My work today was mostly taken up with training the display birds. As it is quieter at the weekends (most of the workmen and electrician are off of course) I try to make the most of these days to fly the birds in the indoor arena.
The owl I started with today is another ‘new’ one – new working with me at least. We are fortunate to have a diverse range of owls for our displays, from the tiny Tropical Screech Owl to the huge European Eagle Owl, but today I wanted to work with one of the two Barn Owls.
This chap is Lofty, a Common Barn Owl. This is the one found in the UK, although the Barn Owl family is found in many parts of the world. Lofty is in really good condition at the moment, fantastic honey colour speckled with grey to the feathers from the back of his head down his back and wings to his short tail, and his front a pure white.
Lofty weighed in at 319 grams today, which is around his ideal flight weight – the weight the owl would hunt at in the wild, because its belly is empty! I had high hopes for him to fly in the arena as he was at the right weight. This was our first day working though so even if he did one short hop to my glove it would be a good start. Lofty has only been inside the arena once before, so today he just wanted to get a good look around. He was hungry, but was more interested in his surroundings. Perhaps he needs to lose just a little more. That’s alright. Once he did a hop to me for a piece of food I quit while I was ahead. As I have done with the other birds I have been training, I took Lofty out for a walkabout. I have started to do a ‘Meet the keeper, with an owl’ encounter each day through the Feb school half term, and figured this would be a good way to combine my work training him, getting him used to sitting on the glove and working with me.
We had some interested people come to meet us, and Lofty behaved very well. After a while of course he became restless so we wandered back to his aviary where he received his main meal for the day. A good first day.
Prince the Ashy Faced was next, and today was not his best day. Now he’s flown in the arena a few times he is getting the hang of it all. This also meant he started showing one of his old bad habits from last year – flying to land on my shoulder (or face!). This isn’t on, and at one point I stopped and turned before he was ready and got a face full of feathers. I was lucky he didn’t draw blood as he tried to land. This behaviour will have to be discouraged of course, but I’m told he eventually figured out he wasn’t allowed to do that after some training. Apart from that he flew very well. It was really only the first few flights that he made his mistake. Once he had some food in his belly he calmed down and flew to perches or glove just as I wanted. Very good but more work needed.
Third up was Sarabi (or Sarah to her old friends, of which there must be a few as she is around 17 years old!). I still can’t get over how long her wingspan is. They are called Giant Eagle Owls in Africa, but we call them either Verreux’s or Milky Eagle Owls. When she flies the full length of our flying arena you really get why they earn the name ‘giant’ that’s for sure! Today she flew more lengths and with less hesitation than her last ‘lesson’ and really took my breath away. I hope she can keep this up!
So, with owl school done for the day I went to check in on the Great Grey Owls that moved into their new enclosure yesterday. They were fine. I was pleased to see the male perched high up. He is still sitting at the opposite end from the female but they are both looking content with their new aviary. Happy with that, I went around the corner to see the newest owls to the Scottish Owl Centre.
Last night we had a delivery of Long-eared Owls, Little Owls and a Short-eared Owl. They are all looking in good condition and healthy. The one obvious exception to having full health is the Short-eared. The story of this bird is quite a sad one that I’m afraid is heard all too often in the UK. This was a wild bird that was injured. When it sits on the perch in the aviary you can see that the left wing does not sit flush with the body the way the right wing does. Short-eared Owls are long-winged hunters of open countryside. In the winter they hunt the coasts, marshes and estuaries. In the spring they then return to their breeding grounds high in the hills, mountains and moors. Most of the Short-eared Owls breeding in the UK actually breed in Scotland. Hunting in open places sometimes brings them into collision with traffic, fences or power lines sadly. Once a bird of prey breaks or fractures a wing it almost never returns to 100 % fitness or mobility. At most 70 %. Of course out in the wild you need to be fit to survive. 70% is just not enough. So this bird would not survive if returned to the wild. A real shame. Here at the Scottish Owl Centre we aim to give the bird the best quality of life that we can. The last set of aviaries to be built – next week – is the British Owls section. As we have an aviary dedicated to Long-eared Owls in that section we can now alter the design to accommodate the Short-eared Owl as well. These birds spend much of their resting lives sitting on the ground, so we will make sure the enclosure has places for that as well as the option to perch along with the Long-eared Owls. They are all lovely birds and we want to make them as comfortable as possible.
Right well that’s enough for today. So much for this being a short blog huh? Oh well, gnite all!