A few weeks ago I had an afternoon away from parenting and went on a ‘Birds of Prey Experience‘ at Westmill Farm near Ware. It was a birthday gift from my In-Laws and I’d booked it for quite far out so that it would be easier to leave H with Sam. Ironically she wasn’t in a happy mood that day and I was running late so I ended up really not wanting to go. But I’m glad I did because it was great to have some ‘me’ time and also such a wonderful experience with the birds.
The 2 hour session saw us ‘fly’ two birds (an Asian Brown Wood Owl and a Harris’s Hawk), handle one (a baby Brown Crested Barn Owl) and then see a fourth which was a little too hazardous for us to handle (an African Crowned Hawk Eagle). The instructor Charlotte had a wealth of experience handling a large range of birds of prey, owning over 45 birds herself. She kitted us out with gloves and we took it turns to fly the birds.
It was a great ‘experience’ (only rivalled by my Keeper for a Day experience two years ago!) and something I would thoroughly recommend. If you live in the Hertfordshire area then definitely give CJ Birds of Prey a try!
Asian Brown Wood Owl
The first bird we flew was an Asian Brown Wood Owl. Raised by hand from birth, she was very comfortable with humans because that’s how she saw herself. She liked to take her time though and had to be encouraged to fly back to us each time. It took over 45 minutes for us all to have a turn flying her!
Not a very clear video but you can see how she took her time.
She was incredibly light, as all owls are, but had really heavy eyelids so looked really sleepy! If you listen closely to the video, you can also hear her funny little ‘hoot’.
Bud was our second flying experience of the day and he was a 10 month old Harris’s Hawk. Because he was so juvenile he still had much more golden plumage than he would as an adult. He was a complete contrast to the owl and would only linger on our fists for as long as it took to eat the morsel of food. After that he was off ready to get on with the next person and the next scrap of food!
He was a stunning bird but it was rather daunting having something with such a large beak and keen eyes sitting on the end of your arm!
Baby Brown Crested Barn Owl
We were really lucky with our third bird. Charlotte was hand-rearing a baby brown crested barn owl who was six weeks old. She brought him out to see us and those of us that wanted to got to hold hm. Because he was still losing his baby feathers, we were allowed to stroke his tummy which was a wonderfully soft down.
I think Barn Owls are stunning birds and I would love to see one in the wild. To see one not only this close but to hold it was a real privilege. Due to the way they hunt, they are declining in numbers in the UK; Once the are flying and scanning the ground they will fly straight focussed completely on what is ahead, so they all too often get hit from the side by a passing car. It’s so sad.
African Crowned Hawk Eagle
The final bird was an African Crowned Hawk Eagle. It was, if memory serves, a ‘hawk’ because of it’s wing shape and an ‘eagle’ because of it’s size. The bird she showed us was never flown because she didn’t have 100% vision after an illness as a chick; It wasn’t safe to fly her incase she accidentally attacked someone or mis-landed. But she was a stunning bird and, to be honest, she was so big I don’t think I would have been brave enough to hold her!