Hasn’t it been the most peculiar spring? Apparently it was approximately eleven days early this year and according to the Met Office, this April has been the warmest since records began. For us here in the east of England the biggest problem has been the lack of rain and Farmers Weekly reports that April saw just 5mm of rainfall – a mere 11% of the monthly average.
Fortunately our resident birds of prey don't seem to have been unduly affected by the unusual weather or the early spring and the falconers are already hard at work looking after this year's new arrivals and keeping a weather eye on a number of broody raptors. Some birds of prey can be aggressive when breeding, so the falconers have to be especially careful about entering the aviaries of birds displaying territorial or breeding behaviour. A brooding female also needs to be kept calm, as she could damage her eggs if stressed.
To date, at the Sanctuary, we already have two Peregrine Falcon chicks, a baby Lanner Falcon and two Harris Hawk young. Our owls have been doing well too and so far we have two Tawny Owl babies, two little Little Owls, two European Eagle Owl chicks and a Southern Boobook owlet.
You may remember last year that we had a tremendously exciting first for the Sanctuary when our Red Kites produced two babies. Well it looks like mum and dad have done it again. Red hot press: at the time of writing our first Red Kite chick of 2011 has had its first photo debut at just a few hours old – complete with stylish Mohican hairdo! Hopefully there is another Red Kite baby on its way too. Conservation Officer Dean reported that the youngster has been heard ‘pipping’, which is the noise that chicks make when they are tapping their way out of the egg. There’s no way of telling how long it will take, it could be anything from a few hours to a couple of days, but the falconers will be keeping a close eye on proceedings.
Sometimes a chick might have a bit of a struggle fighting its way out of its egg. This could be because the egg has a particularly thick shell or occasionally because the chick is too big and doesn’t have enough room to manoeuvre. Here at the Sanctuary, once a chick has managed to make a small hole in its eggshell, the falconers will closely monitor its progress. If the baby hasn’t hatched within 48 hours, then it is obviously in trouble. There are two concerns at this stage; a) the chick will be too tired to break its way out of its egg and b) if the chick messes inside the egg there is a high risk of infection. In the wild, this would be seen as a process of natural selection and the chick would be unlikely to hatch. Fortunately, in captivity, it’s just a case of lending a helping hand to give the chick the best chance of survival.