Spousal Unit is generally our tour guide operator when we travel to the UK. My in-laws and I have the opportunity for input, but my dear husband conducts all the research, scouring TripAdvisor and other reliable sources for activities/sights we will enjoy. This trip, he found a rare experience that was an ideal fit with my interest in birds. Walks with Hawks allows for personal interaction with several species of raptors!
As someone who puts animal welfare high on my list of priorities, I was mildly concerned about the source of the birds and their care. Having spent 2.5 hours with Clare, the owner of the operation, I learned she hand raises each raptor and they become part of her family. The young raptors are hatched from eggs that are commercially produced - not from the wild.
Before she even started, she checked our "gross-out" tolerance. After all, raptors are carnivores, and she uses chicken pieces and whole dead chicks during the experience. No worries for us! (There are only one or two pictures in this series that someone might find unpleasant - I apologize if that's the case.)
I regret that I don't remember the name of the Great Horned Owl, the first bird we saw. Most of the raptors started on a perch, and Clare would put chicken on my glove, leading the bird to fly to me. Spousal Unit had practiced with the slo-mo feature on my phone, which is ideal for this type of videography. The only down side? The sound is odd! Below is a clip of the Great Horned Owl in flight.
She gave the chicks to the raptors at the end of their segment, partly as reward and partly because offering it to them at the beginning might result in no more flight that day (see explanation below).
It prompted me to ask if a raptor (such as a Bald Eagle) flies for "fun". This has often occurred to me when I see one circling ever higher on a thermal air current. The answer is no. Most flying is for hunting. And by the way, Clare told us, this is the origin of the phrase "fed up". A raptor that is "fed up" will not fly or hunt.
Below is a video of Eboo flying. (I may have mis-spelled its name.) Eboo was distracted by the planes flying to and from the small airfield near the farm, and needed a little more coaxing."Oreo", a Barn Owl, was the third and final owl we would meet. Oreo is quite rare due to melanism, a development of dark-colored pigment that is the opposite of albinism. With Oreo, we also learned how small an owl's head is, camouflaged under all those feathers. Gently, we put a finger into the feathers at the back of the owl's head; our hand practically disappeared before we felt anything firm!
Below are two videos of Oreo in flight.
The next raptor we met was "Ronnie," a Harris's Hawk. With Ronnie, we walked a short distance around the farm (hence "Walks with Hawks"). The hawk would fly from my glove to a tree. Tree to glove. Glove to fence post. And so on. These hawks feed mostly on medium-sized mammals such as hares, ground squirrels and other rodents. Thus, it was not surprising that Ronnie swept close to the ground in flight. Check out the video.
In that picture, you can also clearly see the jesses. Several common terms relate to these leather straps: "end of my tether" , "wrapped around my little finger" and "under my thumb".
At the end of our time with Ronnie, Clare had us stand close together. And not move. And then Ronnie flew right past our ears! You could easily imagine how the raptor might use this skill to fly through a hedge for prey.
Here is Kibbles in flight.
You may be wondering about the location for Walks with Hawks - Clare is not associated with the farm; she has permission to use it for her operation. She shared with us that her time with families often brings a silver lining: she has an opportunity to educate them, especially children, about the role of farms. Can you imagine that many people do not understand the source of beef, or tomatoes, (just to name two examples she mentioned)?
The final raptor of the day was "Hope", the Chilean Blue Eagle you saw at the beginning of the post. Is this a majestic bird, or what?