“A Paradise for Bird Lovers”
Text and photos by Simon Degenhard
PLEASE NOTE: This article was compiled in 2005 and first published in Australian Aviary Life magazine during that year.
The day I arrived at Vogelpark Walsrode I found myself wondering whether this bird park could live up to my expectations. The short answer was yes! Within minutes of spotting the first bank of aviaries it could be seen that it would not only measure up, it would exceed them.
Vogelpark Walsrode (Vogelpark is German for Bird Park) is located in Northern Germany, just outside of the town of Walsrode, which is between Hannover and Hamburg.
At Vogelpark Walsrode they housed around 4500 birds of about 800 species, making the collection one of the largest in the world at the time of my visit.
I had previously read articles and been told by numerous friends about this spectacular bird park, which is regarded as one of the best in the world. Vogelpark Walsrode would definitely rate right up there with the world's other premier bird parks.
I had been in contact with Vogelpark Walsrode's then Curator, Dr Dieter Rinke, two months prior to my arrival in Germany, to enquire about the possibility of spending a couple of weeks working in the park. To my great delight he informed me that this was possible, and they would be happy to have me. This is how I came to spend two amazing weeks working at this phenomenal bird park in early April 2003.
Upon my arrival at the front gate, I was introduced to the head keeper, Bernd Marcordes and after a quick run-down of the park's facilities I was taken for my first look around.
The first aviaries that came into view held some of the most breathtaking birds I had ever seen. Species such as toucans, hornbills, numerous brightly coloured softbills, exotic fruit-doves, Horned Parakeets and even the endangered Kagu from New Caledonia.
Venturing further into the park I found the Parrot Aviaries, which housed numerous species of rare and beautiful parrots. Species such as Crimson-Bellied and Golden Conures, Cuban and Hispaniolan Amazons, Hyacinth, Blue-throated and Buffon’s Macaws, Hawk-headed Parrots and even our very own Galahs and Red-tailed Black Cockatoos could be seen there in their absolute splendour. It was an unforgettable sight to see the Crimson-bellied Conures breeding in a colony, with young being fed by their parents on the perches in front of me. If only we had the numbers of these beautiful birds to be able to set them up in a colony situation.
Up ahead of me, just past the parrots was a building, which I soon found to be the Lory Auditorium. Upon entering I was to find that it not only housed lories and lorikeets but fig parrots as well. The species included Violet-necked, Ornate and Duyvenbode's Lories, Goldies, Fairy and Whiskered Lorikeets and Double-eyed, Orange-breasted and Salvadori's Fig Parrots.
After leaving the Lory Auditorium I could see a huge glass structure that covered an enormous expanse of ground. As I drew closer, I discovered that this was the Asian Rainforest Exhibit. This was truly an amazing enclosure that housed a myriad of breathtaking birds and was a place in which I spent many hours observing and photographing many different birds, including five species of birds-of-paradise, hornbills, Wompoo Fruit-doves, Diard’s Trogons, Hill Mynas, Banded Pittas, Crested Partridges and quails.
It was now time to head back to meet my host for the next two weeks, Mrs Frerking, who worked at the front gate. The Frerking family lived on a small farm in a village near Walsrode and had very kindly offered to put me up for the 2 weeks that I would be staying in the area.
The next morning, I arose bright and early at the Frerking family farm. Starting earlier than Mrs Frerking I set off on the 6-kilometre push-bike ride to the park. Upon my arrival at the farm the evening prior, Mrs Frerking had broken the news to me that I would be making my own way to the bird park by bicycle, which was a little daunting at the time, as I had not paid much attention to the route on the way there, and this was long before smart phones with internet access! It was still dark, and the temperature was around minus two degrees Centigrade. As the daylight broke, the small snowflakes that were falling around me became visible; welcome to Spring in Germany!
Upon my arrival at the park I was introduced to the keepers and given the task of preparing the fruit mix for the numerous fruit-eating birds. Next I was taken on my first feeding round, servicing the behind-the-scenes aviaries. These aviaries housed some of the rarer species such as Kuckucks (Cuckoos) from Madagascar, birds-of-paradise, turacos and toucans. They were also used to house young birds.
During my two weeks at the park I performed duties in all sections, from waterfowl to birds of prey, parrots to small softbills and everything in between. I even assisted in the rejuvenation of a couple of banks of aviaries. The aviaries are rejuvenated every year in spring, from the end of March to early April, in preparation for the onset of the breeding season and the busy summer period.
All the aviaries have very well insulated sheltered sections which are heated and fitted with solid dividing doors. The dividing doors enable the birds to be locked in or out of the shelter as needed. During the winter months the birds are permanently housed in the shelters due to the severity of the conditions in Northern Germany. The winter temperatures are in the minus, it often snows, and they experience severe frosts. Vogelpark Walsrode is closed during winter.
A huge amount of work goes into the day-to-day care and feeding of such a large and varied collection. The diets fed to the birds included various seed mixes, pellets, soft food mixes, soaked seed, fruit, vegetables, fish and meat. For example, there were four different fruit mixes made up daily. These were one each for the birds-of-paradise, the small fruit eaters such as fruit-doves, medium fruit eaters such as bigger fruit eating pigeons and toucans and the large fruit eaters such as hornbills.
The main difference between the mixes is the size of the diced fruit pieces, although careful attention is paid to feeding the birds-of-paradise a mix that is low in iron, as they are very susceptible to iron storage disease, which can very quickly bring about the demise of these beautiful birds.
The mixes consisted of a variety of fruits including apple, pear, mango, kiwi fruit, orange and many other tropical fruits when available. These were combined with diced parboiled potato and sweet potato, which were used to add bulk to the mix more than anything else. Diced boiled beetroot was also added to provide colour, as most birds prefer to eat reddish coloured fruit.
Careful attention was paid to feeding as close to the right amount of food to the birds as possible. This helped to keep them in optimum health as well as reducing wastage. Vitamin and mineral supplements were added to the various mixes on a daily basis. The birds were fed twice daily, in the early morning and the late afternoon.
The Birds were displayed in mainly mixed species aviaries. The aviaries were generally landscaped according to the natural habitats of the species housed. With the aviaries being set amongst beautiful gardens, which went hand in hand to create a wonderful environment in which to observe the birds.
Vogelpark Walsrode has been involved in breeding, research and conservation programs for numerous endangered species. These include Madagascar Crested Ibis and Crested Cousa from Madagascar, Riedel's Eclectus Parrots from the Lesser Sunda Islands, Humboldt's Penguins from Chile and Peru, Bali Starlings from Bali, White-crested Hornbills from Asia, (they achieved the world first breeding with this species in 2002) Hyacinth, Blue-throated and Buffon's Macaws from South America and Keas from New Zealand. One of their most notable achievements has been the consistent successful breeding of the critically endangered Kagu from New Caledonia.
As well as the extensive collection already mentioned, they also maintained a huge variety of water birds and birds of prey. The water birds were housed in numerous large enclosures, most of which incorporated large ponds and a number of compatible species. There was one large aviary in particular that housed a large wave pool, which was purposely built for numerous gulls and terns including Arctic and Inca Terns.
The number of species of duck held was amazing. They included six species of whistling ducks, Paradise and Radjah Shelducks, Green and African Pygmy-geese, American Wood Ducks, American Wigeons, Cape and Baikal Teal, Northern Pintail, New Zealand Shoveler, King and Spectacled Eider, Common Goldeneye and Harlequin Ducks as well as our own rare Freckled Duck and Pink-eared Duck. They also kept four species of swan, five species of pelican, eleven species of ibis, four species of flamingo, numerous Storks and Cranes, Hamerkops, Northern Gannets and Humboldt's Penguins and the list goes on. What an amazing collection!
Other birds held included vultures, hawks, eagles, owls and Andean Condors.
Twice daily the park also staged a free-flight bird show, which was well worth taking the time to have a look at. This included birds such as Harris Hawks, owls, Golden Eagles, an Andean Condor, pelicans, a Secretary Bird, African Grey Parrots and Scarlet Macaws. I must say that seeing a Scarlet Macaw free-flying across a huge expanse of grass was a truly magnificent sight and one that will be etched in the memory forever. It is only in a situation like this that the true beauty of these large birds can be fully appreciated.
This article is just a small account of this incredible bird park, the grandeur of which can only fully be seen when experienced first-hand. That being said, I hope that it has provided a small insight into the park and what can be expected if you get the chance to visit it. The wonderful team of keepers were extremely helpful and more than happy to assist overseas visitors in any way possible. I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Vogelpark Walsrode to anyone with even the slightest interest in birds as it was and still is a collection that is hard to surpass.
Beautiful Fruit-dove, Red-cowled Cardinal and Masked Crimson Tanager
Kea chicks being hand reared
Desmarest's Fig Parrot
Yours truly with a young hawk - I believe that it was a young Harris Hawk
Flight show keeper with an Andean Condor
Asian Rainforest Exhibit