Burrowing Owl antics with Patrick!

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If you’ve ever been lucky enough to step into our burrow on a Meet the Burrowers VIP Encounter, you will have become closer than you might have expected to our cheeky team of Burrowing Owls! Someone who knows these owls better than most is Bird Team member Patrick King, who heads up the Burrowing Owl section at the Trust. We heard from Patrick what it’s like working alongside these mischievous birds.


“No day is quite the same with our wonderful Burrowing Owl squad! As a smaller, more delicate species, our Burrowing Owls have an overnight bay that they can keep warm in. My first job in the morning is to check on the owls – what a way to start the day! I usually walk in, turn the lights on and say good morning to each owl, checking to make sure they’re ready for the day ahead.

At this point in the day they’re really animated – they know breakfast is coming! But first things first, each owl is weighed to make sure they’re as fit and healthy as can be. One by one the owls come out of their bay and sit on the scales before heading into their cosy travel box and tucking into some food.

Once they’ve had time to eat their breakfast, they are picked up in their travel box and carried to their aviary, which I have prepared for them earlier. Once in the aviary, they’re free to chill out and do what they’d like, which is usually having a good dig! Diamondback and Coral have a routine which they seem to enjoy carrying out every day, where they take a dip in their water bowl, drink some water together, and spend a good ten minutes preening!

While they relax in the aviary, I then have the important but unglamorous job of cleaning out their night bays. Burrowing Owls by nature tend to burrow, which means there’s usually a bit of work to do to clean up their mess!

I love working with all of our Burrowing Owls. Amongst the group of six there’s a whole mix of personalities. It’s nice to have the sense that the feeling is mutual – this group seem to have taken a liking to me too, and there’s a mutual trust between us all. They are such quirky little birds, and I could honestly watch them for hours to see all their funny antics. I love watching people meet them all in our Meet the Burrowers VIP Encounters – it’s nice to see how captivated people can be by such little birds.”


Meet Diamondback

“Diamondback is a laid back chap and a really lovely owl. He’s fairly reserved, so keeps himself out of trouble. Often when I am working in their aviary he will come up to say hello, politely getting his beak stuck in to find out what I’m up to. Sometimes he even flies up to land on my shoulder while I am working! His favourite thing to do is explore what’s in the buckets I carry – usually just tidied away sticks and leaves, but it fascinates him nonetheless. Diamondback and Coral are a close pair which is always lovely to see.”


Meet Coral

“I would describe Coral as a bit of a rogue. She is a lovely little owl, but does what she wants and when she wants to do it! Once she’s put her mind to something, there’s no convincing her otherwise. During our Meet the Burrowers VIP Encounters Coral can be one of the most engaging owls, landing all around and on our guests to say hello. However, she can also be completely uninterested, perfectly happy to make a brief appearance before settling down to chew on some grasses. Speaking of which, we have recently discovered her complete fascination for lettuce, which we’re working to capture on camera as it’s just so unique! She does also have a close bond to Diamondback, and looks out for him if Sidewinder gets a bit bolshie.”

Meet Sidewinder

“Sidewinder is definitely the most confident member of the team. He thinks he runs the entire Hawk Conservancy Trust, let alone the Burrowing Owl troop! He is the largest of our Burrowing Owls, and apparently knows it. You’ll often hear him demonstrating his territorial call, showing off to anybody nearby just how amazing he is. Sidewinder certainly lives up to his Burrowing Owl name – he is the biggest digger of the group. He is always working on a new tunnel, and no matter how many times I fill in the holes he makes there’s always another excavation of his to fill in at the end of the day!”

Meet Cottonmouth

“Cottonmouth is a very pleasant lady…when you’re in her good books! Now I’m out of earshot of her I can definitely describe her as a bit of a diva. If my cleaning in the aviary is not up to her standards she’ll make it very clear, gathering all of the missed helicopter seeds and any leaf litter she can find into a little pile to present back to me. She’s very investigative and likes to keep all the plants in their aviary looking to her liking, which in other words means she’ll happily shred and tear all the plants up if I don’t keep an eye on her!”

Meet Rattle and Rainbow

“Rainbow and Rattle are our younger pair of Burrowing Owls. They live in the separate half of the aviary to the rest of the team, as with all siblings there’d be too much arguing if they were all together!

Rattle reminds me very much of a young Sidewinder – an extroverted and dominant little owl. His favourite activity is shredding up the paper that we use to line his night bay. I can only describe his bay each morning as chaos! He shares these digs with Rainbow, who is a little more reserved than him. Not that that doesn’t mean Rainbow won’t often be found at the centre of mischief himself! They are both brilliant owls, and as our younger pair we are working alongside them at their own pace to introduce them onto quieter VIP Encounter sessions, and maybe more into the future!”


Welcome Jillian!

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Flying in all the way from Ohio, USA, we’re excited to introduce you to the newest member of our Bird Team! Jillian Varner joined us this spring, excited to bring her experience in animal care and conservation to the Trust, and has previously worked as a keeper, educator and animal trainer. We caught up with Jillian to get to know her a bit more…

“Thank you so much for welcoming me onto the Hawk Conservancy Trust team! I am so excited to begin my next adventure with such a wonderful group of people (and birds!).

I graduated from Ohio University in 2014 with a BA in Integrated Language Arts with the intent of teaching English Literature. However, I was drawn back to my first true passion – animals. I began volunteering at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, eventually taking on a few different positions within their Education Department. This is where I discovered how rewarding it is to teach about the importance of wildlife and conservation (even when a class decides to name a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach after you!).

I then went on to work in the “Surfin’ Safari” display at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Here I was fortunate to work directly with a variety of species, both as a keeper and trainer. While featuring species such as kangaroos, toucans, and binturongs, the display had another educational aspect as well – the adoption of domestic cats and dogs. To showcase that they are wonderful, capable animals deserving of homes, we would care for these cats and dogs from local shelters, and work with them to learn complex behaviours. Sadly, the show closed due to COVID-19, but we were happily able to place our 25 dogs and 40 cats with loving homes to live out their retirement!

Having recently relocated from the United States to here in England, I am so thankful that I am able to continue working so closely with animals. I am excited to begin working with the birds of prey here at the Hawk Conservancy Trust, and getting to learn about a whole new range of native species! I hope my experience working with other animals will be beneficial for the birds here, and I look forward to learning all I can from the fantastic Bird Team members.

A top priority in each of my previous roles has been inspiring others to protect our wildlife. The focus on conservation and helping people to better appreciate birds like vultures is such an important mission, and the Trust is truly excelling in this area. In the few weeks that I have been here I have already seen such amazing teamwork from the staff and volunteers, and I’m so glad to be a part of this unique and great organisation!”

Be sure to say hello to Jillian if you see her on your next visit to the Trust!

Jennie’s work with White-headed Vultures

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Bird Team member Jennie Marshall is currently undertaking the Level 3 Zookeeper and Aquarist Apprenticeship, and is now in her second year! Jennie is learning about a range of topics on her apprenticeship, and not just about birds of prey. From legislation to training, to conservation and the roles of zoo and aquarium collections. We caught up with her to hear a little more about what she’s been up to recently…

“One of my modules involves studying the behaviour of the birds in our care, monitoring for their health and behaviour to ensure they have the best welfare possible. To do this, I have been carrying out ethograms, which is a model of recording types of behaviour at regular intervals over a set period of time.

I have mainly been working with Angus and Satara on this – one of our breeding pairs of White-headed Vultures. Since the destruction of their aviary due to Storm Eunice in 2022, the pair have been living behind-the-scenes in an off-show aviary in a quieter part of the grounds. To help them become settle in to their new surroundings and keep their clever minds active, we have been providing them with lots of activities, known as ‘enrichment’ activities. As part of the course, I carried out ethograms both with and without the enrichment in their aviary so we could compare to see if they interacted with it and how their behaviour changes.

Tasked with creating this enrichment, I wanted to create a device that would help them to display the natural behaviour that they would have if in the wild. With the help of our Head of Conservation, Research and Education, Dr Campbell Murn, I explored what these vultures would spend their time and energy on in the wild, and why.

Although White-headed Vultures have not been widely studied so there is limited information about them, we do know that this species spend a lot of their time in the wild resting and conserving their energy. However, this species of vulture is one of the only species recorded to show predatory behaviour, actually perusing and hunting their prey on occasion in a collaborative way and not just purely scavenging from carcasses. I wanted to see if I could recreate their collaborative behaviour with a device that encouraged Angus and Satara to work together.

I built a device that hid a nice piece of their dinner underneath a static stick pile, hoping they would work together to remove the sticks from the puzzle to get their food. This would replicate their natural exploratory behaviour too – something seen when they feed on carcass to remove body parts and sometimes stick their head inside to get to hard-to-reach pieces!

When the time came to see what Angus and Satara thought of my invention, I carried out five ethograms with them, during different times of the day and in different weather conditions to gather as much information as possible. After placing the device in their aviary, I began recording their behaviour.

At first, they were both a bit unsure of what to make of it! Satara was first to come down from her perches to give this box a close-up inspection. She managed to work alone to solve the puzzle and move the sticks, however Angus saw an opportunity and then came down to eat the dinner! Satara, being the most confident of the pair, wasn’t going to let him get away with that, and in the end figured out it was easier to take the food back from Angus, which is what she did!

We’re always working hard behind the scenes to make sure that they are as fit and healthy as they can be – and enrichment activities for them really help us with this. Whether is a puzzle box to keep their minds active, a new way of feeding them, or even just a new feature of their aviary, investigating a new object or working out a new device means they are keeping their minds and body active.”

Helping Willow find her wings

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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!”

Owen’s Winter Diary

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While we have been closed for our winter maintenance, our Bird Team have been busy working hard to make sure our grounds are in tip-top condition and our birds’ homes are ready ahead of the breeding season! We caught up with Bird Team member Owen Lincoln to find out what he’s been working on, and what he’s looking forward to the most as we enter our most festive time of year.

“Winter’s coming…this special season is fun and enjoyable, but has a completely different feel at the Hawk Conservancy Trust! Especially during the short periods that we are closed for undertaking our annual winter maintenance work.

During our November closed period, while there are no visitors around (except for the selected Behind the Scenes Winter Experience guests) it gives the rest of the team and myself a chance to work towards the upcoming breeding season – such an important time at the Trust. We usually take this opportunity to move some of our birds around to new, revamped aviaries and complete any maintenance work that is required.

An aviary move during this recent closed period was really exciting for me – a striking pair of our White-headed Vultures, Arthur and Mamba, came to live with on the middle section of the grounds, the section where I work, while their usual home in our off-show aviaries received it’s yearly spruce-up!

It’s really important that we work to give their aviaries a thorough clean-out before the breeding season begins, as is the case for all of our paired-up birds, so when they enter this crucial season we can leave them to their own devices as much as possible. Giving the birds some privacy at this time means their courtship can go uninterrupted, and they can become a really closely bonded pair.

It was my honour to care for Arthur and Mamba during this time. I loved having a new species of bird to work with and say hello to everyday on my section. I’m sure many of you are aware by now of my fascination and personal love for vultures! So this was a real highlight.

Now that we have reopened , I really do enjoy the changeover of the summer flying displays into our returning winter display – A World Of Birds of Prey. This flying display is a chance to see birds from all over the globe show off their incredible flying styles while learning more about them. As is the same for many of our visitors, one of my favourite parts of this display is watching Sweeney Todd, our beautiful Snowy Owl, fly. Working alongside her never tires – her majestic appearance and diva-esq personality always steals the show and captivates the crowds who have braved the cold in the winter!

I look forward to welcoming you all back to the Trust soon – on your next return visit, I am sure you will notice a fair few changes following our closed period! I’d also like to wish you all a safe and happy Christmas season!



A busy winter behind the scenes with Katy!

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As the summer is behind us, our winter timetable returns. This means our summer flying team of birds begin their winter rest period.  When weather conditions change which may not suit their natural flying style as well as at other times of the year, they get the opportunity for a period of rest.  Some of these birds will moult through a new set of feathers during this time, while they are resting and relaxing.  Wild Birds don’t have the same luxury as our birds, they will moult a new set without the chance for a winter rest.

While they take a break from flying displays, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on the season gone by and begin planning for the next year. We work hard to make sure our birds are healthy and active during both our displays, as well as their day-to-day life in their aviaries, and the winter is a great period to look at new ways of working with some of our birds who could benefit from learning something new, keeping them mentally and physically active.

This winter, I’m looking forward to working alongside one of our most iconic birds to introduce a new training routine – our Secretary Bird, Angola!

Angola has one of the biggest personalities here at the Trust – as well as being widely known for his incredible snake-stamping skills, he’s also one of the most enthusiastic birds one could wish to meet. Each morning, members of the Bird Team greet Angola with a daily weigh-in. While this may not be everyone’s favourite start to the day, Angola seems to absolutely adore this, and can become very excited when he sees us approaching his aviary with weighing scales in hand.

While we love seeing his excitement, the Bird Team also have to be very aware of those powerful long legs – we’ve seen many decimated rubber snakes to know the damage they could cause! Angola can get so excited for his weigh in, he sometimes follows the Bird Team member around his aviary, and will let us know when he thinks we’re being too slow! Therefore, we’re starting a new routine with him this winter, where we hope he will learn to stay in a certain spot in his aviary whilst the team set up his morning weigh-in. This will be a good test of Angola’s patience, but also an important wellbeing and safety element to his daily routine that will benefit both him and us.

Another bird I’ll be beginning a new pattern with this winter is one I already work very closely with – Flo the Crested Caracara! We have a really strong bond that we’ve built over many years of working together, and it has been so amazing to see Flo shining in our new Masters of the Sky summer flying display this year. Watching her display her nest-building skills is a special treat for us all, and next year we’re hoping to continue developing her routine so it’s even more refined!

As you may have seen if you’ve watched this new flying display, Flo currently uses a short piece of hosepipe instead of a stick to build her nest. This is for a couple of reasons – firstly, Flo seemed to prefer this object to the others when given the choice and secondly as Crested Caracaras are highly intelligent, and Flo in particular has a cheeky streak, we could have ended up with quite a collection of sticks if she decided to collect each and every stick in her aviary!! She is settled in her flying display routine now, so we’re looking to switch this material up with a stick of bamboo – still different enough to other sticks in her aviary, but much closer to what wild Caracaras would use to build nests.

We’re also hoping now she’s familiar with her routine, she’ll grow in confidence to display this behaviour without a member of the Bird Team giving her this stick. Instead, we’ll be working together to create platforms where Flo can find the stick herself and bring it to the nest. This means Flo will be showing off the unique foraging style these inquisitive birds have that they use when searching for food and nesting materials.  All of this is great to keep Flo’s very clever mind active.

It will be a busy winter for us behind-the-scenes, so keep an eye out for updates on all of our amazing birds as their training comes to fruition in the next year!

Attending IAATE with James

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In September, we hosted the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (IAATE) UK symposium – the first of its kind! Gary Benton, Tom Morath and James Knight represented the Hawk Conservancy Trust at this event, giving talks about how we work alongside our incredible birds in flying displays and events. We also invited symposium attendees to the Trust for the day to get an insight into life at the Trust! Hear from James Knight all about his experience.

It has been a busy couple of weeks here at the Hawk Conservancy Trust! With the buzz of the summer holidays coming to an end, it has been lovely to welcome many of our long-term members during this time as the days get shorter and nights darker.  We’ve been busy watching our three incredible vulture chicks grow and develop, making sure they have everything they need, with their fantastic parents doing such an amazing job of looking after them!

In addition to our usual activities, there has been an extra bit of excitement going on behind the scenes that has just come to an end. The Trust teamed up with the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (IAATE) to host the first ever UK symposium!

Until this event, IAATE conferences had mostly been held in the United States and mainland Europe so it was an incredible privilege to be involved with setting up this event.

The event itself saw world experts all convening here, in the south of England, for a three-day event. Speakers from all fields of avian care were invited to speak about their areas of specialism, including trainers working alongside birds for education and demonstrations and other bird conservation charities. Topics ranged from day-to-day avian care to field researchers explaining natural behaviour and how we as keepers and trainers can create the best conditions to allow our birds to demonstrate them.  Three members of the Trust team presented a selection of topics from training specific, natural behaviours (such as soaring with Boe the Egyptian Vulture), considerations for working with our owls after dark, as well as working with our birds to take part in their own health checks and show off natural behaviours.

On the third day, the format moved away from presentations and the Trust welcomed these fellow professionals to our grounds to showcase what we do and take a deep dive into our conservation projects and demonstrate the high level of care we give to our birds.  We also held a few extra workshops during the day, showcasing how we care for our cheeky Burrowing Owls, highlighting how we manage some of our groups of birds, as well as a workshop about flying falcons with some of our resident professionals Cedric Robert and Mike Riley, sharing tips from their years of experience.

It was a fantastic opportunity to be able to talk about our work and have an open conversation with so many like-minded individuals about how we can face challenges in new ways and work together in the future.

It was an amazing event that we were all thrilled to be such a big part of. We’ll will be counting down the days till the next one!


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!

©2024 Hawk Conservancy Trust