See the feathers fly!
So, you’re in Johannesburg with a few hours to spare and don’t feel like museums or day trips? Then do what I did recently and take yourself off to the Montecasino Bird Gardens in Fourways.
No, it’s not a zoo, nor a collection of shabby cages with moth-eaten specimens cowering in a corner.
You’ll find yourself, rather, in award-winning gardens that boast one of the world’s biggest collections of South African cycads – a collection of 322 plants from 37 different species built up over nearly 4 decades.
Wander along shady paths, past flamingo ponds; meerkats sunning themselves in the sand; psychedelically coloured parrots and cockatoos that will sit on your hand (or head) if you bought them some food as you bought your entrance ticket; guinea fowls and small antelopes mooching about in the leafy undergrowth; and ducks dabbling and frogs croaking.
Don’t miss the world’s largest cockatoo (from Australia, of course) – the greater palm cockatoo – and his huge but smaller cousins, the sulphur-crested cockatoos. You’ll be dazzled by thousands of colours.
Every day at 11am and 3pm there’s a Flight of Fancy Bird Show where, in an open-air amphitheatre, trained ornithologists and bird handlers will introduce you to rock star Oliver, the pelican; South Africa’s national bird, the blue crane, who struts her stuff like a ramp model; several species of owl; and a tame ground hornbill (check the eyelashes), which does battle with a rubber snake.
Wander along shady paths, past flamingo ponds, meerkats sunning themselves in the sand, and psychedelically coloured parrots and cockatoos that will sit on your hand (or head) ...
If you’re not scared of creeping things, go into the Fierce Creatures display, where gargantuan snakes – including a giant anaconda, a 6m reticulated python and some yellow Asian pythons – laze about in their glass pens. You’ll also be eyeballed by a couple of very sinister-looking black and green mambas.
Before you stop for a drink and snack at the Flamingo Café, which overlooks a pink and white cloud of feeding flamingos, check out the giant sloths and one of our endemic creatures, the endangered giant bullfrog, which is so ugly it’s actually endearing.
The Montecasino Bird gardens are not only for your pleasure – they also support several breeding and conservation programmes. So, take flight!