Life or Death - A Day Makes A Difference

Here at S.O.S., injured or traumatised owls and a variety of other birds of prey including falcons, buzzards and kestrels are brought into us for treatment on almost a daily basis. Nearly always the intention to bring it in to us is well meaning but attempts to administer first aid beforehand and the delay this causes can prove fatal - it’s often not appreciated that in order to give each bird the best possible opportunity of life, speed is of the essence. Whenever possible, we strongly recommend bringing the creature to us as soon as you can.

Tawny owl - one eye copy (NXPowerLite Copy).JPG

The reason is that often the full extent of the problem may not be immediately evident. In the case of the Tawny Owl above suffering damage to the eye, the need for speed is obvious. But in many case the reasons for the incapacity may be hidden. Though the bird may be quiet and still and allow you to handle it, there will be reasons for it: a bird of prey in good health is unlikely to let you get near it.

If it is still, the bird may be weak and suffering from malnutrition. It may be dehydrated. The cause of its distress may a hidden injury or symptoms of a debilitating disease. In such cases, resisting the temptation to keep it for a while and maybe try to feed it or apply first aid, may cost the bird its life.

Therefore, please make every effort to get the creature into us as soon as you can. Here at Suffolk Owl Sanctuary it will be given expert attention using specialised first aid equipment and critical care formula, will have access to experienced veterinary care and we also keep a good store of TLC on hand to help the bird ‘make it through’ wherever possible. We are on hand to give advice during the waking hours on 03456 807897 Option 5, and we’re open from 8.30am until 4.00pm in winter and 5.00pm in Summer.

Finally, here are the standard instructions for handling an injured bird:

  1. Gently throw a jumper or blanket over the injured bird to gently pick it up

  2. Put the bird into a well ventilated, darkened cardboard box - not so small that the bird will sustain further damage, but not so large that it can jump around inside. The box should preferably be lined on the bottom with another towel or, if not available, newspaper. Never use straw or sawdust and do not place water in the box. Do not cover the bird with the blanket or towel when it’s in the box for fear of it getting tangled.

  3. Do not try to feed the bird. Get the bird to the nearest bird of prey centre as soon as possible. S.O.S. is open 7 days a week from 8.30am until 4.00pm during the winter months, and until 5.00pm in summer. For emergency advice call 03456 807 897 Option 5

  4. Do not try to give first aid to the bird - although well-meaning, if incorrectly applied the traumatism of the wrong procedure could hasten the worst outcome.

  5. Always wash your hands if you have touched a bird

  6. Remember that bird of prey centres and raptor rescue organisations like S.O.S. are there to deal with birds of prey. If you’re not local to us in mid-Suffolk see this list to find one near you. Contact the RSPCA about other types of injured bird, or take it to a vet.



It's raining! Time for a bath...

Kalifi in the rain.jpg

It is a rainy day at the centre today, but even if we don't enjoy this weather the birds take an opportunity for a free shower! 

Kalifi (pictured here) hopped in her bath as soon as the rains started and had a good long soak and clean.

All birds preen oils into their feathers - that stops them becoming waterlogged, and the downy feathers close to the body help to insulate and keep them warm.

However, in the rain birds will not often chose to fly as the extra weight becomes problematic and their flight becomes hindered.

That’s why on days like this we don't fly our demonstration team but give them a well deserved rest day instead.

BSL Signing Day for the Deaf

Last week we were joined at a special BSL Signing Day for the Deaf by over 200 deaf visitors and their families. Our idea was to bring our flying displays to life for the profoundly hard of hearing who often miss out on the interesting facts & figures given in the commenteries by our falconers during the dramatic demonstrations.

BSL-Signing-Day-2-LR.jpg

Our visitors had travelled from Ipswich, Colchester, Bury St. Edmunds, Lowestoft and West Norfolk for the event and for the majority, this was their first trip to the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary, but hopefully not their last!

BSL-Signing-Day-1-LR.jpg

Groups were met on arrival by our fabulous, highly experienced BSL interpreter, Natalie, who was on hand to offer signing support throughout the day, in all corners of the sanctuary!  She did a great job too, not only signing the display commentaries, interpreting the various other activities at S.O.S. and answering a myriad of questions but also in helping our event organiser  Catherine reach out to interested groups and societies and encouraging them to come along.

Visitors were able to enjoy signed commentaries for two meerkat feeding sessions as well as all three spectacular flying displays .

BSL-Signing-Day-4-LR.jpg

During the latter, a selection of our resident birds thrilled the crowds, flying extremely close and fast. For many visitors, this was the first experience of large owls and other birds of prey flying at such close quarters and will be remembered for many weeks to come.

BSL-Signing-Day-6-LR.jpg

Acting for the centre, falconer Liz provided Natalie with details of the lifestyles, habitats and conservation status of our birds for her signing sessions, whilst falconers Rufus and Steve enabled the birds to demonstrate their aerial dexterity over the flying ground.

Magician in residence, Neil, also entertained a rapt audience with tricks, illusions and comical fun as well as painting many young faces throughout the day - all, again with invaluable assistance from Natalie.

BSL-Signing-Day-5 LR.jpg

Finally, Jenny’s Ark Nature Centre also played host to many of the visitors who were able to watch guinea pigs, goats, chinchillas and field mice at play and observe the busy bees at work in the observational bee hive at the new attraction. 

We hope to offer more fully signed days in the future - watch our website for details and to all our deaf visitors, thanks for coming and we hope you enjoyed your day!

Go Fly A Kite - a small part of a great conservation achievement

Back in May we were really pleased to find that a pair of our Red Kites, Elfin & Bronwyn, had hatched three chicks. This was great news, because the new arrivals will enable us to further illustrate the strong conservational success of a strikingly handsome and instantly recognisable raptor species that has always been the focus of interest in our public displays and school visits.

As a result of the persecution of Red Kites dating back to mediaeval times when their scavenging habits incurred the displeasure of the populace, through to their breeding  being severely hampered by avaricious Victorian egg-collectors and gamekeepers who saw them as a threat to their livestock, the species was pretty much obliterated. By the early 1900s, Red Kites were thought to be extinct throughout the UK.

However, in the late 1980s a colony of 20 Red Kites - thought to be the progeny of just one breeding female - were discovered in Wales.  With the plan to re-introduce these beautiful birds back to the UK hampered by the in-bred nature of the discovered group, the R.S.P.B. introduced wild kites from Europe to ease the boodline bottleneck and by the 1990s, Red Kites were seen circling the skies along the motorway corridors of  Oxfordshire, the Chilterns and East Yorkshire - areas where where the birds had been re-introduced. 

Nowadays Red Kites can be seen more widely as they have gradually spread further afield. The current population is estimated at around 2000 breeding pairs and pays significant tribute to what has been one of the most successful conservation efforts in the U.K.

Like many birds of prey, the growth of the three young birds that were hatched at Suffolk Owl Sanctuary earlier this year has been rapid, from development as chick to a fully fledged adolescent bird capable of flight. One of the three has been transferred to another bird of prey centre which has education high on its agenda, whilst it’s planned that the two remaining - named Hakin & Elgin - will finish their training and soon take part our flying displays. Notwithstanding, they are perfect examples of why this unique species and its preservation is so important to our bird population, and with such a fascinating history, living proof for our visitors that conservation works!

 This little soul has just hatched from the egg

This little soul has just hatched from the egg

 Just about 10 days later, a remarkable development can be seen... 

Just about 10 days later, a remarkable development can be seen... 

 ... and after 3 weeks, this youngster gets its first feel of grass.

... and after 3 weeks, this youngster gets its first feel of grass.

 Shortly after, the downy fledging continues apace...

Shortly after, the downy fledging continues apace...

 ... and a week later the birds getting bigger and feathers begin to form.

... and a week later the birds getting bigger and feathers begin to form.

 At 8 weeks the form of this adolescent Red Kite is almost complete, ready to join our team as we let our visitors know what what a successful conservation story lies behind this once almost extinct species.

At 8 weeks the form of this adolescent Red Kite is almost complete, ready to join our team as we let our visitors know what what a successful conservation story lies behind this once almost extinct species.

Hack to Basics

Early summer is generally an extremely busy time for the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary’s raptor hospital.
This is the season when baby owls and other birds of prey which have fallen from nests swell the numbers of regular casualties, including chimney falls, road traffic accidents and cases of malnutrition and exposure.

Generally, the tiny patients admitted to the hospital ward are merely in need of regular food, protection from predators and time and space to build strength in order to progress to the
rehabilitation aviaries at the centre and then to a hack box in the seclusion of nearby habitat.

 One of the recuperated little owls we have received recently now at hack in a secluded and undisclosed location

One of the recuperated little owls we have received recently now at hack in a secluded and undisclosed location


“Hacking out” is a term used for the gradual release of young birds back into the wild. This is done by establishing a protected nest box, which offers free access to a terrain of optimum subsistence. Over several years, the sanctuary has developed a network of private local hack sites, each managed and protected by a guardian landowner. These generous individuals will help our team by spending time feeding and observing the young birds being released until full maturity and strength gives them the confidence to strike out from the hack box and gain full independence.

However, the recent prolonged spell of hot, dry weather, has had a marked effect on the numbers of young birds being rehabilitated and then put out to hack. Indeed the weather has had a devastating effect on every tier of the food chain, meaning that even those predators at the top of the chain such as owls and other birds of prey have been compromised.

Drought conditions dictate that the small mammal population will be diminished - in turn, other birds and animals dependent on this food source will also experience a reduction in numbers of young. We're currently witnessing that smaller numbers of progeny are being recorded as our volunteer team begin the annual survey of our wild owl nest box scheme.

It is hoped that this trend will revert to normal once weather conditions become less extreme.

An Unexpected Little Surprise

At fifteen years old, Lily the Little Owl is one of the sanctuary’s established matriarchs.

Born at Suffolk Owl Sanctuary to Snapdragon in 2002, Lily had lived a mainly solitary existence until quite recently.

Despite being introduced to a succession of potential mates over several years, she had refused to tolerate a male presence in her aviary……until Rambo appeared on the scene last year! After a decidedly frosty initial reception from Lily, young Rambo held his nerve and took encouragement from the fact that he had not been completely rejected. 

By the winter of 2017, Lily appeared to have mellowed a little and as a consequence, Rambo’s confidence grew. After a more intimate relationship was forced upon them by the severe winter weather - and the necessity to share the aviary’s sheltered nestbox - the pair greeted the Spring as a united front.

  Like all newborns, Sebastian spent a good deal of time sleeping! 

 Like all newborns, Sebastian spent a good deal of time sleeping! 

The depth of their new fondness for each other was then proved in the form of two eggs which suddenly appeared in their quarters. The falconry team could hardly believe that, at this “mature” stage of her life, Lily might have produced offspring! Sadly, one of the eggs proved to be infertile, but the second looked promising and after the allotted 29 days of incubation, a healthy baby little owl appeared.

 At 6 weeks, Sebastian's handsome adult plumage is starting to appear.

At 6 weeks, Sebastian's handsome adult plumage is starting to appear.


In order to protect the little mite from any maternal heavyhandedness, the decision was made to hand-rear him and he quickly settled into a brooder with a cuddly toy in the falconers’ hut!

Over the next few weeks little Sebastian grew rapidly and positively thrived in the human environment of the hut - to accustom him to humans from such an early age will condition him for ease of training when the time comes.

 Seemingly quite at home amongst the detritus of Falconer Liz's desk, at 2 months of age Sebastian seems to have mastered office management!

Seemingly quite at home amongst the detritus of Falconer Liz's desk, at 2 months of age Sebastian seems to have mastered office management!


The long-term hope is that Sebastian will in time become a fully fledged (!) member of our flying team, contributing to the enjoyment and education of visitors and school groups and becoming a firm favourite with all the sanctuary’s supporters.

The Heat is On!

As most of us will have experieneced, the last few weeks of exceptionally warm weather have proved slightly uncomfortable for humans, including those working at the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary!

The owls and other birds of prey, however, seem to take the soaring temperatures in their stride.

Some of the species resident at the sanctuary are particularly well equipped for dealing with heat, for example, Pungu the Bateleur Eagle and Vera the Hooded Vulture, both native to the African continent.

 Spreading and puffing feathers helps to reduce body temperature, as Pungu the Bateleur Eagle demonstrates

Spreading and puffing feathers helps to reduce body temperature, as Pungu the Bateleur Eagle demonstrates

Hoever, all birds are equipped with the physiology to regulate temperature, whether cold or hotter weather conditions prevail. Even the snowy and great grey owls from the coldest climes are superbly adaptable to diversity of temperature. Like all birds they have a naturally higher body temperature than humans and many other creatures, and on very hot days they bring into play several additional behaviours to help them keep cool. 

Visitors to the sanctuary may notice some of the birds standing with open beaks to assist with cooling. Birds do not have sweat glands like humans, so cannot perspire to regulate temperature, neither can they pant like dogs, so opening the beak wide and breathing more rapidly is a quick way to increase air flow around the body. Rapid breaths move hot air across the moist surfaces of the lungs throat and mouth - this moisture then evaporates, expelling hot air from the body.

Spreading and puffing feathers also helps to reduce body temperature by allowing air to circulate close to the skin. Birds will also be seen holding their wings away from their bodies to help to lower temperature.

The bare skin patches on the legs, feet and faces of most birds allow greater heat loss that the feathered areas of the body; even a fleshy eye ring can help to dissipate heat. Some birds can swell such fleshy patches to increase their surface area if it is necessary to cool off quickly.

During the centre’s public flying displays, some birds will also soar at higher altitudes on the hottest days, seeking out the thermals to lift them into higher, cooler air.

Water baths are provided for all birds in all weathers at the sanctuary, for preening and cleaning feathers - in the recent hot spell several birds have been standing in their baths to keep their feet cool! As temperatures really peaked in the last couple of weeks, the falconry staff have also augmented the water baths with cooling blocks of ice!

As all the sanctuary’s aviaries are naturalistic and species appropriate, they contain a variety of trees, shrubs and plants which offer cool shaded areas for the birds to enjoy. Visitors may rest assured, however, that the centre’s landscaped public gardens also offer plenty of respite from the sun and ice creams and cold drinks are available on demand in the gift shop!

Short Stay for a Long Eared Owl!

The Suffolk Owl Sanctuary Raptor Hospital is always busy in the Spring - casualty numbers being augmented by foundling babies which have fallen from nests or been separated from parent birds. These are generally Barn Owls, Tawny Owls and, less frequently, Little Owls.

Recently, however, a Long Eared Owl made a rare appearance in the hospital treatment room, having been brought in from Felixstowe by a member of the public. The incidence of Long Eared Owl patients in the hospital is probably less than one each year, so it was highly unusual ( but interesting) for the falconry team to be assessing such a patient.

The owl had been found caught in netting within a warehouse at Felixstowe docks. Luckily, it was within the reach of some of the dockyard workers, who were able to collect it up into a box and transport it to the owl sanctuary’s hospital.

On arrival the mature adult owl was assessed and found to have no injuries, although it was, understandably, suffering from shock due to its ordeal. The remedy for the stressful rescue and journey to S.O.S. was merely a few days' peace and quiet in a secluded rehabilitation aviary with regular food and protection from predators.

After a week in accommodation akin to a luxury hotel (!) the owl was back in condition and ready to return from whence it came, in the protective custody of its kindhearted rescuer.

Long Eared Owls are strictly nocturnal and very well camouflaged within their favoured wooded habitat, so are rarely seen within daylight hours. They also compete for hunting grounds with Tawny Owls, so are rarely seen in areas in which Tawnies are plentiful and this could explain why coastal areas such as Felixstowe may offer favourable habitat. 

 

  The Long Eared Owl is assessed on arrival and appears alert and active!

The Long Eared Owl is assessed on arrival and appears alert and active!

  Crop tubing introduces essential nutrition quickly and effectively.

Crop tubing introduces essential nutrition quickly and effectively.

  I’ll have a luxury aviary for one, please!

I’ll have a luxury aviary for one, please!

Creche Developments

Throughout the owl sanctuary breeding season the falconers’ hut at S.O.S. bears more resemblance to a raptor creche than the centre of falconry operations!  This is because alongside our wild bird rescue activities, many of the captive bred birds we keep at the Sanctuary used for the flying demonstrations we give to fulfil our educational brief are hatching eggs left, right & centre!

Those of the young offspring which our falconers select to use for these demonstrations in future are hand reared so that they become accustomed to - and comfortable with - interaction with humans.  The others are reared separately and often exchanged with other centres similar to our own to inject fresh bloodlines into the system.

For training to progress satisfactorily, baby birds chosen to form part of the flying team must recognise the falconers as their food source from the time that they hatch from the egg. All the activities that can be witnessed at the sanctuary which involve the owls and other birds of prey working with the falconers are established through this demand for and supply of food.

The young birds are weighed every morning to ensure that they are keen enough to look to the falconer to be fed whilst retaining optimum condition. The foundations for this relationship, needs to be established as a priority, as soon as possible. 

 

Therefore, after eggs hatch in the incubators, they are moved to a brooder in which the temperature can be precisely controlled and the tiny chicks closely monitored. At this time falconers assume the role of Mum by feeding the pulli often and regularly, with tweezers resembling the parent bird’s beak.

Owls and other birds of prey grow extremely quickly due to their high protein diet and within weeks, the young are out of the brooders and strutting confidently around the “creche”.

Those birds that move on to new homes at other conservation projects or falconry centres will leave at about 8 - 10 weeks, whilst those that are to remain at the sanctuary can co-habit with the falconers for several more weeks, right up to the advent of serious training, when a permanent home is found for them in the aviaries.

It is not only the sanctuary’s own hand reared babies which share the falconers’ accommodation - any baby birds arriving at the sanctuary from other conservation centres to contribute to the educational remit of the centre will also spend their first few weeks getting to know their contemporaries and the staff who care for them within the protective environment of the staff quarters.

This year baby raven, Charles has joined the sanctuary’s avian community along with new Mackinders Owl, Nakura. Both have settled effortlessly into their new home and staff hope that on maturity they may form permanent pair bonds with established residents Rey and Kalifi respectively. 
 

Fed-by-tweezers.jpg
 A pair of African Spotted Eagle Owl chicks are hand fed and then enjoy a dozy nap...

A pair of African Spotted Eagle Owl chicks are hand fed and then enjoy a dozy nap...

Life-is-exhausting-for-bayby-Raven-Charles.jpg
 Baby raven Charles enjoys a nap after a feed, too...

Baby raven Charles enjoys a nap after a feed, too...

 Nakura, our baby Mackinders Owl gets bigger by the day!

Nakura, our baby Mackinders Owl gets bigger by the day!

Buzzard Blues

In recent months there has been an increase in the numbers of buzzards brought into the owl sanctuary’s raptor hospital.

This reflects a general increase in buzzard numbers nationally and within the local area.

Found during the worst of the recent squally rainstorms, the mature bird had become completely waterlogged and had gone down in a muddy field, exhausted.

Once down in the deep mud, the poor bird became bogged down and the more it struggled to extricate itself from these circumstances, the muddier it became - the weight of the mud finally preventing flight.

On happening upon the saturated bird, the landowner realised that it needed assistance - a healthy, fit buzzard would have avoided human contact, however this bird seemed to have been rendered helpless through sheer exhaustion.

After being easily gathered up the buzzard was transported to the sanctuary’s hospital and immediately admitted.

An initial assessment concluded that the bird had suffered no accident or injury and a warm bath, good food and peace and quiet constituted the prescribed treatment.

After a week in the secluded rehabilitation aviaries with a regular food supply and protection from predators, the buzzard was returned to the area in which it was found and released back into it’s native habitat.

This was one of many incidents that prove the case for our aspiration to expand and develop our current rather cramped hospital accommodation.

Buzzards are large birds which need ample treatment room space and capacious areas for recuperation.

To this end, our fundraising drive continues to develop new hospital quarters affording plenty of wing space for the whole spectrum of owls and other birds of prey.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our supporters who have generously contributed to this latest project - we have been able to embark on the laying of the new hospital foundations this week!

Below: The exhausted and dishevelled buzzard awaits the first stage of his treatment…..a warm bath! 

Very Imp-pressive

When birds of prey damage tail feathers, it can take over a year for them to moult the broken feather out, to allow new growth to take place.

In order that birds can get back to efficient free flying more quickly, it is often necessary to “imp” or implant new feathers into the tail or wing affected.

Falconers gather feathers for this purpose throughout the moulting season, so that they have a “feather bank” with which to work when necessary.

The feathers are kept carefully, clearly labelled and in the correct order, so that they remain undamaged until needed.

The attachment of the implanted feathers is a skilled job only undertaken by the most experienced falconers, as the object of the exercise is to replace the damaged feather as quickly and efficiently as possible, in order to avoid stressing the avian recipient for any longer than is necessary.

Each feather plays a part in helping birds to glide, dive, weave and turn, so a  proper imp job requires careful trimming, measuring and alignment so that the replacement feather matches the original in length and orientation as closely as possible.

        The correct feather is selected from the 'feather bank', cleaned, and the imping needle inserted

      The correct feather is selected from the 'feather bank', cleaned, and the imping needle inserted

Basically, the process involves joining the broken feather to its replacement new feather by inserting an “imping needle” (a thin shaft of metal, bamboo, fibreglass or other material) into the shaft of the broken feather.

The implanted feathers are held securely in place with a special quick drying glue - once this is dry, there is no outward evidence of this “enhancement” as the feathers all blend seamlessly together.  Here Falconer Matt is replacing one of the all important tail feathers of one of our Red Kites, Nessa.

       Nessa sits patiently as the replacement feather is carefully inserted and checked for alignment

     Nessa sits patiently as the replacement feather is carefully inserted and checked for alignment

Imping is not painful for birds - like human hair or fingernails, feathers are essentially dead matter made of keratin, without sensation.

Once the procedure is completed, the bird will be rested for a day or two to ensure that the implanted feathers are remaining securely in place.

      Resting Nessa from flight for a day or two will ensure all is secure

    Resting Nessa from flight for a day or two will ensure all is secure

Imping is an ancient technique, originating hundreds, if not thousands of years ago.

The earliest written reference to the practice is thought to be an account from the 1240s by the Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick II of Hohenstaufen, in his revered work, The Art of Falconry.

In the Latin workFrederick explains the necessity for Imponere,  to"place upon” or “to fix” feathers and refers to essentially the same process that we use today, though the tools of the trade have evolved. 

In ancient times imping involved dipping an iron needle in brine to create rust as a bonding agent, rather than a blob of glue!

Even Shakespeare was aware of the process - in Richard III, the Earl of Northumberland beseeches his fellow noblemen to “imp out our drooping country’s broken wing” by rebelling against the king.

What's What in Accident & Emergency

Over the past 18 months, the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary has undertaken it’s biggest fundraising drive to date.

The aspiration is to build a new, larger raptor hospital better equipped to deal with the increasing numbers and larger sizes of some of the avian casualties brought into the centre.

Most birds enter the hospital via two routes; either our team go out to rescue birds caught in difficult situations like being trapped in a chimney, or they are brought into the hospital by members of the public, often referred to us by local veterinary practices.

  This unfortunate Tawny was rescued from a slurry pit but we were able to clean him up and after a few weeks of recuperation, set him on his way

This unfortunate Tawny was rescued from a slurry pit but we were able to clean him up and after a few weeks of recuperation, set him on his way

On arrival at the centre our team are able to assess the severity of the injury or trauma and administer the first aid necessary and frequently-used medication to give the bird some respite before entering rehab.

  One of our hospital patients, a buzzard with a severe case of frounce, is crop-tubed - a method of getting liquid food into the stomach when the condition makes it difficult for the bird to ingest food by itself

One of our hospital patients, a buzzard with a severe case of frounce, is crop-tubed - a method of getting liquid food into the stomach when the condition makes it difficult for the bird to ingest food by itself

In more serious cases, such as a broken wing or where a bird may have been shot or poisoned, we take the bird to our veterinary who has the expertise necessary to treat the birds’ injuries in surgery or diagnose more specialist medication as may be required. After treatment, the injured bird is returned us as the vet does not have the time and facilities needed for several weeks’ recuperation and rehabilitation.

  Our current hospital facility has stood us in good stead, but the increase in both the number and physical size of the birds we are called upon to care for has determined the need for larger premises.

Our current hospital facility has stood us in good stead, but the increase in both the number and physical size of the birds we are called upon to care for has determined the need for larger premises.

The fabric of the present hospital facilities was originally very generously donated by Pets At Home in Bury St. Edmunds and equipped with donations from other benefactors. Although hundreds of birds have fortuitously passed through the hospital to be re-released back into their native habitat, still more successful outcomes could be realised with improved and enlarged facilities.

  For more serious cases, Paul Canham from the local veterinary practice is called upon to carefully examine birds to determine the likely cause of a problem and then operate as appropriate. Our General Manager Maz lends a hand...

For more serious cases, Paul Canham from the local veterinary practice is called upon to carefully examine birds to determine the likely cause of a problem and then operate as appropriate. Our General Manager Maz lends a hand...

The sanctuary’s hospital is in most demand from  May-July when capacity is quickly reached with the springtime influx of baby owls which have fallen from their nests. In most cases, these tiny creatures only need plenty of food, warmth and TLC to equip them for life back in the wild and as baby owls grow EXTREMELY quickly, they outgrow their cosy brooders within a few weeks. Plans for the new hospital include a larger incubator room and increased numbers of brooders and nursery accommodation.

“Baby season” aside, the normal admissions of adult birds into the hospital due to road traffic accidents, chimney falls, hypothermia and starvation still continue through every season. A bigger treatment room and and larger rehabilitation aviaries are also planned, therefore.

  This Marsh Harrier is typical of the larger species of wild birds of prey we are now privileged to treat, nurture and   re-habilitate

This Marsh Harrier is typical of the larger species of wild birds of prey we are now privileged to treat, nurture and re-habilitate

Over the last few months a total of 33 birds have been admitted to the existing raptor hospital with 20 being released back into the wild - a success rate of around 60%. Most casualties were Barn Owls with 11 being admitted. Sadly, due to many of these birds being brought in to us with injuries that had established infections, only 4 could be rehabilitated and returned to the wild.

Of 10 Tawny Owls admitted, however, 9 were successfully treated and re-released, with only one road traffic accident proving fatal. 2 Sparrowhawks were brought to the sanctuary suffering from lack of food and after several weeks of recuperation were both released back to their native habitat. 1 Little Owl,  1 Long Eared Owl (a rarity in our hospital) and 1 Buzzard were also successfully returned to the wild after treatment, as were 2 underweight Kestrels.

Once quite an unusual sight in our treatment rooms, Buzzard populations are now on the increase in this locality and it is with these birds and the native Red Kite, which is also becoming more prolific, in mind that space will be augmented within the new hospital block.

With foundations for the new facilities now prepared and construction of the new hospital set to commence, we look forward to many more successful outcomes for our A & E patients.

Meanwhile, we would like to thank everyone who has contributed to funding this huge but much-needed project over the past months - we hope that you will take the opportunity to visit the sanctuary and witness at first hand the essential work carried out in your name in our hospital. THANK YOU.

S.O.S. & Thornham Owl Project Nest Box Scheme - Results for 2017

Every year, the national Barn Owl Trust publishes a report on the “State of the UK Barn Owl Population”. This report aims to quantify Barn Owl populations throughout the country, as observed by numerous local volunteer groups.

Our East Anglia Nest Box Scheme is one such group. Established in 2002 and for the last 5 years run jointly as the S.O.S. & Thornham Owl Project Nest Box Scheme, it currently maintains and monitors around 300 wild owl nest boxes locally.

  A Barn Owl nest box sited high in a tree, out of harms way

A Barn Owl nest box sited high in a tree, out of harms way

Within the context of the UK, the scheme works in tandem with the Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project. As a body, this is one of the larger local monitoring groups, checking 1,402 sites during 2017. The amalgamated Suffolk groups reported an encouraging increase, with 366 of the 1,402 sites being nested -  41 more nests than in the “bumper" year of 2014 and 51% more than the average of all previous years.

S.O.S. & Thornham Owl Project Nest Box Scheme Successes

  Main man Roger, principal of our partners, the Thornham Owl Project, retrieves a pulli for weighing, measuring and ringing

Main man Roger, principal of our partners, the Thornham Owl Project, retrieves a pulli for weighing, measuring and ringing

2017 proved to be an exceptionally good one for the Thornham Owl and East Anglia Wild Owl Nest Box Project, recording 152 Barn Owl pulli (young birds ringed in the nest) in the year and surpassing our previous high of 2014. 

  In safe hands... working under a DEFRA-issued Disturbance Licence, the data collected by our project will be fed back to the Barn Owl Trust as a contribution to the annual survey. Approaching a wild owl nest box without such a licence is unlawful.

In safe hands... working under a DEFRA-issued Disturbance Licence, the data collected by our project will be fed back to the Barn Owl Trust as a contribution to the annual survey. Approaching a wild owl nest box without such a licence is unlawful.

Nest box checking commenced in the first week in June and it was soon clearly evident by the amount of debris left in some boxes that in some cases pulli had already fledged.  Our project leader Roger observed that in hindsight this was probably due to the very warm spell in late March,  to which some Barn Owls possibly took advantage and commenced early breeding. Obversely, others started late breeding when the weather conditions took a turn for the worse in May, and as a result, our team were still ringing Barn Owl pulli in late September and well into October.

 

Not Only... But Also - Kestrel & Tawny Owl Results

  This brood of seven young pullis evidence the encouraging results in the 2017 Kestrel camp

This brood of seven young pullis evidence the encouraging results in the 2017 Kestrel camp

Another success story in 2017 found just under half of the 46 Kestrel nest boxes in our project being used, with a record 88 pulli being ringed - a pleasing 4.4 being the average brood size and surpassing the figure for 2012.  This was an excellent result as the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) now have the Kestrel as Amber Listed, being of conservation concern.

  As Roger prepares to weigh the youngsters, a passer-by shows interest

As Roger prepares to weigh the youngsters, a passer-by shows interest

Tawny Owl Concerns
2017 saw a reasonable year for Tawnies, with 10 boxes yielding 19 pulli.  Though second only in results to our record year in 2014, there is an urgent need to expand our knowledge of this species.

 A trio of Tawny owlets nestle amidst the detritus that accumulates inside a busy nest box, which the team will clean when the opportunity arises later in the in the year.

A trio of Tawny owlets nestle amidst the detritus that accumulates inside a busy nest box, which the team will clean when the opportunity arises later in the in the year.

We need to be in the best possible position to provide advice on issues that may impact Tawny Owls, whether they are in planning policy, alterations to agri-environment schemes, the management of our woodland estates or climate change.  The BTO is organising a survey to establish the demise of this specie, aiming to bring more people into contact the Tawny Owls to improve our knowledge of how their population is faring and working with local groups to support monitoring work.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Thornham Owl Project volunteers Roger and Kevin who, supported by Suffolk Owl Sanctuary volunteer Steve and funded by the contributions made by S.O.S. supporters, tirelessly build and venture out to erect, monitor and repair or replace the wild owl nest boxes in our joint venture, for which Roger collates and then submits the detailed information that the Barn Owl Trust study depends upon.

Where there's a will...

Recent heavy snowfall and blizzards brought the county of Suffolk to a standstill as it was visited by the Beast from the East just a week or so ago.

The Sanctuary site was no exception with drifting snow causing a hazardous, though beautiful, landscape. Due to concerns for the safety of visitors during such treacherous conditions, the site was reluctantly closed to the public for several days.

   The usual suspects!  Falconers Nick, Liz and Harry braving the elements with our trio of Red Kites, Jester, Nessa and Bryn

The usual suspects!  Falconers Nick, Liz and Harry braving the elements with our trio of Red Kites, Jester, Nessa and Bryn

The falconry team struggled through the frozen wastes to continue their dedicated care and attentive monitoring of all the sanctuary’s resident birds and to remain on call for hospital casualties.

   The long arm of the falconer, brushing the snow from one of the high ledges in the Red Kite aviary

The long arm of the falconer, brushing the snow from one of the high ledges in the Red Kite aviary

Although all birds of prey are well equipped to deal with sharp drops in temperature and adverse conditions, staff still observed their charges diligently to spot any vulnerability swiftly and to prevent the health of any bird being compromised by the unusual situation.

In order to make sure that all birds had extra resources to draw on, feed quantities were increased and the temperature of the mews room in which the non aviary birds are accommodated overnight was raised.

   Our Steppe Eagle, Mir, was totally in her element as she exercised on the frozen  flying ground.   

Our Steppe Eagle, Mir, was totally in her element as she exercised on the frozen  flying ground.  

Falconers increased the frequency of their usual observation rounds and daily checks were carried out on all outside accommodation to ensure that roosting spaces all remained dry and draught free.

Owls and other birds of prey possess extremely thick and plentiful plumage in order to deal with sudden periods of inclement weather and under the watchful eyes of the falconry team, all Suffolk Owl Sanctuary residents took the snowy conditions in their stride - it was evident that some positively enjoyed the experience!

   Our friend Mishka the Snowy Owl also felt totally at home in the white stuff - her cousins in the wild are able to withstand temperatures as low as -40º C, though it didn't drop quite as low in normally Sunny Suffolk!

Our friend Mishka the Snowy Owl also felt totally at home in the white stuff - her cousins in the wild are able to withstand temperatures as low as -40º C, though it didn't drop quite as low in normally Sunny Suffolk!

We look forward now with optimism to the more favourable Spring weather which will, hopefully, encourage a successful breeding season.

Red Squirrel Report and Meerkat Musings

Keeper Nick Wallbridge reports!

  Visitor David Openshaw caught this great image of one of our Red Squirrel youngsters, which he entered into our 2017 Photo Competition

Visitor David Openshaw caught this great image of one of our Red Squirrel youngsters, which he entered into our 2017 Photo Competition

2017 proved to be a very successful one for our colony of Red Squirrels as both of our breeding pairs had litters, with a total of eleven kits being born.

Red squirrels are very fragile animals with the odds stacked against them in terms of breeding - even in captivity - but we were able to watch them grow from the tiny nervous babies that first appeared in the middle of the year into confident, acrobatic adults. 

One of the pens during 2017 had company in the form of three Reeves pheasants. They helped keep the pen clean and also provided some company for the squirrels. On more than one occasion the baby squirrels were seen sneaking down to drink the pheasants water, and prising the lid off the pheasant’s food dispenser to steal the grain inside.

The majority of the youngsters have now moved on to new homes, either to be added to controlled Red Squirrel release programmes where attempts are being made to re-establish colonies in the wild, as new blood for other breeding programmes or to help others illustrate the plight of these rare, amazing and delightful animals to their own visitors. Needless to say, we look forward to more new arrivals this year.

  Smile please!  This great photo of our inquisitive mob was taken by visitor Bob Berrisford

Smile please!  This great photo of our inquisitive mob was taken by visitor Bob Berrisford

As for our Meerkats, 2017 proved a hard one for our mob as sadly both the dominant male and female, Bandit & Bonnie, passed away due to illness.

This left the mob not only without their parents but also without a leader!  However, after some squabbling about who would take over and some diligent monitoring of behaviour by all the staff who care from them, the meerkats are now back to their usual ways and ready to face another year of being in the spotlight as a popular attraction for all who visit the centre.

Looking back on 2017, the highlight of the meerkats year was Halloween - our Mob love pumpkins, and they had a ready supply of carved pumpkins prepared by our volunteers, both to play with and to eat.

  Fun for all come Halloween!

Fun for all come Halloween!

After a long summer of entertaining the public, the meerkats have been resting up over the winter, spending most of their time inside basking in front of their heater or snoozing under the heat lamp. They have had some new toys to keep them amused, plenty of their favourite bugs and on a couple of occasions even came out to investigate the snow. Needless to say, as desert animals they were not particularly impressed with the white stuff!

They and we are looking forward to the year ahead as The Mob prepare to bring pleasure to all that come to see them.

Kestrel Cast Down - but not out!

Throughout the year, amongst those we sadly receive into our bird of prey hospital are beautiful Kestrels.

This little girl was one of them and we suspect like so many, her injury caused by being hit by a car. The Kestrel was brought into us by a lovely family who had seen the bird injured at the side of the road: after turning their car around and collecting her, they drove to the Centre where we received her in a soaking wet, very skinny condition and barely clinging to life.

Feeling it unwise to leave her overnight for fear that she would not survive, one of our team the Kestrel home and fed her through the night. Visiting the vet the next morning, it was discovered the bird also had an injured leg, the remedy being to put it in a cast for support during the recovery period..

Whilst gradually bring her condition back to normal, for the first 10 days of her treatment we gave her physiotherapy on her left foot twice a day, which involved gently opening and closing her talons. The picture on the left shows her standing with her closed foot but by the end of the treatment (right) she was able to keep her foot fully open.

 After physio, the kestrel was able to fully extend the talons of her left foot.

After physio, the kestrel was able to fully extend the talons of her left foot.

From there, the kestrel went from strength to strength. Shortly after the cast was removed, she spent a week in one of our secluded rehabilitation aviaries and after a final check over by the vet, she was released back to the wild nearby to where she was found. It took quite a time to get her back to health - but it was worth every second!

 Ready for the off!  Our friend was snapped in her carry-box just before she was taken off for release

Ready for the off!  Our friend was snapped in her carry-box just before she was taken off for release

S.O.S. & Thornham Owl Project Nest Box Scheme - Report for 2017

Having joined forces with the Thornham Owl Project to form the S.O.S. & Thornham Owl Project Nest Box Scheme, supporters of the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary has been instrumental in funding the development of a network of roosting sites for the local population of Barn Owls and other wild birds of prey.

  A trio of young Barn Owls raised in one of our project boxes

A trio of young Barn Owls raised in one of our project boxes

A Great Year for Barn Owls
Project leader, Roger Buxton reports that 2017 has been a record year, with 152 Barn Owl pulli ringed. This surpasses the previous high of 2014 when 147 were ringed - a successful outcome which brings the grand total of Barn Owl youngsters ringed over the last ten years to 715.

   Roger and his colleague Kevin began checking through the 290-odd boxes scheme in June

Roger and his colleague Kevin began checking through the 290-odd boxes scheme in June

In 2017, nest box checking began as usual in the first week of June and it quickly became evident, by the amount of debris found in some Barn Owl boxes, that young had already been fledged. This was due to a very warm spell of weather in late March of last year, which it is thought encouraged some early breeding.

When weather conditions took a turn for the worse, breeding was delayed again. As a consequence young were still being ringed in late September and well into early October.

   The downy plumage of a young pulli

The downy plumage of a young pulli

Barn Owl brood sizes were as follows: 10 broods consisted of 1 chick, 13 consisted of 2 chicks, 17 boxes contained 4 chicks and 3 contained 5 youngsters, giving an average brood size of 2.81 - a very productive year, though falling just short of the exceptional average brood size of 2014.

Barn Owl boxes also proved to be a target for a variety of “squatters”! These included stock doves (50), hornets (2), jackdaws (34) and a solitary squirrel.

 

Kestrel Success

2017 was also another success story for kestrel nestboxes with 20 of the 46 boxes being used and a record 88 youngsters being ringed. Brood size also attained a new record of 4.4, an increase on the previous high in 2012 of 4.0

   A promising number of young Kestrels were ringed during the 2017 campaign

A promising number of young Kestrels were ringed during the 2017 campaign

This is a particularly satisfying result for the project since the British Trust for Ornithology have raised the conservation status of the kestrel to “amber”.

The Amber classification denotes “….species which have an unfavourable status in Europe, whose population or range has declined moderately in recent years, or those whose population has declined historically but made a  substantial recent recovery.”

Kestrel boxes also showed evidence of other unusual occupants such as squirrels and jackdaws.

Tawny Troubles

Roger and his colleagues reported a reasonable year for the project’s Tawny Owl boxes; 8 of the 47 boxes had been used and two nest sites within the boxes produced 19 pulli.

These figures seem to reflect the worrying national trend for the gradual but consistent decline of this bird over the last few years, which saw it’s conservation status elevated from green to amber in November 2017.

As Roger explains, “There is an urgent need to expand our knowledge of this species so that we are in the best possible position to provide advice on issues that may impact them; whether they are changes in planning policy, alterations to agri-environment schemes, the management of our woodland estates or climate change.”

The BTO is currently undertaking a survey to investigate the demise of this bird more closely and are launching a programme designed to bring more people into contact with Tawny Owls, improve their knowledge of the bird’s condition and support monitoring work undertaken by local groups.

Hopefully, this proactive initiative will kick-start long-term projects and ultimately increase the breeding success of Tawny Owls.

The Suffolk Owl Sanctuary and its supporters are indebted to Roger and his colleague, Kevin who have continue to devote many, many hours to the nest box scheme; the building, erecting and maintaining boxes and weighing, measuring and ringing of pulli to support and encourage positive outcomes for our local owl populations.

You can help! Please Sponsor a Nest Box ...

 This valuable initiative builds, sites, cleans and repairs a network of boxes which provide safe & secure out of roosting for Barn Owls and other birds of prey which are out of harm's way.

This valuable initiative builds, sites, cleans and repairs a network of boxes which provide safe & secure out of roosting for Barn Owls and other birds of prey which are out of harm's way.

If you would like to sponsor an owl nest box, in your own name or on behalf of a relative or friend, please call our admin. team on 0345 680 7897. Sponsors will receive a certificate of thanks,  supporters’ enamel lapel badge, S.O.S. newsletter and wooden fob bearing the identification number of their sponsored box.

Alternatively please click the button below and help us raise funds to buy an off-road vehicle to replace the beloved “Hilda”, which enables us to get off the beaten track and reach the many remote sites where our nest boxes are isntalled.

Thank you!

The North Wind Doth Blow!

Despite concerted efforts to convince ourselves that Spring is just around the corner, Suffolk was hit by a cold snap and a covering of snow this week.

Luckily, our birds are all well insulated with plumage and housed in warm dry accommodation, so they are not adversely affected by plummeting temperatures. Many of our display team originate from parts of the globe that suffer harsh weather conditions and are well suited to dealing with wind chill factors such as those experienced recently. Others are migratory birds which move to warmer climes when cold weather hits.

Either way, snow is still a fairly rare occurrence at the sanctuary and one that must be celebrated by both man and beast! The falconry team flew several birds free this week, enabling them able to experience this strange phenomenon called snow.

  Rocky weighs up the strange white world and icy pond!

Rocky weighs up the strange white world and icy pond!

Rocky the Turkey Vulture, a species more used to enjoying scorching American temperatures, seemed perfectly at home in the crisp winter atmosphere and continues to progress well in his training to become part of the seasonal flying team.

Mir, the Steppe Eagle is a migratory bird hailing from the cold steppe region of central Asia and southern Russia, ranging easterly from Romania to Mongolia. Steppe regions and their human, mammalian and avian inhabitants are subject to incredible extremes of temperature, ranging from 45 deg. C (113 deg. F) in summer to -55 deg. C (-67 deg. F) in the winter months.

  Mir the Steppe Eagle feels at home as the temperature drops!

Mir the Steppe Eagle feels at home as the temperature drops!

These areas also experience huge contrasts in the day and night-time temperatures - in the highlands of Mongolia daytime temperatures of 30 deg. C (86 deg. F) can plummet to sub-zero figures at night. Mir, then, is easily able to take a delicate sprinkling of Suffolk snow in her stride and appeared to thoroughly enjoy the nippier conditions!

Lincoln the Bald Eagle - now reaching his maturity - has rarely seen snow in his five years of life, but his genus is well equipped for a colder climate. The Bald Eagle’s natural range includes the northern American states and Canada - when numbers were somewhat depleted during the 1950s, the species was restricted to Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.

  Juvenile Bald Eagle, Lincoln, comes in for a snowy landing.

Juvenile Bald Eagle, Lincoln, comes in for a snowy landing.

Like the Steppe, the Bald Eagle migrates to warmer climes in winter, namely Florida, Louisiana, the Sonoran Desert and northern Mexico. Having been somewhat spoilt in the relatively tropical Suffolk climate to date, Lincoln was unphased by the wintry conditions and behaved impeccably - giving shivering visitors to the sanctuary a heartwarming impromptu performance!

Despite the birds’ apparent pleasure at cold weather flying, the humans of the sanctuary hope that it won’t be too long before they are putting the birds through their paces in more sultry conditions!!

Many thanks to Jess for the photos, one of our multi-talented falconers, who is also a dab hand with the camera, and to Cathrine, our lady of letters who penned today's blog!

Where Eagles Dare!

Visitors to the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary are always mesmerised by our trio of magnificent eagles; Mir the Steppe Eagle, Lincoln the Bald Eagle and Pungu the Bateleur Eagle.

Sitting out on perches on the Eagle Lawn, people can observe the birds at close quarters and fully appreciate their elegance and power - one only has to consider the size of an eagle’s talons to fully comprehend what ultra efficient hunting machines they really are!

  Regal Eagle - Mir illustrates the intense glare of the hooded eye

Regal Eagle - Mir illustrates the intense glare of the hooded eye

Mir the Steppe Eagle is the great matriarch of the sanctuary, having resided here since the inception of the centre over 20 years ago. Although one would assume that she is now considered to be quite an elderly bird, this is not the case - in the protected environment of the sanctuary, enjoying a plentiful food supply and with no fear of predators, she is likely to live into her late 40s or early 50s, so is actually in her prime! 

Lincoln the Bald Eagle, on the other hand, is just reaching maturity, having only arrived at the sanctuary in 2012. Young Bald Eagles are comparatively unattractive birds, having drab brown plumage and no distinguishing features. Over the last five years, however, Lincoln has metamorphosed into a supremely elegant bird displaying striking mature plumage and the iconic white head and yellow beak, eyes, and feet of his species.

  Lincoln, our maturing Bald Eagle, communicates with visitors!

Lincoln, our maturing Bald Eagle, communicates with visitors!

The name Bald Eagle comes from the greek Haliaeetus Ieucocephalus meaning sea (hali) eagle (aietos) white (lLeuco) head (cephalos) in recognition of this most recognisable feature.

P1010440.jpg

The charismatic Pungu takes part in a Half Day with Eagles with falconer Matt

  Young visitor Luke Cummings to this photo of Pungu's colourful face markings for our 2017 Photo Competition

Young visitor Luke Cummings to this photo of Pungu's colourful face markings for our 2017 Photo Competition

Pungu, the Bateleur Eagle has been entertaining visitors as part of the flying team for over ten years. Like Lincoln, she arrived at the sanctuary as a somewhat insignificant brown youngster, but over four or five years blossomed into the eye-catching black and scarlet individual who turns so many heads today.

Bateleurs are unique within the eagle world due to their ability to walk and jump backward, enabled by their unusually short tail. This feature is an absolute necessity for an African bird which enjoys a diet inclusive of snakes; the bird must be able to retreat nimbly from the strike of these reptiles when hunting.

The enduring popularity of our eagles has recently prompted us to offer a new falconry course for 2018 - The Eagle Experience. This unique, sanctuary based course will present the opportunity for visitors to spend exclusive time with our magnificent eagles and a designated falconer, gaining a real insight into the nature and behaviour of these powerful raptors and experiencing them in awe-inspiring flight at close quarters. Click here for further details.

For details of this or any of our wide range of falconry activities, please ‘phone our admin. team on 0345 680 7897.