which are widely considered difficult to breed. Jean Pierre also specialised in keeping and breeding Victoria and Scheepmaker’s crowned pigeons. These birds were kept in outside aviaries with heat only when the temperature dropped to 9 degrees although they were always shut in at night, both winter and summer.

All agreed it had been a very successful visit with much packed into only three days.

Philip White
7th October 2023