Not only is Azura a beautiful bird, she is also gentle and kind in character, and a very independent girl. She is 7 years old, so a fully-mature adult. She was hatched in a collection in Spain and came to the Trust when she was a couple of years’ old. She was a member of our team when we undertook flying displays at Longleat Safari Park and since her return to our team on site at the Trust, she has proven to be very popular with visitors, particularly for her striking appearance and incredible flying.
She can be particular about who she likes but that just makes it all the more rewarding when we’re deemed ‘good enough’! We’ve caught up with Ben from our Bird Team to discover more about working with the wonderful Azura:
“I have a massive soft spot for Azura: we’re not supposed to have favourites but she is definitely one of mine. I think the main reason why I adore her is because of her gorgeous looks; in my opinion, she is easily the prettiest bird we have. Her nature is just beautiful too, she is so calm, attentive and friendly, and just an all-round lovely bird to work with!
About four months ago, I had the absolute privilege of being asked to help Cedric with training Azura to take part in our Behind-the-Scenes Winter Experiences. I was so excited to start working with Azura closely and up for the challenge, as taking part in experiences isn’t something she’d done before.
The first part of training was to build up a good, strong, positive relationship with her. This was essential as Azura can be quite nervous, despite being such a big and powerful bird of prey. So it was imperative that I gained her trust. It took about three weeks of feeding her on the glove every day and just spending about thirty minutes at a time in her aviary so that she could get used to my company. We got to know one another very well and started to learn more about each other’s little habits and mannerisms.
Once we were quite comfortable with each other, it was time to see what she was like coming out of the aviary and into the arena. This was the next challenge as she didn’t like seeing people she didn’t know. So myself and Cedric used to have to wait until the very end of the day and make sure the paths were clear then we could walk her to the arena. As the days went on, she got more and more confident. Second challenge complete, now on to flying!
Classic training techniques of flying a bird of prey were the same with Azura, we used a creance line, which is a very long bit of string until she is confident enough to fly free. She took to this really well as of course she has been trained already she’s just had a long rest so just precautionary with the line really. She spent about a week on the line building fitness. Then we wanted to introduce new people for her to fly to, just like an experience scenario.
To begin with we asked volunteers to come out with us and see if she would fly to them. This proved very positive to begin with as she flew to them no problem at all. However, we did discover she didn’t like sunglasses and hats, other than that she was fine. It’s something I love with all the birds I work with that they all have such different personalities and they are just like us as people in the sense that they all like and dislike different things, it’s brilliant. Azura didn’t like those things which was fine, just something for us to remember.
We then started to fly Azura free and she was brilliant! The slight problem we came across was that she didn’t want to fly to people that were not staff or volunteers – basically anyone wearing anything other than our cream or green uniform. This was a big obstacle and took several weeks and a lot of patience and time for us to encourage her that people wearing other clothing could also be trust-worthy. We got there in the end and it was so worth it to be able to share this magnificent bird with guests. So she successfully flew during January with Cedric on his experience days.
After January, we continued to fly her but in a very different way. We wanted her to be able to push off and fly like she would in the wild, obviously we don’t have the South American heat for thermals but we do have the beautiful meadow and on a windy day this worked perfectly. During the horrific stormy weather in February, surprisingly it worked out perfectly for Azura and we managed to get her to start circling above us in the wind. She became a popular feature of our final event of the day, in the winter schedule. This was the perfect next step for her to get used to a small audience and properly stretching her wings.
Flying her in the meadow at this time was truly one of the highlights of my career. She has taught me so much in terms of training and learning to read a birds behaviour. She has easily been the most challenging bird I’ve worked with but it’s been extremely rewarding. She is a stunning bird and will always hold a special place in my heart! I still spend as much time with her as I can to keep our relationship strong. She is great just to go in her aviary and she will just come and sit on my fist, I talk to her a lot, she’s a great listener and keeps me super positive in these interesting times!”
Ben Cox, Bird Team