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My Bird of Prey Experience

10 April 2024

My Bird of Prey Experience

Well, it’s no secret that I am a massive lover of nature and the wild. Whilst there are many things on my bucket list that I haven’t ticked off yet (it's fine I’m only 40ish), handling raptors has always been on the list and I’m glad to say, the box was well and truly ticked a few weeks ago.

My partner had a ‘surprise’ planned for my Birthday so I duly booked the date off work and waited in anticipation for the day to come (2nd April). That morning I was instructed to wear “outdoorsy” clothes and wait for my lift. The lift came in the form of my good friend, then all of a sudden it clicked. The week before he had visited our local Falconry Centre in Lavenham and raved about how good it was, so I knew that’s where we were going. My partner confirmed that was the case and the excitement kicked in. I thought as far as "Birthday Gifts for Him" go this is right up there.

If you have never visited Lavenham before you absolutely should. It’s an unbelievably quintessential English village in Suffolk (bordering Essex) and is renowned for its well-preserved medieval architecture. The houses, pubs and shops around the square make you feel like you have gone back in time, and the village itself is steeped in interesting history. Even just a drive through is worth it, but I recommend parking up and having a walk around. The huge Church (almost Cathedral-like) was a highlight for me, but the shops, lovely locals and of course, the many pubs and restaurants were amazing.

Anyway, back to my falconry experience. The falconry centre is located just outside the village in the beautiful countryside. On arrival, we entered the reception building which had a ‘Grandad's shed’ feel about it. That’s not a bad thing by the way, I really loved it and spent my first 5-10 minutes gazing at all the interesting pictures and artefacts. We had a warm-welcome from the staff and were each handed our safety glove, then we made our way out into the Avery where a host of amazing Birds of Prey awaited us.

Almost like a mini zoo, the birds were housed side by side in various size pens, which initially I thought looked a little small. But we were to find out later that day it’s actually dangerous for the birds to have lots of room as they are more likely to attempt to fly and injure themselves. They each get the perfect amount of food and exercise to keep them healthy and at flying weight, and perfectly happy napping in confinement between flying sessions. Some Owls actually sleep for 23 hours a day!

Following a quick tour of the Avery our small group headed out onto the flight area which was a huge open field surrounded by trees. We lined up against a fence and listened to our guide who talked us through a few safety procedures, rules and regulations. I was surprised how little rules there were to follow, it was all common sense to be honest. As she disappeared back into the Avery to collect the first Bird (which we were told was going to be one of the Owls), I winked at my friend with an air of excitement. There was a small crowd of spectators who were made up of the guests' children and a chap taking photos who all looked just as excited.

Out she came with the Owl in hand and a bag of food, and gently pushed the Owl from her fist onto it’s perch. It was clear the Owl was perfectly drilled in this procedure and it sat there perched, calling out in anticipation for it’s breakfast. The guide then walked up to the first person at the fence and instructed them to hold up their glove with their fist clenched and thumb at the top. The reason for this hand position was clearly explained just after the Owl swooped across the floor and shot up onto the glove. The recipient looked as shocked as he did amazed at this, and everyone else gave a little cheer and clap. The Owl got his first breakfast bite then swooped back to her perch ready for the next person.

The Owls talons sit perfectly on the fist when the thumb is up high as they are able to wrap them around each side. The gloves are made of extremely thick leather and you can barely feel anything when they land on you. It wasn’t daunting at all when they flew at you. Other than their little bell, the Owls flew completely silently and landed with such position.

It wasn’t long before everyone had their first go, then of course – out came the mobile phones. We were told the birds were very used to phones and would not be phased by people taking photos or holding them up during the flights. My friend and I took turn taking some amazing photos, slow-motion shots and videos which you can see in my highlights video below.

Throughout the experience our guide was giving us lots of information and insight about the Owl’s and the difference in their lives in the wild compared to captivity. It’s extremely interesting and after everyone had warmed up a bit, lots of questions were being asked and we all learnt so much. The most interesting fact I learned was that Owls only have a life-expectancy of around 3 years in the wild. This is due to the competition of other predators (domestic and wild) and pressure from the environment. In captivity they can live four or five times as long as that!

We met three Owls in total, all amazing – then the visitors who only had the hour experience booked made their way home. The remaining guests included me and my friend who had booked the three-hour experience, and we also got to fly a Turkey Vulture, Goshawk and Harris Hawk. Each bird was uniquely interesting and it got us onto the conversation of the ‘Hawk Walk’ which was one of the other experience available. It sounds brilliant as you actually get to head into the countryside and watch the birds fly around and hunt in a more natural situation. "Take my money" I said jokingly.

Once the experience was over, our host explained we were free to have another browse of the Avery and thanked everyone for their participation and support. We decided to spend a little time looking at the magnificent (and slightly menacing-looking) Golden Eagle before heading to the local pub to compare photos and plan our next trip.

All in all, I had a fabulous time and couldn’t recommend these types of experiences enough if you have an interest in wildlife. The handlers and owners of the centre were so knowledgeable and I will always remember this day and what I learned. It’s especially lovely in our area where we live as there is a large population of Birds of Prey including Kites which we often see gliding over our house. I take much pleasure now in telling my neighbours and dog walkers all about them.

Please enjoy my Falconry Experience Highlights Video which was put together by Lucy Daniels, a member of our content team. It contains a few short clips I took of the birds interacting with my friend (shot on my iPhone 14). If you are interested in taking part in Animal Experiences and would like to find ‘Birds of Prey Experiences near me’ then follow the link to our page of options and get booked into a centre near you.

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