Birds of Prey

Richard Bell's nature diary, Northumbria, Thursday 23 September 2010

Tropical screech owlSouthern White-Faced Owlsmall owl

I’M USED to drawing owls, hawks and eagles in the birds of prey section of the zoo but it’s a whole new experience for me to see them in flight at close quarters – at very close quarters; a tawny owl brushed my face with its wing as it flew past me - here at the Kielder Water Birds of Prey Centre at Leaplish.

Ural Owl

great grey owlMandy the MaribouSeeing them in action you get a much better impression of an individual bird’s character than you do when they’re simply sitting on a perch. The father and son team who run the Centre describe them all as individuals but I think a special favourite is Mandy the Maribou, who is a real character. Recently a dentist repaired her broken bill by fitting her with a plastic extension to her lower mandible. She can now pick up tiny bits of food from the floor, just as she could before her bill was damaged.

great grey owl

great grey owlwhite-tailed sea eagleIt’s wonderful to have the birds come to your hand to see the way the feathers work; they're so light that you can appreciate how much their bulk is made up of feathers – even a great-grey owl weighs less than the leather gauntlet you wear for them to land on. Owls were my favourite subject when I started doing wildlife drawings as a young student and I’d build up the detailed pattern of the feathers with a fine-nibbed dip pen. Being amongst these I realise that stuffed specimens, detailed photographs or even the bored-looking birds that inhabit aviaries don’t give a true picture of the living, breathing, flying bird.

Between the flight demonstrations I get a chance to draw three of the smaller owls in more detail. These birds have all been captive bred and raised by humans so that they’re totally at ease with people; ‘They think that they’re humans or that we are owls.’

barn owl

To raise birds for release into the wild would be a different process.

As we’re talking one of the falconers dashes out of the shelter, looks up and says ‘Oh, it’s a pair of buzzards.’ He’d seen the kookaburra looking up. When we came out we couldn’t see the buzzards but all we had to do was look at the kookaburra again and follow in which its beak was pointing and in which its large, round yellow eyes were staring and there they were, circling.

The falconer says that this is something to look out for with garden birds; if you see them looking up, look for a predator.

During the first demonstration two peregrines had flown across, taking an interest in one of the Centre’s hawks flying around below.

Link: Kielder Water Birds of Prey Centre