Filled with colourful and exotic birds, the Aviary was a ‘must-see’ for Baron Ferdinand’s guests when doing a tour of the garden in the 1890s. Beautifully restored in 2003, it now also takes part in important conservation projects of endangered species.
Aviaries were an important part of many Rothschild gardens all over Europe in the 19th century. This followed a custom established by rulers and noblemen from the late 1600s, when owning exotic birds and animals was also a display of power, wealth and knowledge. Waddesdon’s cast-iron structure, erected in 1889, is similar to trelliswork pavilions designed for the gardens of Versailles.
Baron Ferdinand was particularly fond of the birds, who would come to the front of their enclosures to be fed with treats by him. His sister, Alice, continued this tradition. Their interest in birds can also be seen in the house on the exceptional Sèvres porcelain dinner service painted with hundreds of colourful birds (Razumovsky Room, first floor) and the collection of Sèvres vases assembled by Alice, which were painted by the factory’s best bird painter.
Walter, second Lord Rothschild (1868-1937), was a famous zoologist who formed the largest collection of animal and bird specimens in private hands. He displayed these in a purpose-built museum on his estate at Tring (still open today). The Rothschild mynah (Leucopsar rothschildi), a snowy white bird with a startling blue eye mask native to Bali, was named for him. Waddesdon’s mascot for family activities is Mimi the Mynah.
The numbers of Rothschild mynah in the wild fell to just six birds in 2001. In 2011, four females bred at Waddesdon were sent to Bali to improve the gene pool.
Around one third of the species in the Aviary are at risk of extinction to some degree. Many are from Indonesia, where the wild birds are threatened by the rapid rate of deforestation and the illegal trade in cage-birds. Waddesdon participates in captive breeding programmes with the aim of reintroducing birds into their native habitat. This is supported by donations collected from the Aviary grotto.