Working with Variable Hawks

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Over his time working at the Hawk Conservancy Trust, Bird Team member Mike Riley has worked alongside a number of Variable Hawks. If you’ve visited the Trust recently, you may have seen him working with one of our younger hawks, Cooper. But Mike was also lucky enough to work with Cooper’s mum, Mace! We caught up with Mike to hear all about his bond with these wonderful birds:

‘I’d like to talk about a species of bird I’m really fond of here at the Hawk Conservancy Trust.

It’s the Variable Hawk (Geranoaetus polyosoma), which you may also know as the Redback Hawk.  This is the first name I knew this species by, however this name is not used so much anymore. This species first arrived at the Trust in 2005, with four birds that came to us from Customs.  They soon settled in to their new lives with us.

In 2006, which was the year of the naming theme ‘Herbs & Spices’, we began working with one of the females from this group. We named her Mace and she flew at the Trust for a number of years. Due to her background, she was understandably a little unsure around people at first, and working with her required you to be very mindful.

Mace used to fly in our Woodland Arena displays in the afternoons, until on 27 February 2010 Mace decided to fly off and take a short holiday. Luckily she was wearing telemetry, which is a radio tracking device, which the Bird Team used to closely monitor her as she travelled all the way down to the New Forest! To get her back, two members of the Bird Team had to stay at a B&B in the New Forest for four days until she finally decided to come back to one of them. She was eventually brought back to the Trust on 5 March!


After her escapade, we decided to give Mace a rest period from the displays, and she was moved into an aviary with a male. They settled in well, and then in 2013 things started to change with the pair seen nest building, the pair were heard mating, but sadly nothing came of this.

In early 2018 we had a call from a friend of the Trust, Mark Dalton at the Cotswold Falconry Centre, who let us know he had a male Variable Hawk that could suit as a potential partner for Mace. Mace made the move to her new home in the Cotswolds, where she settled in well. In June 2020, we got the call that the pair had produced a fertile egg together! After an incubation period of 26 – 36 days,  our first Variable Hawk chick hatched after all Mace’s efforts.

As the chick grew, we were able to determine that due to her size, she was a female chick. In November 2020, once she was old enough, Bird Team members Ben Cox and Kathrine Fenger had the pleasure of collecting the chick from The Cotswold Falconry Centre. Mace still happily resides at this centre with her male partner.

Once the juvenile arrived here at the Trust, I was given the absolute pleasure of working alongside her. I also had the pleasure of naming her, and as she hatched in the year where our naming theme was ‘Conservationists’, I named her Cooper after Ernie Cooper. Ernie Cooper was formerly the Director for the conservation organization WWF-Canada (World Wildlife Fund Canada) and the Canadian National Representative of TRAFFIC the global wildlife trade monitoring network. He left WWF and TRAFFIC in 2014, and formed an environmental consulting business, specialising in wildlife trade issues. In 2009, an article in Canadian Geographic referred to Cooper as “Canada’s top wildlife-trafficking investigator.”

At the moment Cooper is having a rest period to moult through her new feathers.  She has recently been opening our Valley of the Eagles display as one of the pre-show birds, along with our Wahlberg’s Eagle Fawkes.

When flying in the display, Cooper absolutely shines on windy days. In the wild, Variable Hawks are often seen soaring on warm thermals looking for food which consists of mainly small mammals. We are hoping that next season, she will go up to soar to a great height on a more regular basis as she matures and gains experience – we saw this happen a couple of times already this season so know it’s coming!

Even though Cooper is currently having her rest period, I still maintain our bond by going into her aviary to weigh and feed her. Working with Cooper has been a good challenge, and we are already forming a good bond and I’m really looking forward to continuing our time together next season.’

National Bird of Prey Hospital™ Annexe opened by wildlife presenter Megan McCubbin

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TV wildlife presenter, zoologist and conservationist Megan McCubbin has officially opened a new annexe at the National Bird of Prey HospitalTM near Andover, Hampshire – increasing the facility’s capacity to care for injured and sick birds of prey.

The new annexe has been built to expand capacity, so there is potential to treat and rehabilitate more than 200 orphaned, injured and sick birds of prey each year.  Birds are often brought to the facility by members of the public or transferred from other wildlife centres and the patients are predominantly victims of road traffic accidents; youngsters that have fallen from nests; and sometimes birds that have been targeted by persecution activities.

Operated by the Hawk Conservancy Trust, a specialist bird of prey conservation charity, the hospital is also involved in breeding programmes and research for the conservation of species both in the UK and overseas.

Funded from donations from Animal Friends and public donations from Graham & Rita Morgan, Carline Stelling in memory of David Stelling, and Maureen Dixon in memory of Valerie Roberts, the new annexe features not only additional space, but also improved access for anyone bringing a bird for assessment and treatment and its modern construction further improves biosecurity.

The hospital is located at the Hawk Conservancy Trust’s visitor centre and the design of the new annexe makes it possible for educational visits to learn more about the hospital’s vital work.

To give you an insight into the fascinating work at the Hospital, we’ve gone behind the scenes with Hospital Manager Cedric Robert in our latest documentary – Stories from the Hospital. We hope that you enjoy it and continue to support the important work that the National Bird of Prey Hospital™ does daily.

Living and breathing the Hawk Conservancy Trust

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After moving to the Hawk Conservancy Trust nearly a year and a half ago, Bird Team member Owen Lincoln has been fascinated by the  wildlife that appears once the doors close and the Trust grounds go quiet. Join Owen as he tells us what it’s like to experience nature in the evenings when living onsite:

‘Since moving to the Hawk Conservancy Trust roughly 15 months ago, I think it’s safe to say I’ve settled in and found my feet! Living on site has certainly helped that process, and it’s a bizarre thing calling where you work home, but it most definitely feels that way now.

Being at the Trust has been a goal of mine for many years and to wake up here each morning is a brilliant feeling! Of course living here has its advantages, but what I’ve enjoyed most is the peacefulness of the grounds in the evenings.

Being able to walk down to the stunning setting of Reg’s Wildflower Meadow when the sun is setting just clears your mind and is certainly quite breath-taking. Even though it is only a stone’s throw away, the view over the East Cholderton Valley will never get old.

The atmosphere here in the evenings is a completely different feel to during the day. During the school holidays as I’m writing this article, the grounds teem with excitement and really feel alive! However come six o’clock when the other members of staff have left and the birds start to settle, a calm atmosphere settles around the Trust.

I feel that being here has really given me a much more relaxed outlook on life in general, and I think that being surrounded by nature has certainly helped that!

The grounds are home to wonderful wildlife that can be seen during the day, on this occasion, not referring to our birds of prey that reside on site, but I mean the wild animals and minibeasts that also call this place home. During opening hours the team and visitors have seen some incredible sights recently, whether it’s a wild Peregrine Falcon flying over during a show, a pair of Hobbys transferring food to one another, or most recently, and a first for me a Hummingbird Hawk Moth pollenating.

In the evenings a new group of animals take over the night shift, and it’s at this time it feels very different – it’s quite special as there is no one else around to witness it!

Heading down to do the evening lock up and check the park I regularly see Common Pipistrelle Bats, and even the occasional, seldom seen, Brown Long-eared Bats catching their evening meal over the pond in our Savannah Arena. I feel the insect life on that pond is surely plentiful, as at this time of year, they have the migratory swallows to contend with during the day and the bats by night! When do they ever get any respite I often wonder?

Moving around the park near the woods and by the Reg’s Wildflower Meadow the calls of Little Owls can be heard in the distance – a dainty whooping call which is always pleasant. More often than not followed by that iconic sharp squawk of a Heron flying overhead; If you’ve visited the Trust I’m sure you’re familiar with our local herons. This, mixed in with our resident Tawny Owls Sage and Troy calling away with that famous ‘twit’twoo’, brings a whole new feel and almost eerie vibe to the park as the night draws in.

A stunning, biodiverse, and glorious place I’m proud to call home.’

Nature’s a Hoot Episode 18 – Bats!

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On this episode Hannah and Tom take a walk around the grounds of the Hawk Conservancy Trust after hours with Mark Ison, Bird Team member and Ecologist, to carry out a survey of the wild bat species that live on site. We learn more about these fascinating flying mammals and how to identify some of the common species found in the UK. Sadly, this is Hannah’s last episode as she is leaving the Trust for a new position, so we bid her a reluctant but fond farewell!

Hannah and Tom reminisce about her time at the Trust, and Hannah tells us about her new position. Hannah is gong on to work alongside Kevin Cumming, a previous Nature’s a Hoot guest at the John Muir Trust. We’re very sad to say goodbye to Hannah, but wish her all the best in her new adventure!

There are 17 breeding species of bat in the UK, with one remaining individual of an 18th species, the Mouse-eared Bat. Bats are important pollinators, some are specifically adapted to pollinate certain species of plant including dates, bananas and tequila! It was great to get an insight into bats with Mark, and his vast knowledge about them. We headed out into the Trust grounds, to Reg’s Meadow first, which wasn’t quite as fruitful as we had hoped. However, after a while we headed towards the Savannah Arena and were rewarded with some fabulous views of Common Pipistrelles flying over the pond in the last of the sunset! Listen to hear more about the evening.

Find out more about the uplifting story about storks in Ukraine here.

Our Matter of Fact Challenge also returns as our hosts each champion an animal species for Best Camouflage. We coincidentally both chose marine animals, because creatures of the deep are so brilliant at disguise! Will you choose Tom’s teeny tiny Pygmy Seahorse that is so adept at camouflage it was only discovered accidentally when some coral was plucked from the ocean to be examined, or Hannah’s master of disguise the Mimic Octopus, which can contort itself into the forms of other sea animals like shrimps, jellyfish and even sea snakes! Vote on our poll on Twitter, or via our Instagram stories.

Listen to this episode wherever you get your podcasts, and don’t forget to like and subscribe! Read more about our Nature’s a Hoot, and catch up on other episodes here.



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