Monthly Archives: February 2015

Birds of a feather, hoot together

Great Horned OwlWe’ve been busy as always at the Centre over the last two weeks. It has been the mid-term break for schools so we have had more visitors, and our flying displays have been a major feature in both the visitor experience and the staff and volunteer time in training the birds for the displays. Some of our owls have started the nesting season off too, like our Great Horned Owl in the picture above.

 
Like the majority of Bird of Prey centres or zoos with trained birds of prey, we give our birds a break over winter. This for us is the period that we are closed, December and January. During their ‘holiday’ the owls are not flown and are given more food each day. They put weight on that helps them cope with the cold weather, and they also have the extra energy available to produce new feathers, so many trained birds moult in their off period.

 
When we open to the public again in February we start our flying displays again, so we select the team of owls who are going to start off the season and we put them on a diet, along with getting them back in flying fitness in the display arena. With about 25 trained owls (out of our total 100 birds) we can work them on a rotation through the year.

 
Our team starting the season off this year have been Lofty the Barn Owl, Zeus the European Eagle Owl, Sarabi (and me)Sarabi the Milky Eagle Owl, Lulu the White Faced Owl, Rocky the Indian Eagle Owl and Hosking the Tawny Owl. Taino the Ashy Faced Owl has done a couple of shows but is still a little over her ideal flying weight so is still a bit rusty. I’m sure she’ll get there in the next week.

 

 

Ashy Faced Owl family 2012The Ashy Faced Owl is a species we particularly like and feel is important in conservation breeding, so we are pleased to find our pair of Ashy Faced have started the nesting season a little early and have a clutch of eggs. (The photo here was taken in 2012 when their owlet was a few weeks old). As a member of the Barn Owl family, they are capable of having two clutches each year, so if the weather is right they will start early. As I write this they have been incubating for about two weeks. As they are such an important species – they only live on two islands on the whole planet in the wild – we will try to increase our chances of rearing owlets this year by taking fertile eggs from the first clutch and putting them in our incubator until they hatch. We will then have to hand feed them and rear them together in a ‘creche’. I’ll be setting up an incubation room this next week in readiness for these eggs.

 
IMG_5373Work has slowed but continued on our new aviaries. In between flying displays during the week I have been helping Rod with building the framework, and I have been putting the mesh on the new aviary down by our pond. At the weekend we have had more staff and a dedicated team of volunteers around so I have been able to concentrate my full day on the new aviary. We’re really pleased with how this aviary looks and the size of it (26 feet point to point of a stretched hexagon shape). The design matches the new aviaries recently completed near reception, part of a new phase or next generation of ‘showpiece’ aviaries.

 
On Wednesday I was finishing off the mesh side panels quite late in the day. As the light of the day grew dim the owls in the aviaries around me began to hoot. It is quite a remarkable experience to hear all these species from around the world all hooting in the same place. On either side of me were two types of Eagle Owls Aharonis Eagle Owlsthat are close relatives in the wild. Our new pair of Aharonis Eagle Owls have been settling in so well they are doing courtship calling and the male offers food to the female. Meanwhile over in the African Avenue the pair of Pharaoh Eagle Owls have also been hooting and passing food, the male also making a scrape in the nestboxPharaoh Eagle Owl ready for the female to lay her eggs in. These two types of Eagle Owls are neighbours of a sort out in the wild, with the Aharonis found in the Middle East down to Saudi Arabia and the Pharaohs pick up in Saudi around to Morocco (thereabouts and with a gap where they may have become extinct in recent times). As they are so close in location and biology the two owls make quite similar hoots, so by having the new Aharonis I think we have prompted the Pharaohs to begin courtship earlier in the year than usual. A bit of completion can make them more territorial and from there, spur on courtship and breeding. It would be wonderful if both pairs were to breed, even if it does catch us by surprise and delay some of the repair and building work we have planned!

 
Time for me to sign off so cheerio for now.

 
Trystan.

Trapped Under Ice

It has been a busy couple of weeks since my last blog. We’ve been getting the centre ready for re-opening to the public – which we did successfully on Feb 1st – training our display birds, and continuing to build our new aviaries. The trained owls performed wonderfully in the first displays. We also received some new owls this week, very exciting!

 
IMG_8560bbAharonis Eagle Owls are a sub species of Eurasian Eagle Owl, and in the wild they live in the semi desert and mountain regions of the Middle East. They are smaller than the Eurasian and a sandy yellow with dark spots. They represent an intermediary stage between their larger cousin and the smaller paler Pharaoh Eagle Owl species found from Saudi Arabia around to northern Africa. They used to be quite common in UK collections but I hadn’t seen or heard of any in the last 8 years. Towards the end of last year I was surprised to find a centre with not one but two pairs. We arranged to bring one pair up north but needed to build them an aviary. Through asking around the network of owl keepers in the UK, there appear to be a few places with single birds and people are now interested in pairing them up. It can be quite easy for birds to become ‘out of fashion’ to the point that they vanish from aviculture. We have our fingers crossed that our new pair breed of course. I’ll keep you updated.

 
The long period of sub-zero temperatures has hampered our building work that’s for sure. Snowfall is one thing to contend with, but the temperature has been below freezing for long enough for the ground to become as solid as concrete. Even the gravel and woodchip in our aviaries has been frozen solid, which along with frozen pipes and taps means we haven’t been able to clean aviaries with much success either. But this is winter and what we expect, so we’ve slowly but surely continued with our work.

 
sunday 017The structure of the new Burrowing Owl aviary is complete pretty much. I’m working on the interior landscaping a bit at a time, as the materials are frozen, but once there’s a thaw I’ll get stuck in properly. We’re trying to design this aviary to include a nestbox camera so that visitors can view what is going on inside the nest – hopefully we will learn about Burrowing Owl domestic life! We need to build a viewing booth on the front of the new aviary to complete the outer structure. In the meantime our Burrowing Owls are still in their original aviary. The reason we’re moving them is that I’ve been unhappy with the lack of sunshine they receive tucked around that corner, and the corner with the nestbox gets so wet and damp I’m sure that is the reason the eggs do not hatch in there. We have hatched them in our incubator however, so we know they are viable. In the new enclosure I’m hoping the design will make the nestbox much drier, and with the camera we might see the female Burrowing Owl hatch her own eggs for the first time.

 

Over to the other end of the centre again. 20150204_094151Those Aharoni Eagle Owls are temporarily living in the aviary where our Indian Eagle Owls have been housed. (The Indian Eagle Owls have moved closer to the reception building in our re-designed entrance area). The Aharonis are able to watch us build their new home, and are quite vocal about it too! The aviary is taking shape now, after this photo was taken we managed to get most of the roofing beams and connecting beams along one side in place. By my next blog we should have the structure done, hopefully.

 

IMG_8576bbAn extra special new owl arrived in the last week too. A female Vermiculated Fishing Owl. With less than half a dozen of these remarkable owls in the whole of the UK we are privileged to have this female at our centre. She’s most certainly the only one of her species in Scotland. Our hope is that the collection she came to us from in England will breed a male this coming season, and we will be able to pair them up. Fishing Owls are native to Africa. Unlike the Fish Owls over in Indonesia they are small and have neither ‘ear tufts’ or a facial disk, such as most other owls who hunt by sound. (Eyesight is more useful for hunting fish that can’t be heard underwater!). They have bare legs with scaly toes, like those of an Osprey, to help hold on to slippery prey. I have been fortunate to work with this species before and am really happy to see one again, she’s a beauty!

Right, time to sign out. See you next blog. Keep warm!