Sunday, May 15, 2022

Mosaic Monday #177: Revelry with Raptors

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).

I couldn't possibly remember everything that Clare taught us that day (I interacted with the raptors while Spousal Unit served as photographer and videographer); she is extremely knowledgeable about each species.  I was impressed that she could also recite the weight of each bird not only for that day but for the day before.  As I learned, this was not just some gimmick.  Raptors will only fly if they are hungry, and the way to know they are hungry is by weight; when their food is sufficiently digested, their weight goes down and they will want to hunt.  (And this is not to imply that she is starving them so they will "perform."  She has enough birds that she can monitor the weight and know which ones to bring to a particular session.)  Fascinating!

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!

By now, you will also have noticed some common equipment with each of the raptors.  Gloves - those talons are sharp and the birds have quite a grip!  Jesses, strips of strong leather that allow for extra control of the raptor if needed (which never happened at our session).  Reward tags - includes a serial number and contact information.  Clare noted that is very uncommon for her birds to "fly off", particularly the owls.  Unlike the other raptors, the owls bond with her, and won't stray.  But as a precaution, she put a transmitter on each bird as it came out of its case.

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.

Throughout our time together, Clare shared many phrases that have come from falconry.  "Eyes like a hawk": if we had the vision of a hawk, we could read a newspaper being held at the other end of a football field.  Here is Ronnie looking intently at something!

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.

"Kibbles", an American Kestrel, was our next raptor.  Can you see the bell on one of the jesses?  Falconry bells are commonly used to locate the bird, let the falconer know if the bird is active and signal if the bird is near a predator.  Another piece of equipment that is commonly associated with falconry is the hood.  We did not see one that day, but Clare informed us that falconry hoods are the source of the term "hoodwinked".  A bird was kept calm by using a small hood - being tricked into calming themselves.  Hoodwinked means to be fooled into doing something!

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?  

Clare explained that in the wild, birds will lose two feathers in a symmetrical manner, particularly on the wings, so that it does not affect flight.  For some reason, Hope had gone through a complete molt, and therefore she could not fly.  But it was OK; she was stunning just being stationary!  Just look at the blue of the feathers on her back - doesn't even look real!

Suffice it to say that Spousal Unit hit it out of the park, arranging this spectacular experience.  I am grateful beyond words! 

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  1. ...I enjoy birds of prey, but perhaps not this close up!

  2. Wow ... Angie, you acted courageously with the raptors. What an adventure. I admire you.

    My love belong to the owls. They look so much serious and funny on the other side. Aaaand our grandmother had a nickname for my sister and me: she always said, my two owls speaking about us.

    Happy MosaicMonday

  3. You got way more up close and personal with your hawks than I did. I always like places like this where you learn while having fun. (And I also like having someone to plan the travel (and adventures while traveling). It's very cool that he found something all of you could enjoy together (and something new for the locals!)

  4. What a great activity and you've got some wonderful photos to remember it by too! :)

  5. How cool to be right there with those special raptors, they are all really beautiful!

  6. This so amazing, Angie! I tend to travel during colder months, so I never got to do this, but it has been high in my list. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and great photos!


  7. They certainly are magnificent birds. You were so lucky to get so close to photograph them. Stay safe, enjoy your week, and thank you again for the link up.

  8. How nice to have met various species of Owls and Hawks and interacted with them! This is a spectacular experience, indeed! Hawks are majestic and Angie you’re so courageous. I’m hesitant to act like you, because I was a little nervous when I once put even very friendly Toucan on my arm or shoulder.


  9. What an exciting experience! I've been to raptor shows but only as an observer in an audience, and never as a participant. The videos were interesting to see--good job by your spousal unit and also for finding this interesting and unforgettable activity for you--what a treat!

  10. So fascinating and interesting! Thanks for all the insight :)

  11. Hello Angie,
    What a fun activity. I would love seeing the raptors up close. The owls are just beautiful. Wonderful photos. Take care, have a great new week!

  12. What an experience, dearest Angie!
    I can really see how much you enjoyed the "work" with the birds of prey - and I am amazed and admire how calmly you were able to hold your hand. Big compliments also to Spousal Unit for his camera work, he did a great job, even with that change of perspectives. The birds are beautiful and I like to read that they are doing well there. Hope with her blue plumage is really a very special looking, pretty bird - and Oreo, too. This adventure would also be something for me! We have already attended several bird of prey shows - e.g. these:
    - but self-acting as a falconer is still a bit better :-)
    Warm greetings, Traude

  13. What an amazing encounter with those magnificent birds, Angie! I'd love to do that sometime too!

  14. PS: Thank you for hosting, Angie, and for your visit to my blogs, even though you are travelling!

  15. Some lovely textures revealed in these bird close ups.
    Have a good week


  16. Awesome experience! Visiting the interactive Belize Raptor Center was a highlight of that former trip for me.

  17. Wow! To get so close to all those owls is amazing! This is a wonderful experience and I'm glad someone took pics. I get so excited sometimes, I don't get anything but blurs! Enjoy your week!

  18. Raptors are cool! These are some beautiful birds!

  19. Such an amazing place to visit. Wonderful photos

  20. Amazing creatures and experience. Glad you weren't grossed out. :) It's nice to have a travel planner. It really can be daunting making all those decisions. Hats off to your hubby. Thanks for answering the question about his parents in your first post about this trip.

  21. Wow, those are incredible birds. The sounds are strange indeed!

  22. Wow, What a Special Experience you had! I'm kind of hope that I will be able to if I can have a chance p;-) ♬
    Thank you very much for hosting and lovely comments. Miyako;

  23. What a great experience spousal unit arranged. I learned a bunch from your post. That last bird is amazing.

  24. Amazing birds! You had a great adventure!

  25. Spousal Unit definitely hit a home run with this gift/experience! Kristen suggested Bernie name his RV-14 Blue Eagle; this should cement the idea! I never knew about blue eagles. Gorgeous! So glad you got this fantastic trip!

  26. Thank you for the wonderful photos and especially the videos... it's wonderful to be able to watch the birds in flight so close. Isn't it amazing how harmoniously each feather moves... I'm always fascinated by the flight of birds.
    A wonderful experience you had. hug

  27. A great write up Angie. And excellent results from Man Wirth A Camera. That Clare certainly knows her subject and I think I have seen her on another TV programme.

  28. Oh a big WOW from me Angie.
    What a fabulous experience, I did enjoy your photographs and videos.

    My good wishes.

    All the best Jan

  29. What a fabulous experience. There is a raptor centre not too far from our place, but I've never been. You included some wonderful information.

  30. What a lovely aviation birds of prey, you were so calm. Thanks Angie.

  31. I hope that the educational value of facilities like this is recognized, absorbed and put into practice by the visiting public and their visit becomes far more than something akin to a day at the zoo or a petting farm. If people go away knowing that a healthy predator/prey relationship is essential to a functioning ecosystem a great job will have been done. And the sheer enjoyment of the birds is not bad either, Angie!

  32. This was a great educational opportunity. How extremely lucky your husband likes to plan the events and does so with great care.

  33. What a fantastic experience for you all, so good to learn about the birds and how they live.


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