Birds of Eden – A Little Piece of Avian Heaven

The lush Garden Route area along the coast of South Africa can readily be described as a piece of paradise. The world’s largest free flight bird sanctuary, Birds of Eden, is situated in the heart of this piece of paradise. A single birdcage spans two hectares of indigenous forest, including a gorge, and is home to more than 2,000 birds of 180 species from various continents. These include parrots, parakeets, toucans, hornbills, thrushes, conures, cranes, flamingoes, ibises, swans and many more.

This unique sanctuary has been designed to allow the birds to live as they would in the wild – but with no predators. The aviary was constructed with 27 masts of varying heights, linked by a series of cables to form a grid, which the wire mesh rests on. One hundred kilometers of cable and 3.2 hectares of bird mesh, all painted green, were used in the project. Special features incorporated into the sanctuary include an irrigation system that simulates rain together with sound-system thunder, a walkway behind a stunning waterfall, a 200-seater amphitheater and 1.2 kilometers of paraplegic-friendly walkways. Birds of Eden in South Africa incorporates several dams, with the largest featuring a floating bridge with seating for visitors to relax and enjoy refreshments. There are also two restaurants in the sanctuary, both strategically situated to allow visitors to enjoy the beauty around them to the greatest degree.

The Birds of Eden sanctuary was initiated and developed by Tony Blignaut who is the CEO of the Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary situated nearby. Blignaut saw the need for a sanctuary to accommodate birds as well as smaller primates, such as marmosets and tamarins, which could not be safely incorporated into Monkeyland. Birds of Eden would also serve as a safe haven to release captive bred and ex-pet birds. A surprising number of birds from the parrot family are discarded after a year or two with an owner who no longer wants the responsibility of caring for them. These birds are carefully and gently rehabilitated, bearing in mind that many of them have come from small suspended aviaries or indoor cages. After a quarantine period, the new bird is exposed to other birds and then moved into an indoor aviary. From there they are moved to a larger free flight aviary to allow for development of its flight muscles. Only after a bird has successfully adapted to these various environments, will it be released into the sanctuary area.

The fact that many of the birds in the sanctuary were once pets means that they generally have no fear of humans. This allows visitors to get really close to the birds, but be warned that sometimes up close and personal comes with a friendly nip of the finger or ear and there are a couple of “thieves” who will try and get away with something shiny, such as an earring, if they are given half a chance. Visitors have expressed amazement at seeing different species of birds like macaws, starlings, toucans and doves sharing a communal dinner table, often in the company of a tamarin or two. Fresh food catering to each species’ needs is provided twice a day, so there is no need to squabble to establish a pecking order – there is plenty for all.

Clearly the people behind Birds of Eden are animal lovers in the superlative sense and this is what visitors to the sanctuary will come to appreciate. Most certainly all the ex-pets living in this piece of paradise have found a home like no other.