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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Mechanic / Plant Fitter

£24000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Lancashire based engineeri...

Recruitment Genius: Service Advisor

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Recruitment Genius: Service Advisor

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Account Manager

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Account Manager is requi...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders