Sunday, 12 September 2010

Owls and eagles and hawks… oh my

This weekend I have been on a field trip or, to be more specific, an owl experience, thanks to a brilliant birthday present from my brother.

I love owls, most particularly their ever-present expression of stoicism and thinly veiled contempt.

We didn't just experience owls, though. Oh no. We also experienced eagles and hawks. Eagles are pretty OK. But not as good as owls. Slightly behind eagles, OK-wise, are hawks.

Owls have exceptional hearing. This is a Fact I learned, in response to a Question I asked. At least, I think it's a fact. The lady falconer in charge of our experience told me their hearing is so good they can hear the heartbeat of a mouse. This is so extraordinary I couldn't decide whether to believe it or not. It seemed exactly the kind of fabricated story the staff would spin to gullible, just-off-the-London-train wildlife-tourists like me, all French Connection parka and silver Converse. They would then laugh among themselves in the pub after work, over some hearty real-ale-style beverage, as they imagined me repeating this ludicrous untruth in polite society, much to the derision of everyone present.

I also learnt that a kestrel can lift a double-decker bus

Of all the owls I met, I had two favourites.

The first one is called Louis. He is small but he fights dirty. Here is a picture of him sitting on my glove, and I think it is quite clear by his expression what an instant, deeply affectionate bond we formed.

The second is called Willy, because of Willy Wonka. You may notice that Willy has a Wonky beak.

This kind of thing represents a moment of flippant hilarity to whoever named the bird, but to Willy, it means a lifetime of mockery from the rest of the aviary and a dangerously negative body image. This kind of thing makes me sick.

Willy is of a nervous disposition, which sometimes means he doesn't pick up physical skills as quickly as the other owls. I felt great understanding for what it must be like to be in Willy's feathers.

And here is the biggest eagle we met, who is a lot heavier than any owl.

You can see here that I had to rest my arm on a rubbish bin when I was holding him because I was so worried about my non-muscles trembling visibly within about two seconds, right in front of the critical eye of my fellow owl-fanciers. It is not all glamour being an amateur eagle-hander, that is for sure.


Alison Cross said...

oooh an owl-wrangling day - fantastic!

I really want to go on a falconry course so that I can have a little hawk.

Unfortunatley, I also want to keep chickens and I think the two ideas are mutually exclusive!

Have you seen this 'owl in a box' He looks so utterly fucked off, it's hilarious:

Bookmark it if you haven't seen it before. Guaranteed way to brighten up a dull morning ;-)


legend in his own lunchtime said...

I get those looks from my wife. The ones that say, "Piss me off one more time and I'll rip your face off."
We have a wolf sanctuary on the Island and the lady who runs it keeps eagles, owls and hawks who are not capable of looking after themselves in the wild. She was having dinner one night on the deck of our local restaurant, and her Red Tailed Kite was sitting on the back of her chair. When they left, there was a large raptor turd on the floor, half fur and bone. Wonderful.

ktuk said...

A comedy show I saw in Edinburgh that you might like. It is called "The Owl of Steven".

Bespoke Editions said...

This - along with the Regent's Park Introduction to Beekeeping course - has gone straight to the top of my wish list!
Where did you go? Don't want to subject Owls to deluge of visitors but please can you send link? (sorry if you put in previous post and I missed it)
Kate x

Miss Jones said...

Hi Kate, we went to Shuttleworth in Bedfordshire, but I was talking to a friend of a friend last night who had done a v similar thing at Leeds Castle.

Miss Jones said...

Which is not in Leeds. x

Big Brother said...

Kate - I doubt they would object to some free publicity! They are at:

Meanwhile, I have been scouring (well, casually surfing) the internet to find anything more substantial about the "hearing the mouse's heartbeat" claim - as it strikes me that if you've got the volume turned up that high then noises such as rustling leaves and farting wood lice must be deafening. I've not found any proper research, just lots of stuff that starts "It is commonly said that an owl can hear...". It is also said that an owl can hear said mouse's heartbeat through a layer of snow. In which case why are they sitting in a shed in Bedfordhsire when they could be shipped out to the Alps to locate people stuck in avalanches.

The kestrel thing is definitely true though.

Rosalind said...

Wow! Sounds awesome. I've been promising my husband a Falconry day for years now, but the owls look great, too! When we're back in the UK, I will definitely suggest this - looks like a brilliant day out!

Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted said...

Oh poor Willy! That bin was handily placed xx