PART I : 1916 - 1919

By Josef Lindholm III
First Published in The Avicultural Magazine Vol. 100 No. 1
Copyright © 1994 Avicultural Society, Published with Permission

As the Avicultural Society approached the end of its first quarter century in the gloom of the First World War, Mrs. E. Johnstone, herself a great aviculturist, the first to both keep and breed the Mikado Pheasant and the Mt. Apo Lorikeet (named Trichoglossus johnstoniae in her honour), forwarded a letter, written in French, to the Avicultural Magazine. Its editor, the eminent Hubert Astley, presented the following extract, here reproduced in full:

‘Mrs. Johnstone sends a letter from M. Delacour in France, in which he writes that although his château was invaded by Germans in September last, he only lost a few birds; amongst which were some rare waxbills; through the aviary doors being left opened.

M. Delacour successfully bred Buffon’s Touracos last year, and also Columba speciosa, as well as a great many hybrid Mikado-Elliott Pheasants. He remarks "je crois que personne n’avait jamais élevé de touracous; les Jeunes sont maintenant pareils aux parents."

Of course M. Delacour is mistaken, for Mrs. Johnstone herself was successful in breeding touracos at Burrswood.’

(A French aviculturist in the War Zone. February, 1916. (Series III) Vol.VII,120.)

There were members of the Avicultural Society introduced to the 25-year-old Jean Delacour, who joined the Society in 1916. Given that this note is largely written by the Rev. Astley it is, none-the-less, considered the first of the 281 articles by Dr. Delacour which appear in the pages of this magazine, spanning all four quarter centuries of its publication, the last appearing in 1982 (Gibbard, 1988, Lindholm, 1988). It is my intention to present, in this Centenial Volume of the Avicultural Magazine, excerpts from at least one of Dr. Delacour’s articles from each of the 64 years that he wrote for it, and thereby give an overview of aviculture during this time, as these writings not only cover his own extraordinarly diverse activities, but those of private and public collections around the world.

Appended to the second of Lieutenant Delacour’s contributions to the magazine, a detailed account of his propagination of BreedingBuffon's TouracoTauraco persa buffoni, is a note by the Rev. Astley, which I believe has been largely overlooked; though I have discussed it previously (Lindholm, 1987). Mr. Astley (who would shortly be one of Delacour’s closest friends), states that the female Touraco, and likely the male as well, were the same birds that bred for Mrs. Johnstone in 1904, the first captive breeding for the family (Johnstone, 1904). She identified her birds as T. m. acrorhynchus, a designation one continues to see in print (Rutgers and Norris, 1972). Delacour (1925) himself considered his birds and Mrs. Johnstone’s to be separate species, so perhaps they were, but from what we now know of the touraco’s remarkable reproductive longevity, it is certainly not impossible that the world’s first captive breeding pair may have continued to produce chicks at Villers-Bretonneux until their destruction in 1918.

‘In the month of April of 1914, Monsieur Robert Pauwels let me have a pair of Buffon’s Touracos which he had retained after the sale of his magnificent collection ... at Everberg (Belgium). He had had these birds in his possession for some years. They were in beautiful condition, but had never yet nested in his aviaries. Directly they arrived at Villers-Bretonneux, I installed them in an outdoor aviary ...

‘In June, two months after their arrival, I found on some straw in the nesting box beneath the shelter, two round white eggs the size of those of a Golden Pheasant. Male and female incubated them alternately, and in 18 days two young were hatched ... The parents took great care of them, but on the eighth day I found them dead upon the ground. I fancy it was the father who had done the deed ...

‘Three days afterwards two new eggs were laid in the same nest, which was always kept beautifully clean. The young were hatched in the month of July. After a few days, one was found dead on the ground. I then removed the male bird from the aviary, but his mate at once abandoned the remaining young one, which died. The parents showed pleasure when they were reunited. It was just then that war was declared, and I left Villers-Bretonneux on the 1st August (1914). I remained without news of my birds until the end of September, only knowing that the Germans had arrived at my home on the 30th of August, and had been driven out on the 12th of September, without having done great damage to my aviaries. (They had, however, killed a white Rhea, some rare waxbills, some sunbirds, etc.)

‘In the month of October, my Mother, who occupied herself actively in my absence with my birds, wrote to me that the touracos had again laid in the month of August, and the young ones had been born during the Germans’ invasion! One was dead, but the other was then more than a month old. The parents had taken good care of it, the male bird having done it no harm. The nestling lived until November, but it was rickety, with malformed feet. It died. The parents were then placed in the heated compartment until the following May.

‘The following are my Mother’s notes on the touracos during 1915:-

‘In the month of June, the female laid two eggs in the same nest as in the preceding year, and two young ones were hatched. They were thrown out and found dead on the ground after a few days. The second clutch was laid immediately, and two young were hatched on the 10th and 12th of August respectively. This time the parents took good care of them, and on the 5th of September, the strongest of the two left the nest and was found perching upon a bush. It was still very small, and covered with black down, and lacked the crest. But it flew fairly well, as it had some partly grown flight feathers which were black in colour; and returned every night to the nesting-box.

‘On the 20th of September its crest began to show, and its feathers grew, some red quills appearing in the wings. The other young one was rickety like that of the preceding year, and never left the nest. It died at the beginning of October ...

‘When I went on leave to Viller-Bretonneux in January 1916 I found the young touraco exactly resembled its parents; the three birds were always very united, and the parents allowed the young one to take the pieces of banana which were given to them, first ...

‘The young touraco began to feed itself at about the age of six weeks; the two birds fed it by regurgitation, after the manner of pigeons and parrots. We always give our touraeos the same food even when they have young ones; namely bananas, potatoes chopped in pieces and dry raisins ...

‘To sum up, this is what my pair of touracos have produced:

1914. Three nests. Six eggs. Six young ones, one of which survived for two months.

1915. Two nests. Four eggs. Four young ones, one of which lived two months, the other has become adult.’

(Breeding of Buffon’s Touracos in France Turacus buffoni) June 1916 (Series III) Vol. VII, 211-214.)

‘Dear Sir, A friend has given me some insects to be bred as a food for insectivorous birds; they are Carausius morosus. I am told that these insects are now given to the birds at the Zoological Gardens. Can you tell me if they are good for them, and if they would be suitable for my Paradise birds, Motmot, Toucans, Thrushes, etc. The insects eat ivy leaves.

Yours, etc ... Jean Delacour (France).’

(A beetle (?) for breeding as food. November, 1916. (Series III) Vol. VIII, 42.)

The Rev. Astley appended; ‘ I wrote to Mr. Seth-Smith, Curator of Birds at the London Zoological Gardens, who replied that he does not know this insect. Can any member enlighten us? Is it a beetle?’ In reply came a somewhat ascerbic note from Pierre Amédie Pichot (1916), to the effect that this species is a stick-insect Orthoptera, and that ‘ ... The Field published some time ago a note from the London Zoological Gardens stating that stick-insects had been given for food not only to the birds, but also to some ... mammals, such as Marmosets ...

‘Although my departure for the Army dated from August, 1914, I was able that year to see something of my birds: a convalescence, some leave, and above all, the chance that brought me near home during the summer, gave mc the opportunity of paying fairly frequent visits, and to obtain fleeting glimpses of them.

‘I came to the conclusion that the close proximity of the battles had no bad effect upon my birds, except that a much greater number of eggs were unfertile, a fact which is no doubt annoying, but not important on the whole. Considering their nearness to the "front" during more than two years, the essential point was not so much the increase of their numbers as the decrease. The coming and going of aviators, their fights, the appalling bombardment in the near neighbourbood seemed to trouble the birds very little and to cause no damage ...

‘Up till now an Ostrich has laid four eggs, whilst her mate has become more and more wicked, and has several times attacked his keeper. Neither have they suffered from the snow in which they walked about for a fortnight at the end of the winter, only going into their unheated shed for the night.

‘... The Egrets, egretta and candidissima, have their enclosure, but have evinced no inclination to nest. Although they never have fish to cat, they are in perfect condition. The smaller waders, such as Ibis, Gallinules, Ruffs and Reeves, Turnstones, Plovers, etc., keep in good health ...

‘There is nothing of interest to note with regard to the waterfowl, very little reproduction and few deaths. Some are full-winged, and only fly to escape from any danger. The Barnicle and Maned Geese have not laid, nor yet the Ringed Teal. There is a little company of Falcated Duck on the water, which give a fine effect.

‘...Buffon’s Touracos have reared a young one under the same conditions as in 1915, after having destroyed their first clutch of eggs, and as I write (October, 1916) a third clutch has been laid.

’...The Toucans have lived for more than three years, and are in fine plumage; they do not leave their large compartment in the heated corridor.

‘The five species which I possess have all the same habits, and are very tame and amusing.

‘These birds are not infrequently ailing, remaining for several days without eating, and their feathers ruffle, having no power to hold on to the perches.

‘Other species of birds would succumb under such circumstances, but the Toucans, on the contrary, recover after a few days, so that I am not very anxious when it is reported to me that one is ill.

‘... A few words as to the Paradise-birds. Alas, they only number three specimens: an immature male of the Greater Paradise-bird Paradisea apoda, and two males, one adult, the other approaching that stage of Wilson’s Schlegelia wilsoni ...These, along with the Sunbirds, came to me from the collection of the Marquis de Segur, which he had in Paris ...’

(Notes on my birds at Villers-Bretonneux in 1916. January, 1917. (Series III) Vol. VIII, 69-73.)

The article from which the above was excerpted was accompanied by the last installment of an inventory, with comments, by the Chevalier Debreul (originally published in the journal of La Société Nationale d’Acclimation de France) of Delacour’s birds. The first installment appeared in pages 34 - 41 of Vol. VIII, while the second ran from page 58 to 60. A total of 1,345 specimens of 344 species and subspecies were at Villers-Bretonneux as of June, 1916.

‘I received four Red-crowned Pigeons Pigeons hollandais in the spring of 1914, three males and one female, which were in fairly good condition, although evidently worn by their voyage ... I installed them in an aviary in the heated corridor, where they settled on a branch, nestling one against another, preening and arranging their feathers, and only leaving their perch to fly to the food-tray, from which they ate greedily and copiously of rice boiled in sweetened milk, with bananas and other fruits cut into small pieces ...

‘Indeed, the Pigeons regained their health so much that I found their aviary in a state of confusion one morning; one of the male birds was hunting and knocking his companions about, who, frightened, were crouching in the corners. This seemed to me curious, considering that up till then the three males appeared to be the best of friends and apparently attached to each other. I removed the aggressor, but the two remaining pigeons fought, so that I had to place each one in a separate flight.

‘I then made an attempt to put the female with each of the males in turn, but without success, for she would have been quickly killed had I left her to the fury of their attack on her.

‘Each of the four birds was consequently put by itself at the time that the war broke out.

‘For a year I saw them no more!

‘When I had my first leave home, in July, 1915, 1 found that one of the pigeons had died, whilst the others appeared to be in very bad health, their plumage and their bills soiled. I at once put them in an open-air aviary communicating with a heated compartment and had the satisfaction of seeing them benefiting by the change after a few days ... I feel certain that fresh air and space is absolutely necessary in order to keep them in good condition.

‘Unfortunately it has been impossible to leave the female with one of the males, and consequently one has no hope of their breeding.’

(The Red-crowned Pigeon Alectroenas pulcherrima. March, 1917. (Series III) Vol. VIII, 139 - 141).

‘Last winter was certainly the coldest I ever experienced at Villers-Bretonneux (Somme) since I have kept birds. Up to January 20th the weather was soft and rainy; afterwards a little snow fell, and it froze hard until the middle of February; about every night the thermometer indicated -15°C and more.

‘The ice in the pond exceeded 45 cm., and all the birds kept out of doors had only ice or snow to slake their thirst.

‘All that time the sun shone and the wind blew only the last week; and the war prevented the cold from being mitigated on account of want of coal, etc.

‘{Among the} the birds {which} bore the cold weather outdoor without any shelter and are in good health:

Ducks and Teal (even ringed Teal), ... and even six young "Spicifer" {Burmese Green peafowl} recently imported, which were displaying on the ice ... Goffin’s, Leadbeater’s and Rosy-breasted Cockatoos; Swainson Lorikeets; Black-headed Conures; Senegalese Parrots; Pileated Parrot Peonopsttacus [sic] piliatus; Adelaide Pennant’s, etc. Parrakeets; Red-billed Liothrix; Virginian Cardinals; Black Cowbirds Moluthrus bonariensis; and numerous Weavers (Madagascar, Orange, Crimson-crowned, etc.)

‘The cranes, storks, etc., were out of doors during the day, but driven into an unheated house for the night. The ostriches and white Rheas remained in their unheated shed, whose windows were opened in the morning. The macaws and other parrots and parrakeets lived well in an unheated room and bore the frost every night without harm. The other birds remained in the heated house when indeed the thermometer indicated sometimes only 4°C. In spite of this ... , sun and sugar birds, tanagers, etc. never had any disease; two birds only died of pulmonary illness, but perhaps the most valuable - they were both the Wilson’s Paradise birds. It is a great pity, for they were in such good condition. The great Paradise bird did not suffer.

‘... Some Great Egrets, stupidly kept out of door during the first days, and though sheltered afterwards, soon died, as well as some pochards and Tufted Ducks, which had no water to swim in; the Black-necked Swans, Variegated Sheldrakes, Black-backed [Brant] Geese, and all the tree ducks, kept indoors only at night-time and out of doors by daylight, died also. The American Black-backed Geese lived well ...’

(Exotic Birds’ endurance during a cold winter (1917) in Northern France. July, 1917. (Series III) Vol.VII, 139 - 141.)

‘The war and the submarine campagne have hindered the importation of exotic animals into France, but they have not entirely stopped it. Thus it was that I was able to receive at the beginning of the year a very interesting package from the Gaboon, in which was found a superb bird - the Great Touraco.

‘The different Touracos are always rare enough in collections, in spite of their hardy temperament and their readiness to breed in aviaries. I even believe that people had never hitherto seen a live specimen of the Great Touraco.

‘One feeds it on bananas, apples and other fresh fruit, on diced figs and raisins, and meat cut small. It refused mealworms, Caurasius, and other insects ...’

(The Great Touraco Corythaeolavel Schizorhis crislala ... March, 1918 (Series III) Vol.IX, 152 - 153.

BreedingAlectroenaspulcherrimaRed-crowned PigeonAlectroenas pulcherrima AlectroenaspulcherrimaRed-crowned PigeonSeychelles Blue Pigeon ‘I am ... particularly happy to be able to announce that a young "Pigeon Hollandais" has been born and reared at Villers-Bretonneux ... This year, at the end of May, it was noticed that the hen was carrying pieces of straw in her beak, and manifested a good deal of agitation; and so I had the idea of opening the door between the compartments. The two birds straightway approached each other and were soon united.

‘Two days afterwards one egg was laid under a shelter in a basket, where the pigeons had already placed a little dry grass. This egg was rather large compared with the size of the bird, and longer than those of doves in general; it was white, with a very delicate shell. The patents sat most assiduously, after replacing one another on the nest, but at the end of ten days the egg proved unfertile.

‘On June 15th, 1917, the hen laid another egg in a nest placed in a young fir-tree; but this was situated in a corner of the aviary nearest the path, and the constant passing of visitors disturbed the birds, who abandoned the nest after a few days ...

‘To avoid such another failure, I put the pigeons in a large aviary (6m x 4m) planted with thick bushes, in which I placed several nests. In the early days of August an egg was again laid in a very small basket, placed higher than all the others, in a witch-elm.

‘This nest was left alone for fear of disturbing the birds ... and towards August 25th, it was seen that it contained a young one a few days old, rather similar to those of many granivorous doves. By September 12th it was completely covered with feathers and able to fly. ... The parents fed it on their own customary diet - crushed potatoes, hemp-seed, and boiled rice, with sweetened milk and bananas. The latter fruit was unobtainable from September 10th, and was replaced by pears. ... Some authors declare that the "Pigeon Hollandais" lays two eggs per clutch. This may be the case in their own country (Seychelles Islands), but it is to be remarked that in this case these birds each time produced only one egg ...’

(Breeding of the New Pigeon Hollandais Alectroenas pulcherrima. March, 1918. (Series III) Vol. IX, 157 - 159.)

‘... on account of the length of the war, I parted with a good many of my birds, keeping only a few rare birds and pets, about four hundred.

‘After the war I intend to move my collection into a warmer country than Northern France ... My three pairs of Buffon’s Touracos laid, and hatched several young ones, but did not rear any. Very bad luck! Two of the hens were bred at Villers-Bretonneux. I hope I shall be more sucessful this year.

‘During the last year I again received some good birds; a fine cock Crested Guinea Fowl Guttera cristata; a cock Stone Curassow Pauxi galeata and a cock Sclater’s Curassow Crax schateri; some parrots Tanygnathus luconensis, Pionus violaceus and corallinus, and a lovely Parrakeet Palaeornis schisticeps; a great Gaboon Hornbill Buceros atratus and a lot of Toucans - mainly Rhamphastos ariel, and Andigena bailloni.

‘In the spring I got a very fine Giant Touraco Corythaeola cristata, but alas! he has long been dead ... My Sunbirds grow very old ... It is always possible in France to get all kinds of common birds from Africa and America, but they are much more expensive than before the war. It is now impossible to find Australian and Asiatic birds.’

(Notes from the aviaries at Villers-Bretonneux. April, 1918. (Series III) Vol.IX, 201.)

The letter from which the above was extracted is dated January 23rd, 1918. In April of that year, the Germans broke through the Western Front. Dr. Graham Renshaw (1918), then Editor of the Avicultural Magazine, announced: ‘By a misfortune without parallel in the history of aviculture, Lieut. Delacour’s collection at Villers-Bretonneux has been utterly destroyed.’ Dr. Renshaw continued with a list of 360 birds of 141 species, subspecies and mutations, which died there; every specimen in the collection.

‘My duties with the British Army having summoned me into the part of Germany occupied by the Allies, I was able to visit the Cologne Zoological Gardens on December 23rd last

‘Having many a time heard during the course of the war that the starving Germans had been compelled to sacrifice their animals, I supposed that I should see only empty cages. What was my astonishment to still find there a very fine series of animals, and a collection, all things considered, better, indeed, than that in Paris or even London!

‘The Bird House is very well appointed: one finds cages all round. The centre is occupied by aquaria and vivaria. The collection of Parrakeets there is remarkable ... amongst others, Lear’s Macaw and the Gang-gang Cockatoo C. galeatus, and a fine pair of Polythorynchus stellatus [one of the Calyptorhynchus]. The Amazons, Pionus, etc. are well represented A. diademata, bodini, P. menstruus, etc. There ... is a good pair of Cyanolyseus patagonicus and a charming Brontogeris pyrrhopterus. Further on I note a little Heron with a most curious beak, enormous beak (Canchroma cochlearia); a Dacelo gigantea, a Toco Toucan, several Hornbills, a Nicobar Pigeon, a Giant Whydah, Chinese Blue Magpies, and a number of small and medium-sized birds. Further on I observe a couple of Goura coronata and a couple of the rare Sclater’s Goura Pigeon, and some White Sacred Ibises.

‘In the centre of the house one sees a Python molurus and a Reticulated Python, a certain number of Crocodiles, Alligators, and Caimans; Lizards, Tortoises, Bull Frogs; Butterflies and other insects. In the aquaria one finds various Chancitos, some Heimchromids, Chromids, etc., and young Sturgeons.

‘... there were at least fifty Rosy Flamingoes, and three Red Flamingoes from Mexico which appeared to have been newly imported ... The collection of raptors is very fine; almost all the larger species figure in it - Eagles, Vultures, Condors, Ospreys. I call attention to a Harpy Eagle, a Bengal Vulture, and a King Vulture ... The big birds [include] ... a Bennett Cassowary, a Westermann Cassowary, ... and ... a couple of the rare Monk Crane.

‘... To sum up, the Zoological Garden of Cologne has scarcely suffered at all from the war, and it is likely that it is the same with other German Gardens.

‘It is not without bitterness that I have compared it with the mournful ruins, the heaps of rubbish, the smashed trees, the twisted iron-work and broken glass which represent today my poor garden ...which was still flourishing less than a year ago ...’

(The Cologne Zoological Gardens after the Armistice. March, 1919. (Series III) Vol. X, 86 - 88.)

‘Dear Dr. Renshaw, - I am glad to tell you that I have got a new country seat in Normandy, the Château de Cléres (Seine-Inférieure) between Rouen and Dieppe.

‘I shall attempt immediately to build aviaries and arrange the park for birds. There is running water and a lake of about three acres, quite convenient for Waders and Waterfowl. I hope to have ready for next spring a bird gallery, two bird-rooms, twenty aviaries with heated shelters and twenty enclosures, as well as larger paddocks for Ostriches, Rheas, Cassowaries and Cranes.

‘I think it will be a good beginning, and hope to improve it later on. I cannot possibly pretend to keep at once the same number of birds as I used to do ..., owing to the awful prices one has to pay for every thing nowadays.

‘Cléres is only 25 miles from Dieppe; I hope that it will be convenient for British aviculturists to stop there on their way to the Continent.

Yours very sincerely, Delacour.’

(M. Delacour’s new Estate. December, 1919. (Series III) Vol. X, 256.)


  • DELACOUR, J.T. (1925) Touracos. Avicultural Magazine, (Series IV) 4: 284 -290.

  • GIBBARD, A. (1988) Jean Delacour’s contributions to the Avicultural Magazine, 1916-1982. Ibid. 94: 70-81.

  • JOHNSTONE, MRS. E.J. (1904) The nesting of Fraser’s Touracou Ibid. (Series II) 3: 26 -29.

  • LINDHOLM, J. (1987) Touraco Propagation in public zoos (The IZY breeding records; 1959 - 1981), The Honeycreeper [International Softbill Society] 2 (No.1): 15 - 22.

  • LINDHOLM, J. (1988) Jean Delacour and the Avicultural Magazine. Avicultural Magazine. 94: 68 - 69.

  • PICHOT, P.A. (1916). Stick Insects Carausius morosus. Ibid. (Series III) 8: 94 - 95.

  • RENSHAW, G. (1918) Ave Atque Vale: Villers-Bretonneux. Ibid. (Series III) 9: 305 - 307.

  • RUTGERS, A. & NORRIS, K.A. (1972) Encyclopedia of Aviculture , Blandford Press Ltd. Poole, Dorset.


I am most appreciative of the assistance of Steven Johnson, Librarian of the International Wildlife Conservation Park/Bronx Zoo

See Part II