Saturday, 24 March 2012

Our Falconry Experience

Wow, what a day.  Astute blog readers may recall that we enjoy our birds of prey.  We've seen demonstrations at Warwick Castle and the Battle Abbey as well as static displays on Holy Island and Glastonbury.  Not to mention catching the very good show at the Indianapolis Zoo a number of times when back home.  In addition, Nicole has always had a thing for owls as well.

Well, last year I jumped at the opportunity to purchase a Falconry Experience Groupon for Nicole and me (Alex was too young).  It was affiliated with the Rosliston Forestry Centre which is about 30 minutes away.  It took about 5-6 months to book a spot as it was a very popular deal.  Fortunately for us, it turned out to be a very nice weather day. 

It didn't look to be starting out that way though.  Sunny skies were expected but the day began with a fairly thick fog.

It was a 3-hr tour that started a little slowly as they walked us around some of the cages and displays to talk a bit about the birds.  Nicole was able to get her owl fix at least.  This is a Eurasian Eagle Owl.

flapping his wings a bit

barn owl (link)

tawny owl (link)

 Harris Hawk (link)

 this is a younger Harris Hawk -- striking how different (lighter) it looks compared to the picture above

We finally get a turn ourselves.  We formed 2 rows and the barn owl (a dark breasted one -- different from the photo farther up) flew back and forth down the line (while being enticed by food).

 Nicole and "her" owl

my turn -- camera in one hand, owl in the other

Next up was this little guy; an American Kestrel (link).   For this one, we got in a big circle and she flew back and forth to the opposite side.

my arm -- trust me

Common Kestrel (link)

nice photo of Nicole -- too bad the bird wasn't looking

Back to the Harris Hawk (getting a little bigger now).  One tidbit we did learn was the fact that they very carefully monitor the bird's weight.  For one reason, a few ounces either way can greatly affect their health.  But they also keep referencing their flying weight.  This has to do with keeping them hungry enough to keep coming back to their handlers.  If they eat too much, they become "fed up" and they will stay perched in a tree for hours (and these birds cost £5000+ so that means the handlers are waiting all this time).

This is where the term "fed up" comes from.  Interesting! 

The hawk was up on a high perch and then came swooping down.  It landed very gently though.

Like in Battle, they had a demo where a young boy ran across the field with a stuffed rabbit and the hawk swooped down and "killed" it.  Note the technique called mantling where they cover their prey from sight.  They eat very quickly because they are exposed to other predators.  The food gets stored in the crop and is digested at a more leisurely pace when the bird is safer.  The fur is also eaten and then later coughed up as an undigested pellet.

mid-air snatch (notice that the fog has definitely lifted and we got our nice sunny day)

This Lanner Falcon (link) did some swooping and soaring demos before snagging this out of the air.  Note the mantling here as well.


The final demo was this very large (10 lb) Golden Eagle (link).   This is the personal bird of the Director of the Forestry Centre.  He actually hunts with him and noted how hard it is to carry this big lug around.  Of course Nicole was the first one picked to hold him.  Notice her expressions through the next shots (though she is squinting because of the sun as well).

climbing on -- all's good

 big fella -- fortunately she's not having to hold his whole weight (notice the helping hand)

 I think that is more squint than worry.  Only 6-8 folks got to hold this guy (I did not) so it's good that Nicole did.

 checking each other out (that is one big bird)

couple of nice shots

 and one with the Director (Wayne) as well

check out the wing span!

All in all, it was a great day and we both enjoyed it.  It was a larger affair than I was expecting; about 30 people or so.  But it still ended up being quite fun.  They had a separate session in the afternoon that you could upgrade to that allowed you to go hunting with them but we had our fill.

No meal of the week this week but Nicole did make a pineapple upside down cake as part of her home-ec class.  Pretty good.

Have a good week everyone.


  1. Looks great Steve. That must have been a pretty neat experience. The Golden Eagle is incredibly impressive. BTW, did you get a new camera. Your pictures look quite nice.

  2. Great bird shots Steve. It must have been awesome to hold the huge Golden eagle.

  3. Thanks, guys. Same ole trusty point-and-shoot camera. I did try to clean it though! I think all the sunlight helped as well.