Julie Moore and hundreds of others with a keen interest in birds headed to the north-east of Girona recently, where they found the fascinating and famous two-day Exposició Internacional d’Aus in Camallera, Spain
Camallera’s great bird exhibition, by Julie Moore
For one weekend of the year, a small, sleepy village boasting typical Catalan stone houses with medieval stone arched portals awakens to the raucous sounds of roosters crowing and geese honking. This is Camallera in Alt Empordà. Its population grows exponentially as exhibitors from all over Catalonia and other regions of Spain, France and Europe converge to take part in the annual International Festival of Birds.
It is organised by the appropriately named l’Associació Amics de les Aus aka Giroca, or Association of Friends of Birds, a 50-strong non-profit member association formed by breeders and enthusiasts with the aim of repopulating the many endangered indigenous species of Catalan birds and to make those breeds known abroad as part of Catalonia’s heritage.
This annual festival is a ‘shop window’ for the promotion of their native birds, and members bring their own charges to show alongside those of other breeders from across Spain and other Europen countries.
Of special interest to me and many of the local Catalans is the number of breeders who specialise in producing the native bantam, Flor d’Ametler
(translates to Almond Blossom), the standard Empordanesa hen, the distinct white Empordanesa goose, which in bygone days was used as a guard instead of dogs at Catalan farmhouses, plus the Catalan pigeon. The breeders bring their best specimens to promote and increase awareness of these endangered creatures.
BEAUTY MORE THAN SKIN DEEP
At any show, the exhibited birds come under the scrutiny of official judges and this festival is no different. Here the birds earn scores based on the morphology of each species.
Even at first glance it is clear to see that some birds on show are not in prime condition. This proves that the judges are focused on seeking out the best genetics, not merely finding the most beautiful bird on this one day of the year. One bird selected as a Best of Breed was in the middle of a moult.
Many breeders take advantage of the Festival to sell or exchange their birds. There are some real bargains to be had, but also purchases for those with deep pockets. Some of the more exotic birds were valued at between €800-900 each.
With an entry in excess of 2,000 birds, including chickens, ducks, geese, quail, partridges, pigeons, swans, peacocks and a large display of some attractive and very appealing pheasants from around the world, there is plenty to catch the eye and to appeal to all ages — young and old.
Doors open at 10am and a buzz of excited chatter in a mix of Catalan, Spanish and French soon fills the exhibition hall. Visitors stand admiringly in front of cages, pointing and discussing the traits of the birds, while others frantically observe the feathered creature in front of them, review the judges’ notes and make their own scribblings on a pad before swiftly disappearing to the information point to reserve their chosen bird ahead of any other competition. Indeed, by lunchtime on the first day, the majority of the exhibits have already been reserved by breeders and members of the public.
Plenty of attention is given to the Serama Club of Spain stand as visitors are given the opportunity to touch and hold the tiny birds. They resemble models on a fashion show catwalk and stand to attention with their characteristic pose on a green carpet without any restraints to prevent them from escaping. Members of the club enthusiastically share the virtues of the Malaysian breed that was introduced into Spain from North America in 2007.
Anyone looking to purchase high quality genetics to support
a specific pure breed or wanting to give their new flock the best possible start, could do a lot worse than visit the appropriate festival for their favourite(s). Not only will they find a great selection of birds together, there will also be the best eyes in the industry for their chosen breed scrutinising the stock. Look for genuine and honest breeders — a breeder’s passion should be evident in their conservation about the bird they love and not for the chances of boosting their bank balance. Listen patiently as they are normally enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge and should acknowledge any flaws, minor or important, in the genetics of the birds they are trying to sell.
Although the festival was a resounding success, showcasing some of the best examples of endangered Catalan breeds, the future of these birds is in the hands of just a few bird lovers, who, at the end of the day, raise and multiply the indigenous populations as a hobby. The hope is that others are inspired to also take up the cause to ensure that the light is not extinguished forever in this corner of Spain.
TOP: A Serama hen ABOVE: A poster for the festival TOP RIGHT & BOTTOM RIGHT: Visitors were given the opportunity to touch and hold the tiny Seramas
TOP: There was a large entry of Old English Game ABOVE: There was a large display of some particularly attractive and very appealing pheasants from around the world BELOW LEFT: Some of the Catalan stone houses in the village of Camallera
There was a healthy contingent of ducks from around the world
Best Standard Chicken — the Padunua.
There was a large display of different breeds of fancy pigeons from around the world
ABOVE MIDDLE: In bygone days, distinct white Empordanesa geese were used as guards instead of dogs at Catalan farms ABOVE: Size isn’t everything!