Helping Willow find her wings

If you hadn’t heard the news, last year we welcomed a beautiful new Barn Owl to the Hawk Conservancy Trust! Willow has been spending her time getting to know Bird Team member, Registrar and resident owl-whisperer Ryan Stephens, and they are really beginning to grow close. We caught up with Ryan to find out how she’s getting on, and her next steps towards taking part in flying displays.

“Willow arrived at the Trust in April last year and is a spritely three years old. If you have heard the commentaries given by our expert Bird Team members, you will know we usually begin to get to know our owls from their early days as owlets. Willow, however, has come to live with us a little later in her life after being an ambassador for Barn Owls at a wildlife rescue centre.

After she had spent a few months settling into her new home here and meeting all of our Bird Team, Willow and I began working together to begin the initial stages of her training to join our displays last summer.

Barn Owls have a graceful flying style called ‘quartering’, where they will glide over wide open spaces such as fields and meadows and use their extraordinary hearing for listening intently for their prey. When they have found something to hunt, they will silently hover in the air above before pouncing. This unique style of flight is what Willow and I are working towards.

Our work together began in our Meet the Burrowers VIP Encounter space, where Willow was able to get to know me a little better outside of her aviary. She progressed into flying in our Woodland Arena, where we focused mainly on flights back and forth between myself and another member of the Bird Team, helping to build her fitness. It didn’t take very long to see she was comfortable doing this, so we are now working in the wider space of our Savannah Arena together, where her flights are getting longer and she is gradually demonstrating her quartering and hovering skills.

Building the trust between myself and Willow takes time and patience, and I always feel a sense of excitement when I begin working with a newer member of the team. In recent years, I have formed a very close bond with Ravenclaw, our White-headed Vulture who wowed our guests over the summer in our new Masters of the Sky flying display. Now Ravenclaw is soaring high, I have been able to focus on really getting to know Willow over the last year. With my other commitments as the Trust’s Registrar that can be quite desk-based, so spending that little bit of time with Willow is one of my favourite parts of the day.

She is already fantastic in flight, and it will be amazing to see her develop over time and our bond grows. She is a real superstar in the making, and hopefully you may start to see Willow making special appearances in our daily timetable in 2024, and maybe even some of our evening events too! We are taking things slowly, all at Willow’s pace. All I will say is ‘watch this space’ – I am very excited for Willow to shine!”

©2024 Hawk Conservancy Trust