Birdman of St Austell prepares to show rare species to the world

A A A

Ever since he was given two budgies as a 12-year-old, Grenville Allen has been interested in birds. So interested, in fact, that today he shares his home with 200 exotic species – and his wife and two-year-old son.

Mr Allen, 37, is so dedicated to the conservation of some of the world's most endangered flying creatures that he has turned a smallholding behind his house in St Austell, Cornwall, into a mini zoo. Now Mr Allen, who is known to his neighbours as the Birdman, is to share his collection with the public.

"My interest in birds started years ago with a pair of budgies in a cage in my bedroom," he said.

"I then started to breed things that were critically endangered, but I never thought I'd be in the position I'm in now. The colours and the variety of the birds are amazing, and in recent years, being able to breed things that very few people have bred is quite an achievement. I get a buzz from seeing the little ones in the nest."

Some of the dazzling creatures in Mr Allen's collection include rare Hawaiian geese, red-breasted geese and an ibis. A snow-white Bali starling that flutters around behind the house is one of only 1,000 left around the world. "There were only four in the wild at the last count," he said. "It's quite possible that there are none now."

A quarter of a century after his parents bought him his first birds, Mr Allen now claims he spends more feeding his collection every month – around £200 – than he does his family.

He has 200 birds in all, most of which live in aviaries behind his house. They feed on a diet of seeds, vegetables and pulses, although if he is feeling generous they might be treated to dog food or – in times of plenty – worms.

Like many families, the Allens are tightening their belts in response to surging global food prices. But with many more mouths to feed than most, Mr Allen says his only option to counter inflation is to cut costs – where the humans are concerned.

"Unfortunately we do not have a bottomless pit of savings," he said. "If we have to eat beans on toast so that the animals get their proper feed, we will do that."

Every keeper has his favourite, and Mr Allen is no exception. "Mine is the kookaburra," he said. "Their call makes you feel like you're in a jungle, and they're full of character."

Mr Allen, who hopes to be granted a zoo licence soon so that he can expand his breeding programme, was faced with having to sell his birds when he was made redundant in January. But by converting his smallholding into a bird sanctuary and inviting members of the public and local schools to pay him a visit, he has managed to avert financial disaster.

He is yet to fix a charge for tourists but interest in the centre is blossoming. Now his prospects look as bright as the bill of his wild touraco. "I've always had a fairly big collection but it's only in the past three or four years that we have moved to the smallholding and really got into it," he says. "It's like all things, you start off at the bottom and work your way up."

The winged wonders in the Birdman's collection

Sacred Ibis

The sacred ibis hails from the wetlands of sub-Saharan Africa, Iraq and Egypt, and is often used as a symbol of the Egyptian god Thoth. It has recently been introduced into France, Italy, Spain and the US, where there are concerns that it will displace local populations of birds such as terns. The sacred ibis feeds on aquatic creatures such as frogs and fish, and makes a distinctive croaking noise.

Violet Turaco

Native to the tropical forests of West Africa, the violet touraco has glossy plumage with a distinctive red and yellow bill and red crest. The females lay two eggs in treetop platform nests. The species has a distinctive call and feeds on fruit, especially figs, and some types of seed. Not thought to be an endangered species, it is nevertheless threatened by deforestation.

Emerald Toucanet

This brightly coloured member of the toucan family is native to Central and South America. It has large bill that usually grows to half the length of its body and can conceal a tongue up to six inches long. The toucanet's habitat is under increasing threat from deforestation, and because they do not migrate like many other birds they are particularly vulnerable.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice