Le Donjon des Aigles : the grandiose spectacle of the lords of the sky!

Beaucens
Le Donjon des Aigles  ...

For millennia, raptors and birds of prey have exerted a great fascination on man. Symbol of prestige in the Middle Ages, falconry was the favorite pastime of the nobility. This feudal hunting "sport" played an important role in society, and raptors were traditionally presented at festivities and banquets to entertain court guests. Nowadays, falconry is a living art registered in the intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO .


The Keep of the Eagles
The Eagles Dungeon show
The Keep of the Eagles


Protected today, raptors still arouse as much wonder and admiration for their agility, their diversity, the beauty of each species, their piercing gaze, the elegance of their silhouette and, for some, their impressive size! Direction the Donjon des Aigles on the heights of Beaucens for a privileged encounter with the kings of the sky.

The Eagle Keep: a grandiose setting to contemplate the birds

From the top of its 500 meters of altitude, the Keep of the Eagles majestically dominates the Valley of Argelès-Gazost , one of the most beautiful valleys of the Pyrenees. Located in Beaucens , the imposing ruins of this authentic 11th century feudal castle have housed since 1973 one of the most prestigious collections of day and night raptors in the world: 47 species of raptors and 13 species of parrots.


The Keep of the Eagles

The Keep of the Eagles


Former property of the powerful Viscounts of Lavedan, it was abandoned by the last Viscount in title who, hated by the population, was forced to flee to Austria. The ruins of the Keep have been the subject of major restoration work since 1983, in particular by their new owner Mr Venant, a fan of falconry. Today it is his son, Jean-Loup Venant who manages the family business in this place steeped in history, with the same passion and the same dedication to the welfare of birds as his father, in close collaboration with four other talented trainers. Against the backdrop of the Pyrenees mountains , this historic setting perched in the middle of the forest is perfectly suited to the natural habitat of raptors.

Listed as a historical monument since 1927, the mystical Donjon is an exceptional place to admire the birds soaring in free flight above the valley and effortlessly perform their aerial turns in the thermal updrafts.


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The world's largest collection of birds of prey

From the Little Duke owl to the great Andean Condor, including vultures, eagles, hawks, buzzards and owls, we discover on entering the walls of the old castle an astonishing variety of birds, all born in captivity. Protected, any collection of these species in the wild is now prohibited. Reproduction is one of the avowed vocations of the Keep of the Eagles, a means of conservation of these legendary birds of prey threatened with extinction .


The Keep of the Eagles

The Keep of the Eagles

The Keep of the Eagles


Upon entering, we are greeted by the piercing cries of a captive eagle and a golden eagle attached to their perch , as is done in falconry. There are no fencing or aviaries here, the birds are in the open air, which allows real proximity to visitors. In the case of owls and vultures, they are housed away from light, in a cool place, in cavities that respect their natural environment .

All along the path that leads to the Keep, the birds offer themselves to the view of visitors. Parchment panels provide information specific to each species, their environment and their hunting methods. Continuing the visit, we access an outdoor courtyard where vultures reign supreme : monk vulture, white-backed vulture, griffon vulture, hooded vulture, Egyptian vulture or even the superb papal vulture.


The Keep of the Eagles

The Keep of the Eagles

The fabulous Pope Vulture


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Ambulatory visit to meet raptors

The free visit of the dungeon is at the pace of each one. We took the time to observe the great diversity of species for an hour and a half. Raptor specialists and true enthusiasts, trainers are happy to share their knowledge and expertise by answering various questions from young and old. Make way for the show ! Visitors make their way to the dungeon's large open lawn to watch the birds practice their skills in flight.


The Keep of the Eagles


An enchanting spectacle that transports you to the world of falconry

Comfortably seated on the grass, the public discovers the birds moving in complete freedom for almost an hour. Equipped with microphones, the trainers provide enriching comments in order to share with us the habits of the residents. Capable of flying at high speed to hunt, the eagles lead the way followed by owls, hawks, vultures… Watching these birds in action is impressive. The public marvels at the majesty of the eagles, the agility of the buzzards and kites who dive down to catch the lures in flight, the elegance of the serpentine which neutralizes its prey with its paws, the gliding flight of the vultures which graze our heads with extreme precision… the flight skills of birds of prey are captivating!


The Keep of the Eagles

The Keep of the Eagles The Keep of the Eagles
The Keep of the Eagles The Keep of the Eagles
The Keep of the Eagles

The Keep of the Eagles The Keep of the Eagles The Keep of the Eagles


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In a dazzling maneuver , the falcon retracts its wings and plunges towards the ground. “The peregrine falcon, the fastest in the world, points to 360 kilometers per hour in a dive, ” explains Jean-Loup, following the raptor with his eyes which rushes over his glove. We also witness a funny demonstration of the Egyptian vulture which skillfully breaks an ostrich egg with a stone. To end the show, multicolored parakeets and parrots take the stage for the final bouquet. An extraordinary ballet then colors the sky to the delight of all. An experience rich in emotions to live with family, couple or friends!


The Keep of the Eagles

The Keep of the Eagles

 

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Photos and Article prepared by Lesley Williamson for the Guide de Toulouse Pyrénées

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