Ben and Azura

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Bird Team member and Events Coordinator Ben Cox has been working closely with Azura, our Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle for a few years now. Azura is an absolutely beautiful bird to watch in flight, but is a very reserved and sensitive girl. Carry on reading to find out more about this pair’s special bond, and how Azura’s flight training is coming along ahead of her joining our brand new flying display: Masters of the Sky!

“Azura is a 10 year old Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, who came to live with us in 2013 from a collection in Spain when she was 3 months old. This species are South American, and can be found in countries like Argentina, Chile and Peru.

She has had quite the journey, the early stage of her flying career took place at Longleat Safari Park, when she starred in a Hawk Conservancy Trust display that used to take place there called Hunters of the Sky. Azura took part in this demonstration for a few years, before coming back to live with us onsite here at the Trust.

I was lucky enough to start working with Azura a couple of years ago, alongside our National Bird of Prey Hospital ManagerTM, Cedric Robert. We decided to see how she would feel about flying on the Behind-the-scenes Winter Experiences we run during our closed period in January. I was so excited about this opportunity because she is, not only, a beautiful bird of prey, she is also well known for being very particular about who she chooses to work with. I felt so privileged when we started working together and our relationship grew stronger. I earned her trust and respect, and she began letting me handle her with care and attentiveness.

After working with Azura closely and really getting to know her, we soon decided that meeting guests on these experience days might not be best for her. She is a very sensitive bird, and she felt quite unsure about flying to people she didn’t know. However, this was a good stepping stone in her training and allowed us to learn more about her and this gave us confidence in her next steps.

Azura’s chance to really shine came around earlier this year, with the creation of our brand new flying display, Masters of the Sky. In anticipation of her featuring in this new display, we started to work on a new training program together to help her feel confident flying over Reg’s Wildflower Meadow in this new demonstration for 2023.

At first, she was still unsure about flying to new people, even within the Bird Team, as well as flying in front of people she didn’t know. We worked together to overcome this, and with time, patience and trust she has grown in confidence. I am very pleased to say she is now a regular star in our Masters of the Sky demonstration that takes place every day during the summer months. If you haven’t seen it yet then I urge you to – it’s a fantastic show with lots of excitement, new birds, new routines and new music. Even if you have seen our shows before, you haven’t seen anything yet as we show off the beauty of our birds in flight in a way we have never done before.

The brand new towers that were constructed October in 2022 in Reg’s Wildflower Meadow, were a big part of introducing Azura to more of our visitors.  They are 8m tall and their height gave her the confidence to fly high above a crowd. Hearing the ‘ooo’s’ and the ‘ahhh’s’ she gets from our guests as she flies over them is very special. This has been one of the proudest moments in my career so far, and seeing Azura’s progress to feel comfortable and confident flying above crowds has been extremely special for me. I’m very lucky to have been given the opportunity to work with this magnificent bird.

Our training together continues and it’s now time to introduce her to some other members of the Bird Team so that it isn’t only me working with her.

I adore Azura, and the species in general, and I can’t wait for thousands of people to see her fly over the summer months. She makes me proud every single time that she takes to the wing, a sensational bird who will, no doubt, continue to be a star of our Masters of the Sky demonstration in years to come.”

Bald is beautiful!

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Our birds have strong personalities, choosing who they work with amongst our members of the Bird Team. Our seasonal Bird Team member, Mark Ison, discovered this when he began work alongside our Bald Eagle, Orion! Keep on reading to find out the incredible dedication and care it takes for our Bird Team to earn our birds’ trust, and how truly special these bonds can be.

“Having a lifelong passion for the natural world and in particular, the conservation birds of prey and their habitats, means I have been visiting the Hawk Conservancy Trust for many years. Following a work experience placement as part of my Ecology and Conservation degree course, I was offered a seasonal position with the Bird Team in 2022. Now in my second season here as part of the team, I am pleased to share my experience with working with one of our most powerful birds.

“As my first season was drawing to a close, I had started to make my first steps in forming a working relationship with Orion, one of our Bald Eagles. As anyone who works with birds of prey will tell you, this is much easier said than done.

“Each bird is completely individual, and each have their own distinct personalities. It is the birds themselves who choose who they will allow to work with them, and huge amounts of time and patience is spent creating a bond. In some cases, a particular bird may decide that they just don’t like you from the outset, and this seemed to be Orion’s feeling towards me!

“Initially when I spent time with him,  things seemed to be going well as he flew to my glove. It soon became apparent that this was no match made in heaven, and Orion had decided he wasn’t so sure about me! I decided to give him some space over the winter months with the hopes of spring bringing a change in heart.

“After careful consideration, and support from my colleagues in the Bird Team, we decided in January of this year to give our friendship another go. I worked hard on the basic technical skills that enabled me to work safely and confidently with Orion, with his welfare being my paramount priority.

“We took things at Orion’s pace, and I dedicated time to let him fly to my glove when he wanted to, and spent lots of time together. With his trust earned, he became more relaxed with me. After several weeks, Orion was happy to let me weigh and feed him each day.

“The support and advice offered by my colleagues throughout is a hallmark of the expertise and experience of our team, and mine and Orion’s bond has continued to grow. Orion soon let me work with him in flying sessions, where he would fly between myself and another member of the team in preparation for our busy experience days later in the spring. This really built the foundations of our bond, and I now regularly fly Orion with our guests on our bird of prey experience days.

“We have a great bond now, and I have worked with Orion almost every day since then. Our relationship is going from strength to strength. I know I shouldn’t have favourites, but Orion is definitely a contender – I hope he feels the same about me!”

Catching up with Caracaras

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After joining the Bird Team last summer, Ronnie Hunter has been getting to know the amazing birds of prey that live here at the Trust. During her time so far, Ronnie has grown very fond of our older pair of Striated Caracaras, Darwin and Lafonia, and their adorable antics. We caught up with Ronnie to hear all about this pair of intelligent birds.

“For the past few months I have spent a lot of time working on the Hospital section of the grounds. As part of working on this section, one of our duties includes taking care of our elderly pair of Striated Caracaras: Darwin and Lafonia. Visiting this pair of birds very has quickly become one of my favourite parts of my day here at the Hawk Conservancy Trust – they have the most wonderful personalities and take such care looking after each other.

“Darwin and Lafonia are recorded as being 42 years old, and have been together their whole lives. This species is known to have a long life expectancy in collections – most records suggesting over 30 years, which our pair have far surpassed. The expected lifespan in the wild isn’t known, but is usually around half that of those living in collections. When they arrived here in 1981, the site where the Trust stands today was still known as Weyhill Zoo; it’s amazing to think of the variety of animals that they once shared the site with. If you look around their current aviary today, you can still see a sliding door which is the remnant of a previous carnivore enclosure!

“Parents’ to 16 chicks, the first hatching in 1990, they are the parents to our very own Sirius! Sirius hatched out in 2003, and takes part in our flying demonstrations and experience days. He’s an extremely cheeky character and loves nothing more than causing chaos, all while still remaining his incredibly charming self. His charming side definitely comes from his dad, Darwin. As the years have passed Darwin has perfected the art of looking after Lafonia, and it is one of the many reasons I enjoy spending time in their company.

“These days, Darwin and Lafonia occasionally take time off from their retirement and take part in Brilliant Bird Brains within their aviary. It’s a chance for our visitors to see just how intelligent this species is, whilst also keeping them on their toes with new activities.

“They are both very gentle birds, and will take food from the hands of people they trust, with Darwin being the more confident of the two. I’ve noticed recently that Darwin will always approach first to take a piece of food. If Lafonia is feeling a little more reserved, Darwin will take his piece of food straight over to her to make sure that she doesn’t miss out. He’ll then run back over to get another piece for himself – a small act that I find incredibly sweet. This is usually followed by elaborate vocalisations involving loud caws and throwing their heads back to add a physical element to their communication.

“Another behaviour I love to watch is when they ‘stash’ food around the aviary for later. They are not always the most graceful when doing this, and it’s not uncommon to see them run headfirst into a tuft of long grass to hide the food inside in a hurry.

“Whether they’re taking part in an activity on our daily timetable or just relaxing in their aviary, this incredible pair are definitely worth a visit during your next stop at the Trust!

Patrick and Sarabi: A Perfect Pair

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Patrick King is one of the newest members of our Bird Team, joining us last summer after spending time volunteering a few years ago. Since joining the Hawk Conservancy Trust, Patrick has been getting to know all of our birds. Carry on reading to hear from Patrick about working with one special bird – Sarabi the Lugger Falcon.

“Some of you may not recognise me as an overly familiar face, but I’m also not brand new anymore! It’s been a wonderful nine months that I’ve  spent with the Hawk Conservancy Trust so far and I’ve loved every minute of it; whether that be helping out on displays, running experience day sessions or simply helping out with all sorts of tasks that need attention from the day. And, of course, I definitely mustn’t forget about working closely with our cheeky Burrowing Owls!

Since starting, I’ve been given the amazing opportunity to work alongside Sarabi, our beautiful Lugger Falcon. I’ve been working closely with her over the last few months on her fitness and confidence-building with the overall aim for her to fly in front of a potentially large crowd, hopefully joining the ranks of the birds we fly here at the Trust during our ‘Meadow Encounter’ and ‘Brilliant Bird Brains’ sessions.

Lugger Falcons (or sometimes called the Laggar Falcon) aren’t necessarily as familiar to most people as the world-famous Peregrine Falcon, for example, or the Lanner Falcon.  Lugger Falcons are primarily found across parts of Asia, notably India, Bangladesh, Nepal & Pakistan. They are a truly beautiful species and deserve just as much love and attention. Especially because they are a declining species in the wild. This is due to the over-intensive use of pesticides in the region and a direct result of illegal trapping.

Sarabi is definitely a wildcard. Don’t get me wrong, she is a lovely bird, but her temperament can change like the wind. One day, she will be right as rain, then the following day she can be as mad as a box of frogs with seemingly no rhyme or reason. Learning all of her nuances whilst earning and maintaining her trust are at the core of our work together, alongside building her fitness and confidence.

Not only does this give her the opportunity to take to the wing and build her fitness on a regular basis, this also gives me a regular opportunity to enhance and refine my lure-swinging skills. It is a rather tricky thing to master, which in the long run can take many years to perfect. If you have visited before, you may very well have seen other members of the Bird Team flying our falcons over the years and quite simply put; it looks easy when it is done well. I can assure you, it definitely isn’t!

There have been times – especially in my early days before working here at the Trust when I was learning this skill – when I have looked utterly ridiculous trying to learn. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve hit myself in the head with the lurepad or gotten myself all tangled up in the lure line! I do not profess to be a great lure-swinger, but the more Sarabi and I work together, the better I will inevitably become. Regular practice and developing the muscle memory have been key to developing this skill for sure.

She is progressing well and is very nearly at the point where she will be confident flying in front of a crowd, but, it is all at her pace. Hopefully, with more flying sessions and initial exposure to very small groups of people, she will have the confidence to stoop to the lure and wow you with her aerobatic dexterity that falcons are very much renowned for. Hopefully she and I with both be better off as a result of this process!”

Foxtrot’s flying high!

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If you’ve been lucky enough to join us on an experience day, you’ll know the breathtaking feeling of a silent owl or majestic Bald Eagle landing on your fist – there’s nothing quite like it! Our Bird Team work closely with our amazing birds to build strong and trusting relationships. We caught up with Bird Team Apprentice Jennie, who has been working alongside Foxtrot the Black Kite over recent months, getting her ready to meet our visitors on experience days this year.

“Last year, as part of my apprenticeship, I was set the task to create a training plan for a bird here at the Trust. With guidance from fellow Bird Team member Katy we created a plan for Echo, one of our Black Kites, to re-join the flying team after a rest period.

Working on this plan helped me gain confidence working closely with a bird and training using positive reinforcement, as Echo has now successfully re-joined the rest of the Black Kite team in flying displays.

Since working with Echo, I have now had the chance to work closely with another Black Kite called Foxtrot. I am currently working with Ben from the Bird Team to ready Foxtrot for joining in with experience days in 2023.

To begin earning her trust, I started out by being the Bird Team member to feed her every day. I then slowly built the relationship up to going outside her aviary and giving her the chance to hop from a post to my glove for some food. We then worked with her to do some longer, circuiting flights before coming back to my glove for her dinner. Once she was confident doing this, we started introducing strangers in to the mix (i.e our lovely volunteers).

Every day she would have the opportunity to meet someone new and fly to their glove in Reg’s Wildflower Meadow.  Our aim at the Trust is to inspire those visiting and taking part in experiences to care about and support our mission to conserve birds of prey, and providing an opportunity for people to be close to our birds is an excellent way to do this.  We  began flying her with groups of volunteers at a time. She is now a pro at this!

The next step in her plan was to see how she felt flying to some members of the public, but she decided not to land with any of them – we can only assume that she prefers the dark green volunteer uniform!

We’re taking things at Foxtrot’s pace, so will see how she feels about meeting one member of the public at a time. If she is ok with this, we will then move on to introduce her to people wearing different clothes, hats and sunglasses as a new experience for her.  It is on her terms and if she decides this is something she is confident with, she may one day be a star of our experience days.

The Bird Team had a training day recently where we shared different ways of working with our birds. I wanted to put some of the new things I had learnt to good use and began learning how to use hand signals with Foxtrot as a way of communication. I wasn’t sure where to start, so Ben and I worked together to come up with a routine for us to begin that would incorporate this into our work together. This has been a learning process for both Foxtrot and I; it’s been a very enjoyable experience and helps me to create a positive relationship with Foxtrot. She and I are both learning a new skill too.

When I fly Foxtrot she almost constantly calls to me – this is called Contact Calling, and is her way of making sure I know she’s there and reminding me she wants her food! It is the call they would normally make to their parents when they are young.

Working with Foxtrot has been a very beneficial experience. I’ve enjoyed the learning process, especially working alongside Katy and Ben as they were previously apprentices so they have an insight into what I needed to learn and the best way to go about it, so a big thanks to them!”

Ryan’s year in review

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“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


Vulture Breeding 101

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This month, we caught up with our Head of Living Collection Gary Benton to find out all about our work to contribute to the survival of this wonderful species here onsite.

Breeding Programmes

“As many of you will know, we could be considered ‘Vulture nuts’ here at the Hawk Conservancy Trust! We have been a part of vulture conservation and research projects for many years, and are passionate about their survival in the wild. Although our projects across southern Africa and South Asia make up the majority of our work with vultures in the wild, we also contribute to their survival here onsite.

Breeding projects in zoos across the world help to create a healthy stronghold of birds in collections, which in turn could mean the survival of the species if they became extinct in the wild. The animals in collections can be key to repopulating the wild should their wild cousins be wiped out, so these breeding projects are very important and really do work.

Here at the Trust, we have been successfully breeding key species of vulture for many years as part of one of these breeding programmes. Not only are we involved in the EAZA (European Association of Zoo’s and Aquaria) programme for White-headed Vultures, but we are also committee members for the Cinereous Vulture programme, and coordinators of the breeding programme for African White-backed Vultures. These programmes are called EEPs (EAZA Ex-situ Programmes).

We have breeding pairs of both species of these vultures here at the Trust (in fact we are one of the most successful at breeding these species in the world!). You will have seen these birds if you have been to many of our talks, flying displays or taken part in an experience session – these vultures are birds that have either been hatched at the Trust or come to us from another collection across Europe that are involved in this programme too.”

Breeding Season

“We have certain processes in place when it comes to breeding season; what happens when our chicks fledge the nest, and how these birds then become a really healthy addition to the breeding programme themselves.

Firstly it is very important to create the right environment for these birds so that they are relaxed, confident and healthy, therefore feeling comfortable enough to produce chicks. These vulture species won’t begin breeding until around six or seven years old, so we have a really nice window to be able to get to know our birds and work with them for flying and fitness (which is a helpful aspect to their ability to breed).

Once they join the breeding programme, it varies where they may end up living. They may stay with us at the Trust, or it might be the case we say a bittersweet goodbye as they move to another collection to be with a suitable mate to successfully boost the population in collections across Europe.

When an egg is laid by a pair of our vultures, we monitor them very closely by viewing them from afar using CCTV cameras installed near nests as not to disturb the birds during the important incubation process.

For African White-backed Vultures and White-headed Vultures, you are looking at around 55-60 days incubation (which is a long time isn’t it!). The duty is shared by both parents, and when one is sitting  on the egg, the other is normally close by for protection (this is very important in the wild of course but not something that our birds have to worry about really).

These vultures will only lay one egg at a time, and this will only happen once a year unless the egg fails naturally or, if in the wild, the egg is predated or damaged by another animal. Vultures are super-skilled parents, and even though they are one of the largest birds of prey around, they manage to care for this very delicate little egg in the most precise way.

Should the egg hatch, we will leave the chick with its parents. They do a fantastic job of rearing that young bird until it is fully grown, which only takes around 12-14 weeks (this never ceases to amaze me considering they are such huge birds!).

When the chick eventually grows enough to use its wings, it will make the decision to leave the nest for the first time – a process called fledging. This is normally quite a clumsy affair but they quickly learn how to negotiate the art of flight!”


Getting to know your own vulture

“After a year left being reared with the parents, quite a reality check hits when the next breeding season comes along; Mum and Dad all of a sudden decide that they have done their job and it’s time for little vulture to move on to find independence (I think many parents will relate to this moment in life!).

At this time in the wild, the juvenile would normally be pushed away from the nest at this stage. So we closely monitor the birds for the signs this behaviour is starting to happen, and at the right point move the vulture from the breeding aviary to another vulture aviary here. This is a slightly different setup for each bird, but we try to give the birds as many opportunities to socialise with other vultures in order to get used to the complex hierarchy of being a social species of bird of prey. This is where they find their place within the structure and start to become their own bird.

During this next phase of the vulture’s life, what we call the ‘getting to know your own vulture’ phase, the young bird normally lives with other more experienced vultures that are already working very closely with the Bird Team. This is when a close bond with the Bird Team begins.”


Working with the Bird Team

“We have found that vultures are very good at watching what other birds do and learning from them.  Our research work underpins this too. So when we want to begin working closely with these young birds, it becomes a much smoother process.

We begin our closer work with these birds by starting to bring them out of their aviaries and into our arenas for flying and fitness. This is where the connection between Bird Team members and the bird is so important as we need to earn their trust so much so that they will fly back!

Vultures are always searching for a tasty treat, so working with them using positive reinforcement works very well. It’s a bit like having a greedy dog at home – we see the bird’s natural behaviour we are looking for and then reward them with some dinner at just the right time. The birds then remember this the next time, which enables us to build a routine for their flying.

When we are working with really large vultures like these, it can be difficult to work with them together as the space for take-off and landing needs to be quite big. To accommodate this, we have some brand new towers being installed in the arenas that enable a space high up off the ground so that multiple large vultures can fly together safely. This is hot off the press and only just in the final development stage, but all very exciting!”

Our Birds

“You will recognise some of the birds that have been a part of these breeding programmes at the Trust. Our White-headed Vultures Arthur, Mamba and Ravenclaw are all regular additions to the shows, and it looks like Arthur and Mamba are starting to create a nice pairing! We are hopeful to see how this develops. The White-backed Vultures, Clay, Simba and Melchett, our chick from last year, are all a part of this programme too.

It’s a very satisfying process to be a part of for us from the Bird Team here. We get to see this tiny little vulture hatching out of its egg and then, after lots of time, effort and close contact with that bird, it hopefully pairs up with another bird to one day lays its own egg; continuing that great circle of life.

Flying our vultures also helps us to inspire and engage visitors to the importance of their survival in the wild, and how we can play a part in this. I feel the environment we have created for our vultures enables us to mirror many of the life experiences that their wild cousins are doing; it’s an absolute joy to be a part of it!”

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.’

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.’

Keeping cool with Katy

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In mid-July temperatures soared, and we closed our doors to ensure the safety of our visitors, staff and birds. To keep our birds cool, our dedicated Bird Team helped the birds handle the heat. We caught up with Katy Barnes from the Bird Team, who told us about the fun ideas they came up with to keep our birds cool:

‘During the recent heatwave the Bird Team here at the Hawk Conservancy Trust did everything we could to ensure our birds were safe and comfortable in the unusual weather. Some of the methods we used for this also doubled up as fun activities for our birds in the form of ice blocks and the bird of prey equivalent of ice lollies!

Our kites (both Black Kites and the Yellow Billed Kites) were given ice chunks with some treats frozen inside to encourage them down to the ground to feed. With the number of birds in these aviaries, we decided to split the ice into many chunks so that all the birds had a chance to cool down with these ‘ice lollies’. However, most of the Black Kites decided that one piece of ice in particular was the best, and the majority of them went for that piece, while the others enjoyed the rest to themselves!

We also gave out just big chunks of ice to many birds for them to sit on or near to cool down. While this was enjoyed by many of our birds, Delores, our Cinereous Vulture, in particular loved having an ice block – so much so that she refused to let anyone else near it!’

Watch our birds tuck into their ice lollies!

©2023 Hawk Conservancy Trust