Category Archives: Europe

Pigeons on the Tour

Eiffel Tower

One of the places we visited in Paris back in August was the Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower

It was partly overcast, and would rain later in the day, but the view was still splendid. Here Sacre Coeur is in the distance.

Paris from the Eiffel Tower

It was the first time I was able to go all the way to the top (the sommet was sold out on earlier trips). The lines to the top floor were incredible; we waited about an hour on the second level before we could board elevators to the third (top). While crowded with tourists, some Paris residents appeared to seek relative solitude on the Tour Eiffel.

Pigeons on the Tower

Three French Pigeons

Pidge on the Tower

On the third level, I was surprised to find a paper diorama depicting the use of the tower in carrier pigeon experiments.

Pigeon Diorama


I’m pretty sure I was the only one there taking photos in this direction. 😉

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A visit to Papegaaienpark Veldhoven (part 4)

We had so much fun visiting the parrots at the Papegaaienpark. During our visit, we got to meet lots and lots of parrots. But the facility is home to more than parrots. The park also takes in unwanted zoo animals, other unwanted exotic pets, and animals confiscated by the Dutch customs authorities at points of entry.

Unflighted birds were scattered throughout different open-air habitats in the park. Some were freely walking among the visitors, while others, like the Emu and the Chicubas, were separated by moats or fences.

Red-crowned Cranes
Red-crowned Cranes mingled with ducks, pelicans, and others

Red-breasted Goose
A small group of Red-breasted Geese crossed the path in front of us

Chicubas shared space with a Bar-headed Goose

Emu looking at you

Others were kept inside large outdoor aviaries.

Bald Eagles
A pair of Bald Eagles shared a HUGE aviary

Snowy Owl
This Snowy Owl preferred to stand on the ground

Several times, I walked by a large aviary holding several vulture species. The weather that day was partly cloudy, with a few showers here and there. The last time I walked by the vulture aviary, the sun was shining, and you know what vultures do when the sun comes out… Look at that second sweetheart, sunning herself just like a vulture ought to.

King Vulture
King Vulture in the sun

King Vulture with wing amputation
King Vulture taking in the sun

The final area to visit in the park is a huge building, where several tropical species were housed. Many were free-flighted, but remained wary of people and didn’t approach. Visitors weren’t allowed to feed these birds. The TropiJoy building also had many enclosed aviaries for lots of different bird species.

Sunbittern perched on a railing!

Red-billed Toucan
Red-billed Toucan

Pygmy Owl
Impossibly small at just 6.5″: Peruvian Pygmy Owl!!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this photo-heavy mini-series on our visit to the Papegaaienpark in Veldhoven, the Netherlands. It makes me sad that such a place is necessary in this world, but the staff, volunteers, and residents make it a wonderful place to visit. We’ll certainly be back.

Me leaving the park

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Parrot Week: A visit to Papegaaienpark Veldhoven (part 3)

Seeing the birds at the parrot park was a joy, as was giving the friendly feathered friends treats from our hands. As we followed the suggested route through the park, we came upon my favorite aviary of all – the one that we could go inside!

The aviary that welcomed human visitors

Several different species were housed in the aviary open to visitors. The birds came to us, if they wished. There were plenty of perches where the birds could retreat if they didn’t want to visit with the papegaairazzi (zing!).

Peach-faced Lovebird
Peach-faced Lovebirds chillaxing in the aviary

Please forgive (or enjoy!) this series of gratuitous me-feeding-parrots pictures. The short video shows a Cockatiel on my shoulder. It looks like I’m encouraging her to kiss me, but she started it, honestly!!

Jandaya Conure & Red-fronted Conure
Jandaya Conure & Red-fronted Conure

Jandaya Conure & Red-fronted Conure
Jandaya Conure & Red-fronted Conure

Alexandrine Parakeet
Alexandrine Parakeet


Hand-feeding & kissyface Cockatiel

You can imagine this was a really special experience for me, and I loved meeting all of the birds up close and personal. Unfortunately, the pet trade is no friend to parrot species in general, and so almost everywhere you look in the park, there are signs like this one.

“Don’t buy any parrots, because parrots live long. Sometimes longer than even yourself.”

This post concludes Parrot Week on the blog. I’ll have one final post on the Papegaaienpark Veldhoven next week – because there are more than parrots at the park!

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Parrot Week: A visit to Papegaaienpark Veldhoven (part 2)

Following yesterday’s introduction to our visit to this wonderful sanctuary for parrots and other animals, today I’d like to share some photos of our encounters with the residents.

After passing the initial “quarantine” aviaries, we visited the larger macaws and the unflighted birds in an outdoor, uncaged area. By the time we reached this area we’d only spent about a half hour in the park and I was having a ball. We walked further, finding larger aviaries full of many more of these social, noisy, happy birds. But we weren’t just viewing these magnificent creatures – we were interacting with them, namely by providing them with treats.

parrot noms
Parrot noms. The hard shells of these pinenuts were discarded for the tiny nutmeat inside

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
My brother-in-law Patrick feeds a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

At each aviary, some of the birds would approach us as we walked by. These large cockatoos and parrots have huge, powerful hooked beaks, but they were all, without exception, extremely polite and gentle when reaching for offered treats. The park provided feeding sticks for visitors to use to pass nuts to the birds, but I didn’t see any need for them. While the birds were polite with us, they also displayed extreme courtesy to each other… most of the time! The African Greys did get a bit loud with their protests.

Hungry, friendly birds

African Greys
African Grey Parrots

African Greys
Father-in-law Ben feeds African Greys

More friendly, hungry beaks to feed

While most of the birds seemed eager for treats, in each aviary there were many other birds socializing with each other in the background, paying us no mind. Then there were the handful that were interested in us, but not in our treats. A few times a bird would catch our attention, and then, instead of reaching out for a treat, would turn its head away from us, pressing against the fencing. These birds, former beloved family pets, were only looking for some contact, a scratch, or a pet. They just about broke my heart.

Senegal Parrot
Arthur pets a Senegal Parrot

Western Corella
I’m scratching the head of a beautiful Western Corella

I was falling in love with the birds left and right. And there was more to come. We got even closer! Stay tuned.

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Parrot Week: A visit to Papegaaienpark Veldhoven (part 1)

In August we visited the Papegaaienpark (parrot park) Veldhoven, a sort of parrot, bird and animal rescue center and sanctuary near Eindhoven. The park took in its first birds in 1987 and is run by the Dutch Foundation for the Refuge and Care of Parrots. Besides providing a forever home for unwanted parrots, the sanctuary cares for birds and animals caught by customs agents at Dutch airports, and other confiscated exotic animals.

The facility covers almost 20 acres and is open to the public 363 days per year. There are over 500 enclosures housing thousands of parrots, birds, mammals and other animals. A team of about 50 volunteers works with the park’s veterinarians and management staff.

The entrance to the Papegaaienpark Veldhoven

We arrived shortly after the park opened, and began our visit by walking by large outdoor cages housing newer arrivals. When a bird first comes to the sanctuary, it is housed in a small aviary alone or with just one or two other birds. The birds remain there until the staff can determine the bird’s temperament and which larger aviary will be the best fit.

Quarantine area
Birds are initially housed in these “quarantine” cages alone or in pairs

Salmon-crested Cockatoo
Salmon-crested Cockatoos

Walking on, we passed a large open area where bigger parrots who were unable to fly were housed. This large yard was surrounded by aviaries housing large macaws.

Open area for unflighted parrots
The unflighted birds could climb up the branches to perch; they could also retreat to an enclosed shelter.

White-crested Cockatoo at play
White-crested Cockatoo

White-crested Cockatoo
White-crested Cockatoo

Scarlet Macaw
Scarlet Macaw

Hyacinth Macaw
Hyacinth Macaw

While these beautiful birds were wonderful to see, we weren’t just looking at them, we got to feed them, too. More on that in the next post.

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Fatten up and go!

During our recent visit to Holland, I had a free afternoon on my own in Leiden. I visited one of my favorite museums in the world, Naturalis, the national natural history museum of the Netherlands. The museum is always a treat to visit, but I really lucked out because one of the special temporary exhibits was an excellent study of bird migration.

The exhibit, Opvetten en wegwezen (Fatten up and go!), was presented in one large exhibit room. There were cases of mounted birds arranged by average migration distance. Information provided by each case showed the route each of the birds takes during migration.

Migratory Birds
Display case with short-distance migratory birds

Fatten Up and Go!
Display cases with migratory birds

Migration Routes
Migration routes of birds that travel through the Netherlands

Between these cases were various migration topics explained, like how birds navigate, the dangers birds face during their long travels, and how they prepare for the journey.

Display on the timing of migration behind more bird cases

“Natural dangers” display behind more bird cases

Fatten Up!
The different fat levels in a Barn Swallow as it prepares for its journey

There were also several points where current bird research being conducted in the Netherlands was explained. A written interview with the involved scientists was shown, along with supplemental media. Here, the current work being done with Eurasian Spoonbills is explained by Ornithologist Tamar Lok. Small text (click to see full size at Flickr) reads, “The protection of birds in the Netherlands started with (Eurasian) Spoonbills. The Naardermeer was declared a nature reserve for this bird species. Later on, more marshes and coastal areas were declared protected.” I had no idea that the spoonbill was a ‘spark bird’ for Dutch bird conservation!

Spoonbills in the Netherlands
All about Eurasian Spoonbill research in the Netherlands

I was particularly interested in bird banding endeavors. A short video showed how Barn Swallow researchers work, and I was kind of wowed by the amount of birds caught in their nets.

Barn Swallow banding
Lots of Barn Swallows in mist nets

The last bird cases were reserved for the birds with the longest migration routes. The final bird was the Arctic Tern, with a migration journey of 15,000 kilometers.

Arctic Tern migration
The Arctic Tern travels over 9,000 miles during migration!

Arctic Tern at Naturalis
Arctic Tern, the migration champion of the exhibit

Opvetten en wegwezen will continue at Naturalis through February 20th, 2011. I highly recommend it!

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Into the North Sea


IJmuiden is located at the mouth of the IJ river and is an important port, connecting Amsterdam to the North Sea. The Zuidpier (south pier) juts about two kilometers into the North Sea. The small map at right shows the approximate location of the pier. Below is a what the pier looks like on Google maps. As part of our short birding trip based out of Leiden, IJmuiden was our next major stop (following the Oostvaardersplassen).

We visited on a windy Sunday. The forecast was horrible so we weren’t too surprised to see few other people out on the pier. The only creatures on the beach were gulls, and our first Eurasian Oystercatchers of the trip.

Beach from Zuidpier, IJmuiden

We were on a tight schedule so we had no choice but to visit IJmuiden on the day we did, but we lucked out with the weather, mostly. It didn’t rain but ominous clouds hung low all morning and the wind was fierce. There were a few sport fishers on the pier; we were the only birders. The below picture was taken at the start of the pier, with the beach on the left side. On the far right you can see the lighthouse on the end of the pier. It was a long, windy walk!


Unfortunately, it wasn’t too birdy. We did get some nice looks at another oystercatcher, plus small groups of Ruddy Turnstones turned up every few meters and didn’t mind us stopping to snap some photos.

Eurasian Oystercatcher | Scholekster

Ruddy Turnstone | Steenloper

Ruddy Turnstone | Steenloper

The Red Knot and Stonechat were not so accommodating. That’s birding. Win some, lose some.

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Returning to an old haunt

During our recent trip to the Netherlands, Arthur and I twice visited one of our old birding grounds, Starrevaart. We primarily birded the lake from the hide “de Vogelknip.”

In preparation for the trip, I checked the blog of a Dutch birder who frequently visits Starrevaart. I was shocked to read that the bird hide there had burned down in June 2009. It was a total loss! But then I was pleasantly surprised to read that a new hide was built just a few months later. Phew! It’s a sturdy little hide, very similar to the previous one. A nice addition was a site-specific bird ID poster.

Interior Vogelknip
Brand new shutters. See the shiny new latches? They all worked! (That won’t last)

Starrevaart Poster
Some of the birds you might see from de Vogelknip

Of course, the wonderful view as just about the same as we remembered it.

View from Starrevaart bird hide
What the birds see

View from Starrevaart bird hide
Looking northeast

Great Crested Grebe
A Great Crested Grebe living up to its name

View from Starrevaart bird hide
Greylag Geese, swimming and landing; looking west-southwest

Mute Swan
Three Mute Swans

View from Starrevaart bird hide
More Mute Swans; looking northwest

It was great to go back to one of our old regular birding spots and sit for a while, quietly watching the birds. One of my favorites was a Great Crested Grebe having a nap on the choppy water. I also took a short video of this weary bird.

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What a bird blind should be

One of the last places we visited on our auto-tour of the Oostvaardersplassen on August 14 was a blind called de Grauwe Gans (the Greylag Goose). This little palace of birding is everything a bird blind should be, in my opinion: functional, comfortable, and perfectly located to view birds. While this blind is very nice, it’s not atypical of Dutch or European bird blinds I’ve visited. I have not seen anything like it in the U.S., so far.

Grauwe Gans vogelkijkhut
The path leading to the bind is bordered by a privacy fence

Grauwe Gans vogelkijkhut
The blind is octagonal, with windows on six sides

Grauwe Gans vogelkijkhut
A small utility shelf is made extra handy with bird ID guide images right on the shelf surface

Grauwe Gans vogelkijkhut
The view from the blind

I’ve created a Flickr pool for photos of bird blinds or bird hides. There are 279 photos in the pool now, and I’d love to have more! Please have a look and submit your appropriate pictures to the Bird hides / bird blinds pool on Flickr.

A very short video ‘tour’ of the blind

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BPW: Hot Spoonbill-on-Spoonbill action!

You never know what kind of behavior you’ll see from a bird blind. If the blind is good (and the birders are quiet), the birds should be comfortable and you’ll get to see them acting naturally. From the Grauwe Gans hide in the Oosvaardersplassen area, I spent some time watching a pair of Eurasian Spoonbill allopreening. Allopreening is mutual grooming, usually associated with pair bonding. Spoonbills have such long, unhandy-for-self-preening bills, I’m not sure this is pair-bond behavior or simply a mutually beneficial preening co-op between friends. Notice the surrounding geese are also taking the time to beautify themselves. Click on any picture to embiggen.










Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

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Posted in Behavior, Bird Photography Weekly, Netherlands | 5 Comments