A sad goodbye to Delores

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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.


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.

Flight at the Movies: The highlight reels!

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On Saturday June 25, we held our biggest fundraising event of the year. More than 500 guests enjoyed a spectacular evening of birds flying to iconic movie soundtracks, performed live by the English Wild Orchestra and singer Ayesha Pike.

Guided by the evening’s commentators, Bird Team members Tom Morath and Ben Cox, our guests were transported into scenes from iconic movies. The evening kicked off on a high, with our Barn Owls quartering Reg’s Wildflower Meadow to the magical Harry Potter theme tune. Enthusiastic as ever, Ben may have gotten a little bit too into character here!

The audience were then pulled right into the centre of the action, as our Lanner Falcon –  Chaucer sped through the crowd at speeds of up to 60MPH to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, and a few lucky guests were selected at random to fly Fagan the Hooded Vulture to ‘You’ve got a friend in me’

The sound of fearsome roars filled the air as the audience were then taken into the Trust’s very own Jurrasic Park, complete with ‘raptor wrangler’ Ben! Instead of dinosaurs however, our White-backed Vultures soared across the meadow, showing off their impressive wingspan in some breath-taking circuits.

The first half of the evening concluded with a special treat. Newcomer to the Trust, Sam the Bald Eagle flew over the guests, accompanied by a soundtrack as impressive as his flight: Star Wars! After a short interval, the second act started with the Bird Team presenting Sirius the Striated Caracara with his very own Mission Impossbile – to uncover tasty treats hidden within movie style props (silver flower pots!).

Our birds then took to the skies one final time in a awe-inspiring recreation of the opening scenes from the Lion King. Our Storks (all five of them for the first time ever!), Black Kites and Hooded Vultures filled the sunset sky and circled our beautiful elephant puppet, all to the stunning rendition of the Circle of Life. A really touching end to a beautiful evening of bird flight and song.

Finally, our grand finale arrived. The audience turned their attention to the skies directly above them as the one and only Red Devils circled overhead, climbing higher and higher into the sky. Once they reached 5000ft, the moment came for the parachuters to jump from the plane, twisting and turning in flight before safely landing to a rapturous round of applause.

A huge well done to all involved in this fantastic event, and to our wonderful audience. All money raised from this event goes directly towards our mission – the conservation of birds of prey.

Find out more about our upcoming events here.


The latest from Changa Manga Breeding Centre

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Recently, we caught up with WWF-Pakistan Project Manager Jamshed Chaudry about Changa Manga conservation breeding centre in Pakistan, which holds a population of Critically Endangered Asian White-backed Vultures and is part of our Pakistan Vulture Restoration Project. (more…)

A tribute to Madeleine

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We are sad to announce that Madeleine, one of our Secretary Birds, passed away last Thursday (24.03.22).  At the grand old age of 34, he reached the end of his healthy life.  The kind, yet difficult decision was taken to send him peacefully to sleep and to avoid any ongoing suffering from a heart condition brought on by old age. (more…)

Great news from Changa Manga!

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We’re thrilled to share the news of three healthy Asian White-backed Vulture chicks, a Critically Endangered species, hatched at Changa Manga! This conservation breeding centre is run by our partners WWF-Pakistan, and is a key element of our Pakistan Vulture Restoration Project, which also includes a Vulture Safe Zone to protect wild vultures.


First ever records of Egyptian Vulture migrations in Central Asia!

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We are very excited to be able to share the initial results from this project, showing the first recorded migration routes of Egyptian Vultures in Central Asia. (more…)

Thank you amazing volunteers!

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At the Trust, we’re so lucky and grateful to have a wonderful team of dedicated volunteers. Ryan Stephens from our Bird Team works very closely with this team of fantastic people, coordinating duties and rotas, and he’s shared an insight into the challenges of the past year and the significant impact our volunteers have had in helping us tackle these tough times:

“Another year passes by at the Trust and we have seen so much happen over the past twelve months (and more). Challenges with COVID-19 regulations and lockdown periods in the early stages of 2021 certainly had an impact, but after a more prosperous summer and autumn, it certainly felt like things at the Trust were getting back to normal, until more recently. We wait to see what 2022 has in store for us.

One of the constants that we have seen throughout the past couple of years is the ongoing and invaluable support from our volunteer team. Without fail, week in and week out our team are on hand to help us with all that being a world-class visitor attraction entails. We have found that over the past two years our volunteers have grown into a very tightknit community and this warm and friendly atmosphere only enhances that feeling that hopefully our members and visitors feel when they step through our doors.

It really goes without saying that we would not be able to do what we do at the Trust without this team of people. Every hour that they give to help us with our mission is greatly appreciated, whether that be our long-standing volunteers who help us with our experience sessions, the volunteers who help us with the maintenance of aviaries, the team who help keep the grounds in shipshape condition or those who help us in the Trust shop or offices. We thank you for all the time you have given up to us throughout 2021.

Personally, I spent nearly two years volunteering at the Trust before I was offered a position on the Bird Team. Prior to this, I completed five weeks of work experience and one of the things I always remember from this time is how much the presence of other volunteers really helped me during those nervous first few weeks. Our volunteers are always ready to help some of the newer members of the team and take them under their wings.

So next time you visit, have a look out for that welcoming face as you enter a flying display. Look out for the people who are keeping the aviaries spotless. Look out for the team constructing new aviaries for our birds to live in, these people are the volunteers who are integral to what makes the Hawk Conservancy Trust the amazing place that it is. Thank you!”

Ryan Stephens

Registrar and Bird Team

Here are some photos of just a few of our lovely volunteers at work:


New partnership with Investec

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We are delighted that Investec has chosen to partner with the Hawk Conservancy Trust on selected conservation projects. Investec is an international specialist banking and wealth management group that has supported conservation initiatives since 2012.


Our new hospital annex

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If you’ve visited us this year, you won’t have been able to miss the building works taking place on site, next to our National Bird of Prey Hospital™. Here we’re constructing an annex to the hospital, made possible with the help of very generous donations from Animal Friends Pet Insurance and Life Members Graham and Rita Morgan. This project will expand our facilities and allow us to improve our biosecurity measures. (more…)

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