A sad goodbye to Delores

Posted on: by

We are so sad to have to inform you that Delores, our beautiful Cinereous Vulture, passed away 29 December 2022.  She was so close to the hearts of many of the team here at the Hawk Conservancy Trust, and to many of you as well.  After a period of illness, with heart disease and arthritis, with no signs of recovery, we took the kind, yet difficult decision to put her to a peaceful sleep.  At the grand age of 32 years old, just 3 days off her 33rd birthday, we are devastated to have lost her, although blessed that she lived such a long life with us at the Trust.

To honour Delores’ legacy, we have set up a memorial fund. Donations will go towards the care of our birds, helping them to live a long and healthy life, alongside our work towards conserving their wild counterparts. Click here to donate.

Delores was a special bird at the Trust; a real character that brightened the day of many passing her aviary, giving a quirky head tilt and keeping an eye on the goings on.  She had her firm favourites among the Bird Team and volunteers and would happily bring twigs to her favourites when they came to feed her and say hello.  Many will hold fond memories of her cheeky, playful antics too; stealing their brushes when they came in to clean her aviary and pecking at their boot laces.  She would delight in emptying buckets of collected loose twigs, leaves and weeds and you may have noticed some patches of un-mown grass in her aviary – this was usually where we’ve worked around her when she didn’t want to budge.  If a lawn mower was unmanned, Delores would demolish the wheel trims too.  All of this was part of her endearing charm, and easily forgiven with a raise of the shoulder feathers and a signature head tilt.

With the beautiful plumage around her neck, likened to a feather boa, her beautiful big eyes, gorgeous coloured feathers, she’s been known as quite the glamour puss at the Trust, and we love that she has been a champion in our plight to show how beautiful vultures are.  She single-handedly converted many of our visitors to being vulture fans.

It will feel very strange to walk past her aviary and not be welcomed by Delores with a turn of her head or raising of her chest feathers as her greeting.  We’ll miss her collecting sticks and placing them in a pile at the front of the aviary, proudly standing over her nest attempt each year. She touched the hearts of everyone at the Trust, all of whom would stop and chat as they walked by, from the Trust’s cleaner walking to work at 6am, to Feathers Restaurant staff on their way to corporate events at the Griffon Rooms. She won the hearts of so many and will be so sorely missed by staff, volunteers and visitors.

Ashley Smith (Life President and Founder) and John Chitty (The Trust’s Vet) look back on how Delores came into their lives.

 “A pair of Cinereous Vultures had recently been imported to the UK from a zoological collection in Russia. I had never seen a Cinereous Vulture before and so I asked the chap who imported them if I could visit and see them. When I got there I discovered that one of them (Delores) had recently become very sick. I said to the owner that I thought she needed immediate specialist veterinary care and he agreed. I said that I knew just the vet who could help and that if he were to let me take her home I would go straight to the vet for treatment and that I would care for her, also pay for all her vet bills and that if she survived, she would then have a permanent home with us.  He readily agreed.

 I drove straight to our vet John Chitty’s house with Delores sat on the back seat of the car. It was late evening by the time that I arrived and when John opened the door I was stood there with Delores in my arms. I explained the situation and asked if he could take a look her as she was very sick. He agreed immediately though he was in the middle of hosting a dinner party. This did not deter John and between us all (including the dinner party guests) we cleared the dining room table to examine Delores on. One of the dinner party guests was so excited she said this was the best dinner party she had ever been too. John and his wife Kate carefully examined her, giving her a cocktail of drugs and then suggesting I take her home and keep her warm and hydrated. Slowly, but surely and with further care from John and Kate she improved and made a full recovery.  I named her Delores after the character played by Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act” Ashley Smith Life President and Founder.

“It was a sad day saying goodbye to Delores. I first met her in my living room in 1993 when Ashley crashed an evening dinner bearing a Cinereous vulture he’d just picked up after import from a zoological collection in Russia. Delores was clearly disabled and had leg and foot changes due to bumblefoot infections. The key question was ‘could we do anything to help her?’  Well, we could – and she lived well at the Trust for nearly 30 years! It always seems particularly sad to lose a bird after such a long time but we do have to remember just how old she was (she was an adult when she arrived) and it isn’t surprising that, in the end, her arthritis and heart disease caught up with her. Delores had a long and good life and gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of visitors- she was a spectacular bird, but to me will always be the ‘vulture who came to tea’” John Chitty (Vet)

As Delores meant so much to so many, we will have an area at the Trust where visitors, volunteers and staff can go to pay their respects.  Please bear with us for the next few weeks or so while we arrange this.

A huge thank you to everyone who has loved and cared for Delores over the years, supporting the Hawk Conservancy Trust with visits, donations and memberships, so that we could care for her and her roommates.


Meet Becky!

Posted on: by

We’re thrilled to welcome our newest member of staff Becky Ive, who has joined the Conservation and Research Team as the new Conservation Coordinator. Becky joined the Trust on Halloween in 2022, and has been busy networking at conferences on behalf of the Trust focused on Bearded Vultures and BIAZA Conservation Education topics. She has been utilising contacts she made over the summer from voluntary work in Bulgaria monitoring Egyptian Vultures to strengthen partnerships between the Hawk Conservancy Trust and the project in Central Uzbekistan tagging the same species. Carry on reading to hear from Becky all about her work!

“I worked for nearly 5 years as a zookeeper focusing on birds and aquatic species and I always wanted to work in field conservation programs with both native and international species. I took a year out to volunteer on field conservation programs including anti-poaching work in Cyprus and bird ringing in Poland where thousands of birds are ringed during their migration routes across Northern Europe. As soon as I started working with birds, I knew they were the group of animals I wanted to work with for the rest of my career. I saw the advert for this role come up and jumped at the chance to work at an organisation that values conservation and research so highly and has such enthusiastic and dedicated staff.

My job involves lots of different aspects to ensure each of the conservation programs the Trust works on run smoothly. This includes writing grant proposals to secure valuable funding, coordinating partnerships between our partner organisations and helping the other members of the Conservation and Research team in the field when needed.

One aspect of my job I’m most excited to work on is boosting the on-site biodiversity. We have a fantastic group of volunteers that have been surveying the site for native species over many years including Reg’s Wildlflower Meadow. I really want to bring all this data together into a cohesive action plan where we can work on improving the value of the site for native species. I will be updating the website and signage for our native species work and hopefully give visitors lots of ideas about what they can do when they return home for their local wildlife including our many wonderful bird of prey species.”

Enter our Winter Woodland Lights Facebook competition!

Posted on: by

Competition now closed.

Enter our Winter Woodland Lights Facebook competition to win two tickets to our sparkling Winter Woodland Lights event!

Bird of prey and owl Christmas gifts - Event Tickets

Join our Facebook competition and be in with a chance to win tickets for you and one other person to come along to an evening out like no other. Discover a new illuminated trail, delicious food in Feathers Restaurant, dazzling lights bringing the Trust grounds to life, and spectacular owl flight in an unforgettable finale.
The competition ends at 10am January 6 2023. One winner will be drawn at random from the comments below. The dates chosen and tickets allocated (either adult or child tickets) will be allocated when the competition closes.


Ryan’s year in review

Posted on: by

“Day to day life as a member of the Bird team and Registrar at the Hawk Conservancy Trust means sometimes the year passes by before you even realise that Christmas is on the doorstep again! Ryan Stephens looks back over the last year.

There have been so many highlights throughout 2022, but I have to put completing my first ever marathon for the Trust right at the top. Running the London Marathon had been a personal dream for many years and it was such an honour to be able to do this whilst raising nearly £12,000 for the National Bird of Prey HospitalTM.  I completed the run in just under 5 hours, and crossing that line was a memory I do not think I will ever forget. The support from the Trust team during the build-up and on the day itself was incredible, and definitely got me across the line. Few people knew that I was laid in bed just a week before the marathon unable to come to work with a back injury, so the mental challenge as well as the physical challenge took a great deal out of me. A special thanks to Alex at Strength Led Fitness in Amesbury for getting me through it all.

I think it is someone else’s turn next time!

Highlights of my work at the Trust, include working closely with Ravenclaw, one of our White-headed Vultures, who has now begun flying in demonstrations alongside one of our juvenile African White-backed Vultures, Simba. I have been working alongside Ravenclaw for a few years now and it is great to see him flying so beautifully.  To see the two vultures together coasting over our audiences’ heads is a very impressive sight. Next year Ravenclaw will ‘graduate’ as such, and start to work with other members of the Bird Team as well as myself. It is a bit like when you drop your kids off at school for the very first time! I am sure he will do fantastically.

Towards the end of the year, myself and fellow Bird Team members Ben Cox and Simon Christer have been working with a very special bird. Diego, our Blue-winged Kookaburra, is starting to make the occasional appearance in our Woodland Owls flying display! Having worked with this bird for many years, it is great to have her back in our shows over the winter. She is such a character and a crowd favourite. However, she is not a huge fan of the rain, so you are more likely to see her fly in our Woodland Arena on a fair weather day!

Working in this industry, you have so many positives but of course, there are the negatives you have to deal with as well. Sadly, in March, we said goodbye to our beloved Secretary Bird, Madeleine. Everyone at the Trust felt his passing, but having worked with this bird for so many years, I must admit it hit me pretty hard. At just over 30 years old, you can look back and see what a remarkable life he had and how much joy he bought to so many. I do not think he will ever be forgotten.

So, this is just a snapshot my year at the Trust. As always, it has been a busy year with lots going on behind the scenes. As we get a little quieter for the winter period it is always a good time to just step back and appreciate the year gone by. I hope to see you all next year and I wish you a Merry Christmas!”

Ryan Stephens, Registrar and Bird Team


©2024 Hawk Conservancy Trust