The “BIRKA Bird Paradise” exotic bird aviary in Mauren is like a small parrot zoo – with a handful of peacocks, pheasants, chickens and goats thrown in for good measure. There are rows of outdoor cages filled with squawking parakeets, cockatoos, cockatiels and parrots. A few signs gave the Latin and German names for the species, as well as the continent the bird was from. It was unclear why these creatures had been collected there – the aviary was free and seemed to be part of some foundation or club, whose purpose we could only guess at.
On a warm Sunday morning there were only a few other birdwatchers at BIRKA, most of them much younger than us. A growing group of older men congregated at the attached canteen, more interested in their pilsners than in the parakeets. For some reason, it seemed to be a popular drinking spot. It’s not especially close to anything other than the surrounding nature reserve, so the beer must have been cheap or the bartender was particularly well-liked (his looks certainly weren't the draw).
It is always a little sad to see animals in cages, even if they seem to be well taken care of. We speculated - maybe to comfort ourselves - that these were rescued birds that had been snatched away from worse situations and taken in by the Bird Paradise foundation.
High up in the mountains, in the alpine town of Malbun, we attended a kind of falconry-dinner-theater spectacular. In comparison with the other falconry shows we’ve happened upon, this performance was both more entertaining and more subdued. Instead of being held in a castle, it was in the back terrace of a gasthaus restaurant. There was beer served and ice cream by the trayful; the audience sat around the falconer and sipped drinks as he told us the legends of the skies. It sounded interesting and funny, but we couldn’t understand any of it. Thankfully, he didn’t wear a medieval-theme costume (which sets him apart in the brotherhood of hunting birders). He also was older and less awkward than other falconers we’ve seen, and appeared to really enjoy his craft – we joked that he got into the business for the chicks.*
The show had a good deal of talking and a fair amount of flying. As with all such experiences, the birds were somewhat uncooperative and discourteous. One tedious episode involved a peregrine that was hard to coax down from a nearby rooftop. As a group, though, the fowl were accommodating enough to keep things moving. This bird performed a back and forth routine between two gloved children, swooping a little too close to our heads as he did.
After each bird was put through its paces, the falconer strode proudly through the crowd with his falcon so that we could all take pictures and be properly awed. Some species could even be stroked on their breastfeathers, and would only occasionally begin beating their wings and flailing dangerously. It was a fun, sunny afternoon experience, and we left laughing and a little impressed.
BIRKA Bird Paradise (“Vogelparadies” in German) is located halfway between Mauren and Schaanwald on the main road. It’s open from May 1st through October and claims to be “always accessible,” which may or may not mean that you can visit 24 hours a day.
The falconry show is held in the back of the Hotel Falknerei Galina in the middle of Malbun at three o’clock PM every day except Monday, and only when the weather is good.