Monday, 25 November 2013

Bird of Prey Handling and Flying – Amazing Experience (Lots of Pictures!)

Hey everyone,
 
A while ago, I posted about an owl handling day, that I went to and it was incredible! So, when I saw an offer for a bird of prey day, handling some of the bigger birds, I booked tickets for me and my Fiance straight away. We had an amazing day and my Mum and Nan also came along, which was nice :)
 
You can see my post on the owl handling day here.
 
when we visited The English School of Falconry, they were currently in the middle of moving location, so there wasn’t half as many birds there was there was last time because they were all in their new home, three miles away. They were only open for two more weeks and then they start fresh in their new location, which is apparently four times as big, so its definitely a good move for the birds as they’ll have plenty of space. All the birds are taken out and allowed to fly about and some of the species are taken out to hunt naturally, which is great. These birds are treated so well and most are hand reared at one of the keeper’s houses for 10 weeks.
 
When we turned up, we noticed that we were the only people due to do the 'Big Five’ experience, everyone else was on the ‘Little and Large’ experience, so we had to join in with their group, which I didn’t mind. The centre was only open for experience days, no regular visitors were permitted because of the change in location. This was a bit upsetting because last time we went, there was an amazing display for 45 minutes at the end and we didn’t get to see that because they were in the middle of the move, so I completely understand that. But if you do decide to visit the new centre, you will be treated to an amazing display, which is definitely on the best things I’ve seen in my life.
 
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Here’s a picture of me and my lovely Nan when we arrived at the centre :) Once everyone in the group had arrived we went to handle some owls, which was nice because they’re my favourite :) I don’t think we were meant to be handling them as part of the ‘big 5’ group, but like I said, they were busy trying to move location and we still had an amazing time, so I was happy with whatever I was holding really!
 
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We first got to hold this little cutie, he was so calm and just sat perched on your arm happily enough for 3/4 minutes. In the last picture you can see him looking up, he was looking at an aeroplane :)
 
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The next owl we held was this one. I’m so sorry but I can’t remember any of their names, oops! This one was so, so sweet and he just wanted to sleep the whole time. Every person he perched on, he just slept on them. The keeper said they always let little children hold him because all he does is sleep!

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Lastly, there was this owl, which was used to sitting on people’s shoulders so kept lunging at your shoulder. We were running out of time, so I said I didn’t mind not holding this one, he was quite flappy and I didn’t want to hold everyone up.

When we were talking to the keeper about the owls, she explained how they have no vision up close, and she was waving her hand in front of the owls face and it was not reacting at all. Owls also cannot move their eyes, they are fixated in the same position. We learnt so much about the owls and how they live and they really are fascinating creatures. The keeper showing us around, Carly was so informative, I have no idea how she can remember that much but she was brilliant.

We then went off to a grassy area to fly some birds. They would start off about 100 ft away on a perch/tree stump then they come swooping over to you. Its such an amazing experience! The birds started off small and then got considerably bigger….

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This is a Kestral and he was the first bird we flew, he was absolutely beautiful and flew to everyone a couple of times. He was so pretty and did exactly as he was told, these birds are so well trained and I just want to go back and see them all again as soon as I’ve left!

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Then a few of us were lucky enough to get the Kestral to land on our heads! It literally felt like nothing was on my head, he was so light! My Fiance Luke was very jealous, because he didn’t get a turn, haha.

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The next bird we got to fly was this Eurasian Owl. He was amazing and surprisingly quite heavy. The keeper, was telling us that he might grip onto the glove and not let go and not to worry, its just where he thinks he has caught prey and then he will sniff around and realise its not anything worth eating. We saw him do this on the tree stump, he went to fly off to someone and couldn’t because his claws had gripped the stump, he soon realised it wasn’t anything worth having and flew back over. Someone asked if he had any sense of taste and we were told he only has 100 tastebuds, humans have around 10,000.

Next we got to fly a huge bird and it was one of the best things I have ever done!

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The last bird we got to fly was this amazing baby Bald Eagle. Yes, it was a baby! It was absolutely huge, its wings slapped right across my face when it landed on me! It was definitely the best part of the day, getting to fly this huge bird. We were warned about what we would have to be holding in the falconer’s glove, half of a dead chick, it was quite gory and I usually faint at the site of a grazed knee, so I’m glad I didn’t pass out!

Carly, the keeper explained to us that the bird was very heavy, 12lb to be exact! So, if we needed her to hold the glove, as it was a lot of weight to come and land on your wrist, we just needed to ask her to come support us. I definitely opted for that because I have a 10lb chihuahua and I know how heavy she can be, and I couldn’t imagine holding her weight with my wrist. I’m glad I did because that bird was so heavy! She let go of my arm so I could feel the full weight once she had landed and it was bloody heavy.

A bald eagle’s claw grip is 10x as strong as a human’s, just to give you an indication of how powerful these birds are.  Their grip is estimated to exert 450lb per square inch of pressure. Their talons could easily pierce through the glove, so I’m glad that didn’t happen, haha.

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Next, we got to meet this big beastie. This is a Andean Condor and is definitely one of the biggest flying birds on the planet. As we were the only ones doing the ‘Big 5’ experience, me and Luke got to feed him chick legs, which is probably the most gross thing I have ever done, I can’t even touch a bit of bacon, and that doesn’t even resemble an animal! The keeper was saying how people used to be allowed to go into his cage to feed him, until he started to eat people’s shoes! I would have liked to go in and meet him though, he was actually very cute.

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We then went to go meet the Pelicans and they were so funny! We were allowed to pet them, feed them fish and put our hands in their beaks. I stroked them, but didn’t fancy holding a raw fish, the keeper was saying how hard it was to get the smell off of your hands, so I decided against that! The keeper also said that if you put your hands in their beaks, its just like two rulers clapping together. We were hanging out with these funny fellas for a good 10 minutes and they were just so funny to watch, they don’t walk they waddle and just have the funniest mannerisms.

Carly, the keeper was cuddling them and said they were just like pet dogs. They loved all the attention and were so soft when you touched them. Even though they’re not birds of prey they were still great to watch, and unlike the birds of prey we were actually allowed to pet them which was great!

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The very last thing we got to do was hold this beautiful Bateleur Eagle, an eagle native to Africa. He was definitely one of my favourites! He was so very tame and we were even allowed to stroke his head, which was incredibly soft.

We had an amazing time and I don’t know how we managed to pack that into three hours, but it was a great experience and I will definitely be returning to see the new Bird of Prey centre when it opens.

The English School of Falconry is currently located in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, but is only relocating to three miles away. To find out more about the centre and what they have to offer, click here. There are so many different opportunities and experiences where you can meet and interact with the birds. You can go hunting with the hawks and there’s even an option new for 2014 where you hunt on horseback (experienced riders only) but how amazing does that sound?!
 
Thanks for reading!
 
Hope you enjoy this type of post! :)
 
Emily :) x

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