Photo: Rick van Groningen. Elaborately decorated showcases and aviaries are the order of the day at the Bird Experience Oirschot in Holland 

Each year, the Bird Experience Oirschot in Holland puts on an extraordinary event that showcases its members’ softbills in a natural environment in a way that most British softbill keepers could only dream of. Gary Bralsford finds out more from RICK VAN GRONINGEN.

EVERY year, the big softbill show in Holland is the envy of all UK softbill keepers. It’s a unique way of showing off birds to the best possible effect – and is one show on my shortlist of places to visit!

For this year’s event, my friend and sofrtbill keeper, Rick van Groningen, told me about his efforts in putting on this fabulous display of top-quality softbills:

“The Dutch Softbill Society was founded in 1971 and its annual show is held on the last weekend of October (this year October 28-29). Formerly known as the club show, as of 2017 it had a new name: Bird Experience Oirschot. Oirschot is the village where it is held every year.

“The differences from a show as most people would know it are huge. You do not see rows full of show cages, but instead showcases and aviaries of different sizes.

“There is no judging, but each showcase and aviary houses a different bird species and are all decorated as naturally as possible. Some contain waterfalls and, in the bigger aviaries, there are ground-dwelling species, such as plovers, lapwings and avocets.

“This year, we planned 40 showcases and nine aviaries. In total, 51 species were shown. Every year we manage to host species that have never been shown before. This year the guira cuckoo (Guira guira) made its debut, as well as the white-browed tit-warbler (Leptopoecile sophiae).

“Over the years, members of another club, the Speciaalclub van Insecten-vruchtenetende vogels (Special club of insect- and fruit-eating birds), have bred 330 different species. This is a huge number and shows how important a specialist club is.

“Certain species will become more and more difficult due to the EU import ban, particularly when purchasing. Our members work together and we have a secure area on our website where members can upload details of their bird collection. Other members can search this database for a particular species and contact the relevant breeders, with a view to keeping certain species going in aviculture.”

I would like to thank Rick for this interview; it is much appreciated. UK softbill keepers can learn a lot from the Dutch way of sharing information and having an organisation where breeders can gain breeding information. There is also a surplus of young aviary-bred birds that can be bought, to keep certain species going.

We have the Foreign Softbill Society UK (, which does a fantastic job of co-ordinating softbill keepers and breeders. The Avicultural Society ( and Foreign Bird League ( are others that keep like-minded keeper/breeders informed.

The Dutch way of doing things would most likely be a step too far for the UK softbill world: it takes an army of volunteers and serious organisation to put a show of the Dutch type. Still, it would be nice to think it could be done one day.

Gary Bralsford has bred softbills for almost 30 years, and has had UK first breedings with the chestnut-backed thrush, white-cheeked bulbul, green wood-hoopoe and lesser kiskadee. 

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