Tag Archives: aviary

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!


Breaking and Decorating

It was a long day for me at the Scottish Owl Centre today. Long but productive.

Starting out at 8 a.m. I enjoyed my morning check on the owls before anyone else arrived. The place was very peaceful and as I quietly wandered round I saw many of the owls sat in different places than usual. This must be what they do when ‘off show’ and all the people go home, this is ‘owl time’. It was nice to see them more relaxed and enjoying being themselves before the work starts for the day.

Once the rounds were done I got cracking on installing branch perches in the Wee Owl aviaries. Starting with the first pen – temporarily housing a Tengmalm’s Owl – I caught up the owl and placed it in a quiet spot in a carrying box, then began to take out the old and put in the new perching. Knowing that there will be new birds moving into this row of aviaries I was able to put perches appropriate to their needs. I have worked with each of these species before and remember what sorts of perches they need and like. It was quite therapeutic to spend the day doing this task. It’s a bit like doing the decorating in a new house, or unpacking the prized ornaments and placing them just where you think they look best. It’s strangely satisfying to stand back and see your handiwork too. The test of course is to see if the owls will like and use the perches too. Once kitted out with perching that makes best use of the space in the aviary, that gives a good variety of places to sit both high and low, at the rear and at the front of the aviary, I then take out all of my tools and put the owls back in their home. To begin with they often sit and stare around at the new ‘furnishings’, or they fly up to their old perch and stare at everything wide eyed. Eventually you see them calm down and start to explore the new places to sit and that is very satisfying.

I got the whole row of seven aviaries kitted out with perches today and was very pleased with the results. Better still, other people liked them, and even better than that all the owls seemed to like them as well!

By the usual time to finish work I had the whole of the Wee Owl corner of the centre ready for the new birds arrival.

The team working on building the centre had a good day too. All of the new aviaries received the upright tree perches and gravel flooring. One of the guys build at least 6 new nestboxes for the small owls and the painter made the most of the dry weather to give another coat of paint to railings and ledges, walls and roofing frames. We even had a brief glimpse of sunshine this afternoon, very welcome for drying paint – and humans too! The ground work team finished laying the paths at one end of the centre, with only the area near the reception and side entrance still to do.

There was a real sense that things are coming on now, and feeling better about the progress than recent days.

Of course for me there was (and still is) the anticipation of the new owls arriving tomorrow morning. I am really excited actually! As well as some new owls I have never seen let alone worked with before, there will be some old favourites of mine arriving – like the Ferruginous Pygmy Owls, and the magnificent Milky Eagle Owls, the European Scops (‘owl that goes ping’), Sundas Scops, Pearl Spotted Owlet, and the Striated Scops that I haven’t worked with in a number of years. We will be receiving birds to pair up with some of our own collection too; African Wood Owl and Tengmalm’s Owl and it will be good to see them in a pair.

Hometime came and I still had some work to do. I had planned to feed the owls late today, when everyone had finished with noisy work. I decided to start moving birds around ready for tomorrow too. Initially I just intended to move the White Faced Owls that had been in the last pen in the Wee Owl section that I had decked out in perching, but as the sun was shining and it was a lovely evening we decided to move as many round as we could in readiness for the very early morning. It was quite mind boggling to work out which owl was going where but we got them all moved round eventually.

I felt really happy to be moving the owls into their correct aviaries after so long. Some went straight up to the new perches the team had put in for them and looked great! I’m charging up my cameras tonight so look out for some pictures tomorrow!

By the time I got to feeding the owls in the centre it was going dark, and the owls were beginning to call. It was ‘owl time’ again. It occurred to me that they were complaining about room service being very slow today!

So I’ll sign off for tonight and go get some sleep. I’ll be going in at around 7 but the courier with the new owls may beat me there!

Gnite then!

Jump around

‘Owl School’ took up much of my day today. While the building work continued at a good pace I focused today on spending time with the imprinted owls that will be in the flying displays once the Scottish Owl Centre opens to the public.

The flying arena was quiet and empty today so it was a good opportunity to fly as many of the birds as I could. Some have been doing well with their training, others are just starting out. Prince the Ashy Faced Owl did better today than his last ‘lesson’, flying the length of the arena. Sarabi the Milky Eagle Owl continues to amaze me with her slow deliberate flight with huge wings. If she takes to working in front of the public she will really be a star! Broo the European Eagle Owl… well she is still sulking with me so we got no further today. She is likely to be well over her ‘flight weight’ still, and until she loses more weight she won’t budge. Hosking the Tawny Owl was my ‘newbie’ owl today. He has been dieting well and today was sitting at the front of his aviary watching intently as I passed by. Opening the door he flew onto my glove right away, a good sign! We went through to the ‘prep room’ where I placed him on the scales. I haven’t known Hosking very long and don’t know his ideal flight weight just yet, but today he weighed only a little more than the last male Tawny Owl that I flew in my last job. It shouldn’t take much longer for him to be ready to fly in the arena. I showed him round the indoor display arena for a short while today so he could get used to the place, then I fed him while he sat on my glove. Once back in his aviary I gave him more food as his reward for behaving so well. If only Broo could take notes, this is what she should be doing! I then summoned up my courage to face Hudson the Great Horned Owl again. He was a little ‘boisterous’ to begin with but once I had the jesses and leash attached and guided him through the door he was pretty steady. I took him for a walkabout and spent about an hour with him on the glove today, which was very good indeed. I’m not brave enough to try him free in the arena yet but we’re getting there 🙂

For today’s Meet the Keeper with an Owl encounter I took Oulu the Great Grey Owl. She has been on walkabout with me twice before, and her diet has been going slow but steady, so I hoped she would be a good model for the visitors today. Unfortunately there were so many new sights and sounds around the site today she was very jumpy. Out in front of the crowd she panicked a few times and I wondered whether I should apologise and take her away, but I knew that if she were really stressed she would be panting as well as trying to fly away. Hanging in there she did settle somewhat, and once everyone went their separate ways I walked her around Reception and through to the owl centre for a little longer. If she experiences this a little more each day she will grow used to it and be less panicky. There’s a lot of work to be done with Oulu, but hopefully she will begin her flying training in the arena next week.

Also next week, we will have a lot of building work going on. The ground work contractors will be in all week to lay the remaining paths and prepare for tree planting. They dropped off their mini-digger and dumper truck today to be ready to start early on Monday. So it will be a busy week all round next week!

Okay so that’s that for today, I’ll sign off. Til tomorrow, gnite all 🙂