The Sooty Show!

The Suffolk Owl Sanctuary’s designated raptor hospital is busy at every season of the year, particularly during the Spring, when young, inexperienced owls and other birds of prey are finding their feet and testing their flying skills.

During the autumn and winter months casualties usually present with injuries sustained from road traffic accidents or as victims of the colder weather which equates with depleted food supplies and loss of condition.

 

 

Earlier this month, a rather unusual case was brought to the hospital facilities by members of the public who had rescued the bird - a Little Owl - from their (dormant!!) wood burning stove. The couple had been aware of a scratching presence for a day or two and had presumed this was the sound of a bird making a nest on top of their chimney. Louder, more persistent disturbance alerted them to the fact that the mystery presence had travelled down the chimney, coming to rest within the back of the stove!

By now exhausted, the Little Owl was easily extracted from the stove, popped into a covered box in order to alleviate stress as much as possible and then transported to us. “Sooty” arrived at the hospital looking slightly thin, VERY black, but (amazingly) otherwise unharmed.

A bewildered Sooty arrives at the  Suffolk Owl Sanctuary hospital facilities!

A bewildered Sooty arrives at the
Suffolk Owl Sanctuary hospital facilities!

His first port of call was the hospital bath! Soot and water form a sticky substance which is not easy to extricate from plumage, but with gentle teasing, the dedicated hospital staff were able to coax a little of the glutinous substance out of Sooty’s feathers.

Bath time begins

Bath time begins

It quickly became apparent that there was no quick fix for the problem and that the washing process would have to be repeated several times in order for Sooty to regain his natural colouring. After five gentle, painstaking bathing sessions, a Little Owl emerged from the blackness and Sooty was thence on the road to recovery and rehabilitation.

… but "I hope that’s the LAST bath I’ll need!"

… but "I hope that’s the LAST bath I’ll need!"

Starting to feel better already!

Starting to feel better already!

Having been “out of action" for a week or two whilst being cleaned, Sooty then spent a couple of weeks in our rehabilitation aviaries in order to build up body condition and strengthen his flight muscles. On 4th. December his rescuers will return to the sanctuary to collect him for release back into his familiar habitat.

I AM a Little Owl!!

I AM a Little Owl!!

Since the recent downturn in temperatures, this may be a pertinent time to suggest extra vigilance (and chimney sweeping) before striking up the stove again!

More young falconers

At S.O.S. we spend a considerable amount of time and human resources on outreach work, engaging with the younger generation and hoping to inspire a life long interest in conservation in future naturalists.

Through a number of channels youngsters are educated about the role that owls and other birds of prey play in our eco-system and their necessity as indicators of the health of native habitat.

During school term time, falconers and avian ambassadors spread the conservation message in classrooms across the whole of Suffolk. Children can either enjoy hour long workshop sessions in the classroom in the company of the birds or free whole school “taster” assemblies.

During the long summer holiday, the sanctuary likes to keep in touch with its young supporters and offer a little extra holiday excitement in the form of its Young Falconers’ Course. This special half day event enables youngsters aged 10 to 14yrs. of age to spend some exclusive time with a falconer as they try their hand at some falconry orientated activities.

Only four youngsters are booked into each course in order that everyone receives optimum instruction and plenty of “hands on” flying time with the owls.

The morning runs from 9.30a.m. until approximately 12.15p.m. and the itinerary takes this form:

* Talk the Talk! - a brief tour of the aviaries to familiarise themselves with the Sanctuary's owls and other birds of prey.

* Equipped for the Job - learning about the equipment used in falconry, trying their hand at making jesses and take their masterpiece home.

* Walk the Walk! - flying owls and other birds of prey under a falconer’s instruction.

* A Lasting Memento - taking part in a group photo with your fellow falconers and one of your new avian acquaintances.

* Expert Tuition - taking a front row seat at the flying display and seeing how, with a few years of practice, their newfound skills can be developed into a spectacular performance!

Shhhhh! Do Not Disturb

There are many aspects to the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary’s mission statement - although primarily concerned with the treatment and rehabilitation of injured wild owls and other birds of prey, with educational outreach work and with raising the conservation status of owls, all of the sanctuary's additional interests and operations are similarly firmly rooted in ecological awareness.

For several years, our pretty Woodland Walk has provided a secluded and densely canopied retreat for a small colony of red squirrels. These extremely pretty and sensitive creatures are of particular interest to many of the sanctuary’s visitors and, although they can be elusive at times of heavy footfall, it is extremely satisfying to eventually catch a glimpse of these delicate and beautiful animals..

A pair of Red Squirrel 'kits' enjoy a snooze...

A pair of Red Squirrel 'kits' enjoy a snooze...

The red squirrel is one of the rarest of the U.K.'s woodland mammals. The single biggest factor in its decline in the 1970s and ‘80s was the increase of the American grey squirrel population. 

The larger grey squirrel is more robust than the red, competes successfully for food resources and (as a carrier) has resistance to squirrel pox virus which is fatal for the red squirrel. Greys can feed more efficiently in broadleaved woodlands and can survive at densities of up to 8 per. hectare, compared to the reds’ survival density of 1 per. hectare.

In the wild, red squirrels also have to contend with predators - significantly the Goshawk and other birds of prey and pine martens. In the urban areas of the island of Jersey, domestic cats are a also threat to red squirrels feeding in gardens. It is for these reasons that when young have been successfully raised at the owl sanctuary, they are donated to a protected breeding programmes like the one operated on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales.

Tufty, one of our mature Red Squirrels, has been the  mainstay of our colony for many years

Tufty, one of our mature Red Squirrels, has been the
mainstay of our colony for many years

As an island, Anglesey offers a unique location from which grey squirrels can be excluded to the advancement of red colonies. The Red Squirrel Trust Wales is continually working to eradicate  remaining grey squirrels and to improve habitat for native reds.

Red squirrels are solitary animals, only coming together to breed, although related family members will happily share a drey for warmth during cold winter months. Contrary to popular belief, they do not hibernate, though they do lay down stores of food to see them through lean times. They have a varied diet and enjoy seeds, buds, flowers, leaves and fruit. They are also known to take insects, birds eggs and fungi, which are collected and dried by wedging between tree branches.

Red squirrels build nests called dreys from sticks and moss placed high up in the branches of trees. The drey is often the first noticeable sign of red squirrels under a forest canopy - other signs to look out for are chewed pine cone cores (birds leave pecked, ragged remains), split hazel nut shells (dormice gnaw a hole and extract the kernel), cut tree shoots and scattered droppings.

Home sweet homes - our colony make dreys in the fork of
tree branches and
in the sanctuary’s tree-top squirrel tunnels

 

On Anglesey, wooden nestboxes have also been used successfully to protect and monitor red squirrels whilst raising young. Between 2001 and 2008, 60 boxes were regularly used by released red squirrels.  The boxes were provided filled with hay, to which the squirrels added their own “personalised” mix of dry moss, soft strips of bark, grass, foliage and twigs.

Red squirrels produce 3 or 4 young called kittens in the Spring and can sometimes have a second litter around July. Around 30% of kittens survive to adulthood and are weaned off their mother’s milk after 8 - 12 weeks, when they have developed a complete set of teeth!

The Suffolk Owl Sanctuary strives to offer visitors a unique opportunity to appreciate these sensitive and beautiful mammals at close quarters in spacious, naturalistic enclosures linked by treetop tunnels. The best way to approach their accommodation is….QUIETLY!! So, if it appears that nobody is at home when you visit their woodland quarters, our advice would be: Shhhh... do not disturb!!!

Many hands...

The Suffolk Owl Sanctuary is extremely lucky to receive help from a very dedicated band of volunteers… throughout all the seasons of the year! Without volunteer help, the falconry team would be unable to maintain the outstanding welfare and visitor standards which are the hallmark of the centre.

Supporters who are pet owners will know only too well how labour intensive and time consuming the essential care of any creature is… multiply that by 80 and you have a mammoth task which can only be managed with regular, reliable assistance.

We are continually indebted to many individuals who give up their free time to help to ensure that the sanctuary’s facilities are maintained in tip top condition. On occasion, we are also fortunate enough to receive practical help “en masse” from groups interested in donating time and skills to charities in general or our charity in particular.

This week we welcomed just such a very sweet offer of help from an enthusiastic group - from Lindt Chocolate, no less! Team leader Jackie introduced a seven-strong band of workers who proved willing to turn their hands to any task and so they were immediately equipped with rakes, buckets and sponges for a cleaning session down in the breeding aviaries.

They’re smiling now, but wait till they see the next aviary!!

They’re smiling now, but wait till they see the next aviary!!

As the name implies, these aviaries are used for birds to lay eggs and produce progeny in seclusion and with as little disturbance as possible. As a result, this special suite of aviaries had not been subject to the sanctuary’s usual stringent cleaning regime for the duration of the breeding season.

“Cleaning”, therefore, does not quite convey the true magnitude of the cleansing necessary after birds of prey have resided in this accommodation for several weeks rearing young! Nevertheless, the Lindt team proved to be a zealous and ebullient workforce and they powered through the “litter” in double quick time! In fact, our falconry team who were manufacturing new perches to refurbish the clean aviaries, had quite a task keeping up with them!

The team sped through the chores in double-quick time!

 

Particular mention must be made here of Louise, who travelled all the way from Northern Ireland to take part in this working party and returned thence after a sleepover in Suffolk… had she known she would be scraping “litter” off walls, she may have had second thoughts!

The Lindt BDT team, as this volunteer group is called, are a fun, hardworking and dedicated band who take great pride in their charity work, organising such working parties twice every year. The sanctuary is truly indebted to them for their generosity of time, industry and spirit and hope that they also enjoyed their “down time” after chores, handling some of the centre’s resident owls and sharing some intimate moments with the meerkats!!

Ethics Unwrapped

Every year, representatives of the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary staff take part in a meeting with the local veterinary surgeon and trustees in order to review the ethical premise on which the Sanctuary’s mission statement stands. This Ethics Meeting is fundamental to our standards of practice and it’s consequent application of procedures.

The eagle lawn offers a protected environment in  the fresh air by day adjacent to warm, dry  accommodation by night to foster optimum eagle health.

The eagle lawn offers a protected environment in
the fresh air by day adjacent to warm, dry
accommodation by night to foster optimum eagle health.

Although the care and welfare of the resident owls and other birds of prey and wild injured hospital admissions take priority in an ethical context, health and safety reviews and public safety issues are also of necessary concern in a facility which welcomes visitors almost every day of the year.

It's impossible to relate the whole gamut of discussion here but our supporters make like to be aware of the proceedings, which hopefully convey the ethical awareness and integrity which underpin all aspects of the sanctuary’s work.

Aviaries for our display birds are spacious and apposite to their needs

Aviaries for our display birds are spacious and apposite to their needs

The care of all birds, whether captive bred residents or wild injured hospital patients, depends upon adherence to comprehensive, correct procedures and the improvement or amendment of these procedures when pertinent.

Existing protocol for bird care includes:

  • daily health checks for all sick and recuperating birds
  • visual daily checks of resident aviary birds
  • maintenance of daily record sheets for extra care of sick birds
  • maintenance of progeny rearing record sheets
  • maintenance of aviary cleaning record sheets
  • feedcharts for the close monitoring of individual bird diets
  • weight charts for daily monitoring of flying team condition
  • maintenance of hospital medication sheets
  • date rotation and monitoring of hospital supplies and medication…

to name but a few!!

Our Raptor Hospital provides medication, first aid and  post-op care & recuperation for wild birds of prey

Our Raptor Hospital provides medication, first aid and
post-op care & recuperation for wild birds of prey

A responsible approach to the breeding of progeny is also upheld - birds are not bred for financial gain and breeding is dedicated to the sanctuary’s participation in the wider context of rare breed conservation.

For example, this year a beautiful example of the Ashy Faced Owl has been acquired - a species forecast to face extinction within the next 20 years, without the support of captive breeding programmes and the educational amplification of its situation. Similarly, working in partnership with other conservation agencies, the sanctuary hopes to also play a part in developing dwindling populations of the Philippine Scops Owl and the Honey Buzzard.

We plan to find a mate for our new Ashey Faced Owl -  if they breed this will provide new bloodlines  and stock to aid re-population

We plan to find a mate for our new Ashey Faced Owl - 
if they breed this will provide new bloodlines
and stock to aid re-population

To this end, co-operation with other agencies employed in the conservation of birds of prey is recognised as essential - by actively working with breeding programmes and loaning stock to maintain healthy bloodlines, real advances can be made in the conservation status of many species.

Specialist handling and/or environment is also recognised as a necessity for several bird of prey species, for example Sparrow-hawks, Ospreys, Goshawks and Harriers. These birds, with more specific needs are of great educational importance and make interesting additions to the visitor experience, but require custom built housing and special diet - both of which the Sanctuary aims to provide.

In every instance, falconry staff endeavour to replicate a natural environment for the birds, both physically and mentally, allowing and encouraging natural behaviours and pairing birds wherever availability of stock and temperament of individuals allows. 

For example, recent renovation of the Red Kite aviaries reflects how such considerations impact on aviary design; whilst a spacious and naturalistic environment must be visually accessible to visitors, accommodation must also retain a feeling of remoteness and protection from close contact for the birds.

The aviary for Red Kites has perches shaped to their needs and aviary design free from hindrance so they have  room to stretch their wings when not in display

The aviary for Red Kites has perches shaped to their needs
and aviary design free from hindrance so they have
room to stretch their wings when not in display

Therefore a hatch has been built into one end of this new aviary, allowing the birds to take flight out to the display ground independently - quite a spectacle for visitors and a welcome freedom from constraint for the birds. A feeding hatch at the rear of the aviary allows for feeding by “invisible” staff and an innovation for introducing water into the Kites' bath without trespass into their territory has been established.

Goshawks are also recognised as a species requiring extra care - they receive a strictly regulated diet and are provided with special perches and tail guards to protect feathers during confinement to aviaries.


With regard to the accommodation of visitors, the sanctuary staff strive to:

* maintain public safety at all times

* address additional public needs to this end e.g. braille overlays on signage, wheelchair accessible picnic tables, wheelchair accessible playground equipment, raised flower beds.

* provide clear signage outlining safety protocol

* provide trained first aid assistance by accredited staff

* maintain an accident book

* conduct risk assessments regularly

All of these initiatives hopefully fulfil the centre’s obligation to both birds and visitors, to provide a natural, safe, clean, stimulating and healthy environment in which raptors and humans may experience each other at close quarters without causal stress or intimidation.

Spacious, naturalistic aviaries benefit the birds whilst clear  signage, safety barriers and level paths assist visitors .

Spacious, naturalistic aviaries benefit the birds whilst clear
signage, safety barriers and level paths assist visitors
.

The centre is inspected annually by Mid Suffolk & Babergh District Council and every six months by a local veterinary surgeon and avian specialist. In this context, the current status of the ethical standards of the sanctuary have been adjudged as above and beyond expectations for an establishment of our size.

We hope that visitors will continue to enjoy all aspects of the Sanctuary’s work, safe in the knowledge that it is built upon aspirational foundations of integrity and ecological awareness.

SOS gets a helping hand...

Talented artist Patrick raised funds for the  Sanctuary by selling his paintings and drawings.

Talented artist Patrick raised funds for the
Sanctuary by selling his paintings and drawings.

The Suffolk Owl Sanctuary is hugely indebted to every one of its generous supporters who consistently donate funds, ensuring that its hospital's treatment and rehabilitation work, conservation programmes and educational outreach work can continue.

It’s body of supporters includes a huge diversity of individuals and groups of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds. They are all motivated by one common interest - their passion for wildlife in general and owls in particular!

The sanctuary was recently lucky enough to receive a large and hard earned donation from one of its youngest fundraisers - eight year old Patrick Hagan.

Patrick attends St. Edmund’s Primary School in Hoxne and enjoys Art and P.E. His greatest loves are dogs and owls and it was whilst out walking in the countryside with his family dog, Miller, that he was inspired to undertake a project to raise money for owl conservation.

Patrick decided to utilise his artistic talents for the cause close to his heart and undertook something of an artistic marathon in order to raise funds! He set to work to build a portfolio of paintings and drawings which he was then able to sell to family and friends and in only a few months raised an astonishing £50.00!

This he generously gifted to the owl sanctuary to assist with the costs involved in the treatment and rehabilitation of wild injured owls admitted to the centre's raptor hospital. 

The whole falconry team were extremely impressed by all Patrick's hard work and hugely touched by his selfless gesture in donating the proceeds to the work of its charity. Patrick made a special trip to the sanctuary to present the funds he had raised in person and they were graciously received by falconer Liz and Spirit the Barn Owl. Patrick, his Mum and brother spent the rest of the morning enjoying the Sanctuary’s birds and flying display.

In recognition of his fantastic achievement, Patrick received a free owl adoption and an annual pass to the sanctuary for himself and his family. In the artist’s own words “I enjoyed raising money for the owls and hope to do something again soon…”

Thank you once again Patrick, from all the staff and birds of the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary!

Spirit the Barn Owl and Liz the falconer say a big “Thank You” to Patrick for his generous donation.

Spirit the Barn Owl and Liz the falconer say a big “Thank You” to Patrick for his generous donation.

Falconers of the Future

yfclogo.jpg

At S.O.S. we spend a considerable amount of time and human resources on outreach work, engaging with the younger generation and hoping to inspire a life long interest in conservation in future naturalists.

Through a number of channels youngsters are educated about the role that owls and other birds of prey play in our eco-system and their necessity as indicators of the health of native habitat.

During school term time, falconers and avian ambassadors spread the conservation message in classrooms across the whole of Suffolk. Children can either enjoy hour long workshop sessions in the classroom in the company of the birds or free whole school “taster” assemblies.

During the long summer holiday, the sanctuary likes to keep in touch with its young supporters and offer a little extra holiday excitement in the form of its Young Falconers’ Course. This special half day event enables youngsters aged 10 to 14yrs. of age to spend some exclusive time with a falconer as they try their hand at some falconry orientated activities.

Only four youngsters are booked into each course in order that everyone receives optimum instruction and plenty of “hands on” flying time with the owls.

The morning runs from 9.30a.m. until approximately 12.15p.m. and the itinerary takes this form:

  • Talk the Talk! - a brief tour of the aviaries to familiarise themselves with the Sanctuary's owls and other birds of prey.
  • Equipped for the Job - learning about the equipment used in falconry, trying their hand at making jesses and take their masterpiece home.
  • Walk the Walk! - flying owls and other birds of prey under a falconer’s instruction.
  • A Lasting Memento - taking part in a group photo with your fellow falconers and one of your new avian acquaintances.
  • Expert Tuition - taking a front row seat at the flying display and seeing how, with a few years of practice, their newfound skills can be developed into a spectacular performance!
Participants in our most recent Young Falconers Course proved to be an enthusiastic bunch, eager to learn about the art of falconry and keen to put theory into practice up on the flying ground.

Participants in our most recent Young Falconers Course proved to be an enthusiastic bunch, eager to learn about the art of falconry and keen to put theory into practice up on the flying ground.

The concentration required to produce a perfect jess was well worth the impressive results that went home with the young falconers and we hope that the insight gained into the life of owls on these unique half day courses may go some way to inspiring a life long passion for wildlife in general and owls and other birds of prey in particular.

For further details on our next courses please ‘phone 0345 680 7897 or see this page on our website.

The Fight Against Frounce

The Suffolk Owl Sanctuary’s Raptor Hospital is busy at all year round, but particularly during the warmer weather.

Not only are the patient numbers swelled by a steady flow of young “branchers” that have fallen out of trees, but adult owl and other bird of prey admissions also tend to peak during the Spring and Summer seasons.

In the main, casualties will have suffered some degree of trauma due to incidents such as chimney falls, flights into windows and road traffic accidents. However, around 10% of cases consistently present with symptoms of bacterial infections or disease.

The commonest, but most virulent of these diseases is called Frounce - a yeast infection of the digestive tract (similar to thrush) caused by a protozoan called trichomonas. This debilitating condition is transmitted to birds of prey through eating pigeon meat, the causal bacteria being present in the crop of a dove or pigeon host.

This is why falconers never feed pigeon meat to their birds and why the raptor hospital is unable to accept avian casualties other than birds of prey - the risk of cross contamination from pigeons, doves or other garden birds to the Sanctuary’s resident population or hospital and recuperating inmates being too great.

Compression in the throat caused by the frounce causes the   throat to swell and the eyes to close

Compression in the throat caused by the frounce causes the throat to swell and the eyes to close

Transmission of the Frounce bacteria occurs by the discharge of bodily fluids, during the feeding of young by adult pigeons and doves through regurgitation. It initially manifests itself by white spots around the mouth or crop of the infected bird, often described by falconers as “cheesy plaques”. If not checked, the infection will then spread into the eyes, throat and brain, the latter always resulting in a fatal outcome.

Regrettably, birds suffering from Frounce do not usually arrive at the raptor hospital until they have become so debilitated that their normal functions have become compromised. An infected bird will be unable to hunt efficiently or eat enough to maintain health and condition - it is at this point that they are brought to the hospital for treatment. Frounce is a particularly insidious infection which is difficult to treat once well established, however, there is some chance of a successful outcome if treatment with antibiotics can be initiated early in the developmental cycle of the infection i.e. before it is so entrenched as to prohibit eating and swallowing.

The Tawny Owl admitted to the raptor hospital with classic “cheesy plaque" symptoms of Frounce

The Tawny Owl admitted to the raptor hospital with classic “cheesy plaque" symptoms of Frounce

Just last week a Tawny Owl suffering from Frounce was admitted to the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary’s raptor hospital.  Although lacking in energy and condition, the owl appeared to be relatively fit and alert: an initial assessment revealed the presence of the infection in the bird’s throat and a course of antibiotics was started immediately.  Luckily, the disease did not appear to have spread further, so the prognosis for this Frounce case seemed cautiously positive! The owl now seems to be gaining strength and its condition is improving daily, with the infection stabilised and in the next few days staff hope to see the Frounce markedly subside and the bird’s recovery gain momentum.

Footnote:

Frounce is by no means a “modern” disease and falconers have been forced to contend with its devastating effects for centuries. The National Geographic News recently carried an article shedding new light on parasitic evolution, alluding specifically to the history of the trichomonas organism :

“After surviving countless battles, a giant T.Rex was ultimately taken down by a microscopic parasite akin to one carried by modern pigeons. This finding is a new interpretation of multiple holes in the jawbone of “Sue” the largest and most  complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil yet found. In a new study researchers …propose that the holes are lesions made by an ancient version of trichomonosis, a single-celled parasite that infects the throats and beaks of modern birds”.

This research appears to explore the possibility that this pernicious disease has actually been decimating bird and animal populations for millions of years. Let us hope that a fuller understanding of the nature of trichomonosis may lead to the development of more efficacious treatments for owls and other birds of prey in the future.

The Five Freedoms

At S.O.S. we are constantly endeavouring to upgrade and improve accommodation and facilities to uphold the highest standards of avian welfare.

In order that accredited standards of husbandry are adhered to, the Sanctuary has adopted what are known as "The Five Freedoms" as the fundemental benchmarks for the monitoring and assessment of our facilities and the procedures that it employs.

In 1965, a UK government report on livestock husbandry highlighted discrepancies in animal welfare standards in the context of intensively farmed animals.

This was known as the Brambell Report after Professor Roger Brambell, who led the investigation into conditions on livestock farms.

The report’s conclusion stated that every intensively farmed animal should…..”at least have sufficient freedom of movement to be able, without difficulty, to turn around, groom itself, stand up, lie down and stretch its limbs.”

The sanctuary takes pride in it’s high animal welfare standards - spacious, naturalistic aviaries = physical and emotional bird health.

The sanctuary takes pride in it’s high animal welfare standards - spacious, naturalistic aviaries = physical and emotional bird health.

As a result of this report, the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee was created to monitor the livestock sector. This evolved into the Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1979 and Brambell’s Five Freedoms became central to it’s recommendations for farm animal welfare standards.

The Five Freedoms benchmark has since been adopted by numerous professional groups including veterinary surgeons, the R.S.P.C.A. and the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary is proud to add it’s name to the body of animal welfare providers aspiring to it's recommendations.

THE FIVE FREEDOMS.

Today, the Five Freedoms are currently expressed as:

  1. Freedom from hunger or thirst - by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
     
  2. Freedom from discomfort - by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting place
     
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease - by prevention or by rapid diagnosis and treatment.
     
  4. Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour - by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
     
  5. Freedom from fear and distress - by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

A proper Charlie joins the team - UPDATED

The Suffolk Owl Sanctuary welcomes any opportunity to add to the diversity of its resident bird population - not only does this enrich the visitor experience, it also expands the knowledge of the falconry staff.

Although this usually means acquiring a new owl or other bird of prey, on occasion other interesting avians might be acquired to increase the variety of the birds on show. A recent addition has proved to be just such an asset to the team - our new Raven, Rey (nee Charlie), arrived at the sanctuary in May and quickly settled into her new custom built aviary.

Meet Rey (nee Charlie) - intelligent, sharp-eyed and with a wonderful luxuriant black plumage

Meet Rey (nee Charlie) - intelligent, sharp-eyed and with a wonderful luxuriant black plumage

Ravens are the largest of the crow (Corvus) family and extremely clever and adaptable, able to live in any climate, from the Arctic to the deserts of North Africa. They are extremely territorial birds and will display aggressive behaviour towards other birds trespassing on their “patch”.

In the wild, a raven’s lifespan is generally around 10-15 years, but in captivity, with protection from predators and disease, they can live for 30 to 40 years.

Although the collective noun for ravens is an “unkindness” this is not a true refection of their nature and they will loyally pair for life.

Charlie’s elegant, lustrous plumage and inquisitive nature have proved an instant hit with visitors. She is a clever bird with a large character and her antics can keep children and adults equally entertained! Due to her intelligence, it is necessary to provide articles for enrichment in her aviary, so, unlike the bird of prey aviaries, Charlie’s is well equipped with bell, toys and mirror!

Rey likes to spend time at the mirror  before meeting her public!

Rey likes to spend time at the mirror
before meeting her public!

Ravens are also excellent mimics and can copy many of the sounds of their environment… including human speech, so visitors may want to watch their Ps and Qs!! It is believed that individual birds can gather between 15-30 different calls which can travel over a great distance - Charlie’s voice will doubtless be heard all over the sanctuary! Even in the wild, ravens will engage in play (such as sliding down snowy banks!) and will hoard shiny objects such as small stones and pieces of metal - a behaviour designed to impress other ravens!

One of the sanctuary’s falconers will be working closely with Charlie over the next few months, acclimatising her to her new environment and ensuring that she feels familiar and comfortable with her new handler in order for a new training programme to begin.

By next summer, it is hoped that Rey will be demonstrating the fascinating and complex character of birds of the Corvus genus in general and of ravens in particular both in public flying displays and within her own accommodation!

Charlie demonstrating her skilful beak/eye co-ordination - and she's a great one for picking her toys up and throwing them around the aviary!

Charlie demonstrating her skilful beak/eye co-ordination - and she's a great one for picking her toys up and throwing them around the aviary!

UPDATE: Strange but True Department. After a few months at the Sanctuary, we noticed that 'Charlie' tended to get a little agitated when visitors opened the conversation with 'Hello Charlie!" Someone suggested that it may be a reaction to the name - Charlie - so we changed it to 'Rey' - and she's been fine ever since.

Top School pays us a visit!!

At S.O.S. we're not only committed to our various schemes which focus on the care & conservation of wild owls & other birds of prey - we're also immersed in the education of the next generation of wildlife guardians through its work with local schools and colleges and offer a wide range of educational activities designed to inspire children of all ages to investigate wildlife in general and conservation questions in particular.

To this end, falconers are happy to travel out to regional schools with a variety of birds, presenting children with their first opportunity to experience an owl or other bird of prey at close quarters.

Alternatively, school parties are welcomed into the sanctuary to spend a day amongst the falconers and birds, discovering answers to all the Why?/ What?/ When? questions posed by the natural world and an owl’s place within it.

This week, one of our local schools paid such a visit…..and had a surprise in store for the falconers! In the weeks preceding their visit, the whole school had explored the value of “Service”. Willow Class had decided to demonstrate their understanding of "service to a charity" by working extremely hard with their teacher to raise funds for their chosen cause.

The enterprising children from a local school met Aukland,  the Boobook Owl during their recent visit - despite the terrible weather (and the ever-present danger of falconer Dean showing his knees) everyone seemed to have a good time!

The enterprising children from a local school met Aukland, 
the Boobook Owl during their recent visit - despite the terrible weather (and the ever-present danger of falconer Dean showing his knees) everyone seemed to have a good time!

Having dreamt up some inventive ways to raise money, the whole class had indulged in a Chocolate Bingo session and suffered the agonies of a Sponsored Silence! As a direct consequence, the birds currently in the care S.O.S. became the lucky recipients of their generosity and a large donation cheque was presented to Auckland, the Boobook Owl and Dean the falconer.

The school spent the rest of the VERY wet day meeting the birds in the flying team and learning about the important role owls play in our domestic ecosystem, as indicators of the health of our countryside. Owls and other birds of prey from other parts of the world were also introduced and the day to day work of the sanctuary and its hospital facilities explained. The adoption team was very popular and the children elected to adopt three birds on their visit - Lily the Little Owl, Bug the Tawny Owl and Odin, the Peregrine Falcon.

ITMA (ask your grandad) - Dean and Aukland together accept a very generous donation raised through the  extra-ordinary efforts of a class from a local school.   Thank you, guys - you did us proud!!

ITMA (ask your grandad) - Dean and Aukland together
accept a very generous donation raised through the
extra-ordinary efforts of a class from a local school.  
Thank you, guys - you did us proud!!

Despite the awful weather, our resident family of meerkats did not fail to entertain, and a close look at the red squirrels was also a “first” for many children, but sadly, torrential rain necessitated an early retreat back to school, but all the staff and birds at the sanctuary look forward to welcoming Willow Class back to the centre on a drier, more comfortable day!!

Meanwhile we would like to thank the school once again for the very generous donation and all the hard work,organisation and planning that the enthusiastic of these enthusiastic schoolchildren necessitated.

Rescue Update!

The Suffolk Owl Sanctuary’s Raptor Hospital has been bursting at the seams for the last couple of months!

Baby birds which have fallen out of trees (branchers) have been swelling the usual patient numbers and placing quite a strain on resources: more birds in the hospital also means more birds in rehab and more birds being hacked out as they acclimatise to life back in the wild!

They look angelic, don't they? But the four young tawnies,  who arrived with us as bedraggled heaps, will so be taking to the skies when old enough to fend for themselves

They look angelic, don't they? But the four young tawnies, 
who arrived with us as bedraggled heaps, will so be taking to the skies when old enough to fend for themselves

Luckily, as young owls grow rapidly and generally recover well from initial accidents with warmth, food and rest, normal service is resumed quite quickly in the hospital ward, as casualties recover, mature and are returned to their natural habitat.

After initial assessment and treatment, patients gradually regain weight and condition to the point where they can be transferred to a rehabilitation aviary. In this spacious, quiet accommodation the recovering birds can regain flight confidence and increase muscle tone and strength. 

Eventually, the falconers will deem these birds fit enough to reside in a hack box at one of several secluded, peaceful sites local to the sanctuary. Here, recovered birds can take their first tentative flights out into the natural environment , whilst having a secure, protected roost and regular food supply to return to until they take the final flight out into the wild.

Several birds are currently ready to make this transition - birds that we have already reported on in our blogs and whose progress regular readers have been able to follow. In particular a family of tiny Little Owl quintuplets which were exposed to the elements during renovation works at a local farm. As you may have read in a previous blog, workmen found the family after removing the barn roof, by which time the parent birds had been frightened away from their young.

Dubbed the “Famous Five” the tiny progeny were brought to the Raptor Hospital and found to be cold and hungry, but otherwise robust, the parent birds having done an excellent job of raising them so far. The quins grew RAPIDLY and after only a few weeks of warmth, food and general TLC are now established in rehab and ready for hacking out!

Remember these guys….?

Remember these guys….?

… well, in just over a month the Famous Five are fit and ready to fly the coop

… well, in just over a month the Famous Five are fit and ready to fly the coop

Four young Tawny Owls are also ready to move on to pastures new, having been transformed from tiny, wet bedraggled scraps to strong, fit adult birds displaying handsome adult plumage. The Tawnies were received into the hospital as separate “branching out” casualties, a few days apart, but have recovered and matured together into a closely bonded group which will hack out together shortly.

Three Little Owls blown from their nest site when a branch fell from their tree will also be moving on to the rehabilitation facilities soon, having rapidly improved in size and condition.

Although the sanctuary staff always try to return wild recovered birds to the territory from whence they came, this is not always possible for their own safety. However, our team use their experience to release these birds in remote areas where establishing their own territory and pairing with partner within a few days of leaving the hack site to produce progeny of their own next Spring stands a more than fair chance of success.

Without the continuing generosity of its supporters, the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary could not continue to offer such effective long term treatment and care to all the wild injured owls and other birds of prey admitted to its hospital.

We hope that these reports of successful outcomes for large numbers of the birds in our care are proof positive of the very real difference that your generous donations make to the conservation of these magnificent species.

THANK YOU!

New Kids on the Block

We are always looking for opportunities to increase the diversity of our educational resources with new owls and other birds of prey. Increasing the variety of birds on show not only enriches the visitor experience, it also widens the bird knowledge of the falconers.

All raptors play an essential role in the ecological system and by introducing visitors to as many species as possible the sanctuary hopes to highlight the conservation status of specific birds within the wider context of global protection issues.

To this end, one or two new 'foreigners' arrive at the sanctuary every Spring from a variety of captive breeding programmes throughout the U.K. This year has seen the historic arrival of Rocky, a three week old Turkey Vulture Tura, a baby Siberian Eagle Owl and Taino, a four week old Ashy Faced Owl both bred locally.

When these three youngsters arrived, they first took up residence in the falconers’ hut, in order to acclimatise them to living in close proximity to humans for the first few weeks of their lives. As they will be presented to the public in displays during their time with us, this experience is essential for the birds to “imprint" on the falconers, rather than on a parent bird as they would in the wild. In this process, the falconers become the focus of the birds’ attention and be recognised as their primary food source in order for them to become amenable to training when they are mature.

Taino, the Ashy Faced Owl - who we introduced you to a few weeks ago - has now started his flight training in earnest, The first step encouraging a bird to fly to the glove is to fit it with soft leather anklets.

Once the bird has become accustomed to these gentle accoutrements, leather jesses can be attached. Jesses are leather straps which allow the falconer to hold the bird on the fist and the means by which a creance, or long line can be attached to the bird in the early stages of its training.

Now twelve weeks old, Taino is already flying confidently on the creance, allowing her the chance to familiarise herself with the environs of the flying ground - her future flight arena. She has also visited several schools in the local area and her endearing appearance and genial nature are quickly establishing her as a popular ambassador for the sanctuary.

Young Taino sporting his new anklets, oversized and made from the softest and most pliable leather so that they do not hurt his legs

Young Taino sporting his new anklets, oversized and made from the softest and most pliable leather so that they do not hurt his legs

Tura, the Siberian Eagle Owl will soon commence a similar training programme, with trust and confidence being theessential elements for her rapid progression from a gangly, fluffy baby to an elegant, awe inspiring adult. Like Taino, Tura will take eventually part in the thrice daily flying demonstrations at the sanctuary, through which visitors can learn about the characteristics, habitat and current status of her species as well as experiencing the thrill of her flying at close quarters!


 

Tura, the Siberian Eagle Owl “chick” is rapidly  maturing into an elegant and powerful bird

Tura, the Siberian Eagle Owl “chick” is rapidly
maturing into an elegant and powerful bird

As the baby of the trio, Rocky the Turkey Vulture can look forward to several weeks relaxing in the falconers hut before being called upon to do any work! At the moment this large white ball of fluff is only recognisable as one of his species, by his iconic bald head. By full maturity, his plumage will have turned brown and his head and feet a striking shade of red.

Rocky the Turkey Vulture already displays the iconic vulture face - this will change colour as he matures.

Rocky the Turkey Vulture already displays the iconic vulture face - this will change colour as he matures.

Unlike Black Vultures,Turkey Vultures almost never attack living prey in the wild: their chief form of sustenance is carrion and their amazing sense of smell, accommodated by their large nostrils, can pinpoint dead prey from half a mile away. Their reputation as scavengers is underscored by the way they feed: not being equipped with an efficient “tearing” beak, they will wait for Black Vultures to open a carcass and then move in to feed secondarily.

Turkey Vultures were threatened by the side effects of DDT in the past, but captive breeding programmes in their native North America have elevated them to their status as one of the most common large carnivorous birds in North America.

We hope that visitors to the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary will be inspired to increase their awareness of the current conservation issues facing all birds of prey through their close encounters with Tura, Rocky and Taino.

Having a Swinging Time

The tools of the falconer’s trade - lure and creance

The tools of the falconer’s trade - lure and creance

An exciting element of the thrice daily flying displays here is the demonstration of lure swinging provided by the falconers and their birds.

A lure is a small prey dummy that is attached to a long line,or creance, allowing it to be swung and, thus, animated by the falconer. To a falcon, the lure represents food and in order to win the food, he must interact with and compete with the falconer.

For visitors to the sanctuary, this interplay between man and bird offers an opportunity to observe the incredible speed and agility of the falcons and to appreciate their effectiveness as predators at the top of the food chain. For the falconers, it offers a perfect means of exercising the falcons and hawks and ensures that the birds’ fitness levels are maintained.

The basic premise of the activity is to channel the innate hunting instincts of the birds into working effectively with their handlers. Historically, the lure would be designed to imitate prey, as it would be specifically used to train birds to hunt. Although birds are not trained to hunt at the sanctuary, they must still be attracted to the lure to the exclusion of surrounding activity, so the art of swinging the lure is a skill which all the falconry staff must master.

As with many “hands on” skills, lure swingingowes as much to the intuition and sensitivity of the falconer as it does to rigid rules of procedure and although the basics can be learnt relatively quickly, it takes many years for an individual to perfect his own technique. Rhythm, speed, anticipation and control are all essential skills.

The senior falconers prepare to put trainee Harry through his paces

The senior falconers prepare to put trainee Harry through his paces

Many falconers will relate that months of practice in handling the lure, familiarising yourself with its weight and reading the swing of the line are essential before even attempting to work with a bird. Once that's achieved, the falconer swings the lure above his head in a circular motion, luring the bird in to try to catch the “prey”  (known as “binding on”) in a series of breathtaking dives, swerves and flicks. As the bird approaches, the falconer whisks the lure away at the last moment and the bird “passes” and rises again. 

A skilled falconer can lure a bird just an inch over his head, then pass it down by his feet and even to within inches of his face. (Whilst training, the latter manoeuvre is the cause of many a falconers' bruised face…..and pride!)

After a sensational aerial display of stoops andturns, the falconer eventually allows the bird to bind onto the lure and rewards it with food.

Harry takes up position for some swinging practice

Harry takes up position for some swinging practice

The sanctuary’s youngest member of the falconry team, Harry, has recently been introduced to the discipline of lure swinging and his initial session was with April, the Lanner falcon. April was chosen as she was not yet back to full fitness after recuperating from a grazed wing - as Harry acknowledged, a fitter, faster bird “would have taken advantage of me and stolen a quick meal”!

As a novice lure swinger, he was well suited to working with April with whom he felt familiar and confident - as with most creatures, birds can intuitively tell if a handler is nervous and will see an opportunity to gain the upper hand.

During his latest practice session, Harry received helpful advice from more experienced falconers and is well on the way to sharing their responsibilities for conditioning work with the falcons and hawks.

Maiden voyage successfully completed!  April the Lanner falcon mantles over her reward

Maiden voyage successfully completed! 
April the Lanner falcon mantles over her reward

Lure work demonstrated in such close proximity allows visitors an appreciation of the strength, agility, efficiency and highly tuned senses of these magnificent birds of prey and a greater understanding of the essential role they play in the ecological cycle.

Standing Room Only!

Every Spring, the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary’s Raptor Hospital fills up quickly - its regular quota of injured wild owls and other birds of prey is augmented at this time of year by large numbers of baby owls which have fallen from their nests.

Two of the Little Owl triplets blown out of a tree chat about their lucky escape!

Two of the Little Owl triplets blown out of a tree chat about their lucky escape!

Often, these casualties - which are mainly Tawny Owls - have “branched out” prematurely from the roost in preparation for taking flight and have lost their footing. Early morning walkers and their dogs will come across these victims of their own curiosity and if they appear to be too cold or wet to recover, will bring them into the hospital.

Space is therefore in short supply in the hospital ward and extra boxes are being commissioned to cope with the surge in patient numbers.

Luckily, baby owls, once warm and dry, usually recover quickly and their voracious appetites soon equip them with enough sustenance to grow rapidly.

Currently, the hospital is accommodating a family of five Little Owls - casualties of the removal of a barn roof on a local farm - another family of three Little Owls thrown from their nest during a branch fall from the tree they were nesting in, three Tawny Owls - all branchers brought in on separate occasions; and a Little Owl victim of a vicious crow attack.

The latter is a fate quite regularly suffered by owls and other birds of prey. Crows and rooks are quick to pick on a solitary bird, particularly if it has already taken prey, which provides an easy meal for the mobsters! The Little Owl recovering in the hospital sports a nasty bald patch on the back of its head as a result of the crow’s persistent pecking. Luckily that the commotion caused by this incident alerted a passerby to its fate and after a few days of peace, quiet and good food, a dodgy haircut is the only lasting legacy of its predicament!

Those crows have given me such a headache!

Those crows have given me such a headache!

A new haircut for a Little Owl, courtesy of a mobster crow!

A new haircut for a Little Owl, courtesy of a mobster crow!

Birds that have recovered enough to move outside to the rehabilitation aviaries include three road traffic victims - one Common Buzzard, one Tawny Owl and one Barn Owl. The latter has made fantastic progress, having undergone the stress of treatment at a local veterinary practice which involved pinning a broken wing - often too compromising an injury to cope with in a wild bird. Against all the odds, this owl is now building strength and muscle tone in its peaceful, isolatedaccommodation and will be hacked out in the coming weeks to enable its successful return to the wild.

After a stressful time at the vets, the injured  Barn Owl enjoys some peaceful recuperation

After a stressful time at the vets, the injured
Barn Owl enjoys some peaceful recuperation

The Suffolk Owl Sanctuary will always accept injured owls and other raptors into its hospital, however, our general guidelines for action if you find an “orphaned” owl are:

  • If the owlet is not obviously injured and you feel capable, try to replace it from whence it came - this means IN the nest, not just nearby - by dusk of the same day.
     
  • Make sure you have identified the actual nest site accurately - either by watching the parents returning to the nest or by the strong, ammonia-like smell thatidentifies a populated nest.
     
  • Barn Owl nest sites are usually high off the ground so if you can, enlist a friend to help you return the owlet to its roost straight away: unlike Tawnies, Barn Owls generally will not attempt to rescue or feed a chick that has fallen from the next.
     
  • Tawny Owl chicks may look abandoned and vulnerable, but it is usually the case that its parents know exactly where it is - unlike Barn Owls, Tawnies will continue to feed their young on the ground and may not be far away.
     
  • Tawny Owlets are also very capable of climbing back into their tree using their strong beaks and talons - the best course of action is to put it in the branches of a nearby tree, out of the way of predators and vehicles.
     
  • Only ever remove a bird from its territory if you are SURE it is injured (lying on its side or back is an indicator of injury) or obviously abandoned.
     
  • In any dealings that you have with birds, REMEMBER, more birds are killed by shock and the stress of being handled than by injuries!
     
  • Finally, after handling a bird - or indeed any kind of wildlife - ALWAYS wash you hands.

You're Never Too Old!

The owls and other birds of prey at the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary are visited daily by a huge variety of individuals. Mums, Dads, Aunts, Uncles, boys and girls in particular enjoy the spectacular flying displays which offer an unforgettable experience for the whole spectrum of age groups, from a few months old to Grans and Grandads!

Through this close interaction with the birds, a wide range of people become interested in the conservation message that forms the central premise of our work and come to realise the ecological importance of owls and other birds of prey. 

A visit to the sanctuary by a 90 year old supporter brought this breadth of appeal of the sanctuary’s attractions into sharp focus recently. A lifelong interest in owls brought our aged visitor to the centre with her family for a birthday treat and to mark the occasion, staff decided that an intimate meeting with one the centre’s youngest owls would be fitting!

One of our oldest supporters meets one our youngest owls!

One of our oldest supporters meets one our youngest owls!

Taino the Ashy Faced Owl is only 10 weeks old, but already confident enough to sit quietly on the gloved hand of a nonagenarian! Maz, our new General Manager, was happy to chat about this unusual owl, about its place in the eco system, the reasons for its relative rarity and the wider conservation issues concerning owls and other raptors. Weeks of patient training had enabled this young bird to remain calm and unstressed throughout a close encounter of this kind and to build some thrilling memories for one of the sanctuary’s less able supporters.

The welfare of the owls and other birds of prey is always the priority for staff at the centre and our guidelines prescribe that birds are generally not held by members of the public. However, in special circumstances, an occasional exception can be made to this rule for the benefit of a more compromised visitor, with a bird of the appropriate temperament - proof indeed of the old adage that you are never too old to enjoy a new experience! 

Tura's First Walkabout

Tura is a captive-bred Siberian Eagle Owl who - at just 5 weeks old - has just joined the team at S.O.S. She will eventually take part in our flying demonstrations as an example of an impressive bird from beyond our shores, but will first be imprinted - acclimatised to humans - before taking part. Luckily the sun just about shone on us for a little while this Spring Bank Holiday Monday, so we took the opportunity to take her to meet some of our visitors.

What's all this then? Ahh - people!

What's all this then? Ahh - people!

When Matt let her out of the box up at the flying ground, she wasn’t shy to come forward and say hello, running up to and amongst the feet of the crowd, chirping and saying hello to everyone she met on her walkabout of discovery.

When in comes to taking part in the demonstrations, Tura's weight will be a very important factor in regards to how she flies. Eagle owls are the largest species of owl in the world, and the Siberian one of the largest sub species. When we weighed Tura for the first time she came in at 4lb 4oz - the same weight as Pungu, our fully grown Bateleur Eagle - and over the next five weeks of rapid growth, she'll probably reach about 9lb - more than a fully grown Bald Eagle! That’s one big owl! 

Tura meets her public for the first time.

Tura meets her public for the first time.

Compared to a European Eagle Owl, the plumage of the Siberian is much paler and very beautiful. But looks can be deceptive, as in terms of prey in the wild, they are quite capable of catching prey the size of Roe Deer. However, owls are generally very lazy and much prefer to participate in a simpler and less energy-consuming ways of catching smaller prey. This is known as Still Hunting, a method which consists of waiting for prey to walk underneath where they are perched, and then dropping on top of it.  

You can see how Tura's fluffy down is quickly converting to beautiful honey-coloured plumage

You can see how Tura's fluffy down is quickly converting to beautiful honey-coloured plumage

A study was recently undertaken to see how active eagle owls were in the wild, and the results were staggering: female European Eagle Owls were recorded as being active for no more than 8 MINUTES a week, though the males tended to exert themselves hunting a little bit more at 25 minutes each week. At their sorts of flying weights, it's perhaps understandable why the impressive Siberian Eagle Owl chooses to conserve its energy whenever possible!

Famous Five visit Suffolk Owl Sanctuary

During the Spring months, the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary’s raptor hospital becomes a melting pot of casualties! From road traffic accidents, to chimney falls, to window crashes, a whole diversity of injuries needing attention are regularly presented to the hospital staff.

Outweighing the numbers of all these cases, however, are the large numbers of baby owls needing assistance early in life. Most have fallen from nests and are often found by individuals walking their dogs.

A case of quintuplets arriving this morning had a slightly different tale to tell and the brood instantly placed added pressure on the hospital facilities! A builder arrived as the sanctuary opened with the five tiny Little Owl chicks which had unfortunately been disturbed during a barn renovation on a local farm.
Workers had removed the roof from the barn whilst the mother of the brood was absent, exposing her nest of young to the elements.

five-baby-little-owls-large.jpg

The quick thinking gentleman immediately stepped in to protect the babies from further distress or injury and brought them straight down to us. The quins were assessed in the hospital and found to be extremely healthy and well fed - their mother had done a great job looking after them so far and the sanctuary staff were happy to step in to continue supporting this thriving family!

Estimated to be about two weeks old, the babies, though robust, were still quite vulnerable so were immediately placed into a brooder. This will ensure that they enjoy an environment free from draughts and with consistent temperature until they become accustomed to life without a large fluffy mum to keep them warm! True to owl instincts, the quins all displayed voracious appetites and after wolfing down a sizeable meal, snuggled up together to rest.

It is hoped that at about four weeks of age - once eating independently and gaining mature plumage - this owl family will be removed to a specially selected, isolated location to begin the “hacking back” process.
This means that they will reside in a “hack box”, offering protection from predators but with the freedom to come and go at will. During this period they will also be supported with a regular food supply, whilst gaining the hunting skills necessary for survival in the wild.

Normally we would return them to the place from which they were found, but will not do so on this occasion because of all the fuss and kerfuffle at the building site.

We hope to update this story soon with an account of the Little Owl family’s successful reintegration into the Suffolk countryside.

It may be pertinent to point out in this context that, in Britain it is illegal to knowingly disturb the nest of a bird of prey without a valid disturbance licence. Accidental disturbances, as in this case, do unfortunately happen from time to time, however, intentional disturbance is a prosecutable offence carrying a hefty fine.

Welcome to Tura!

At the start of each flying season, the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary staff are always vigilant for an opportunity to increase the range and diversity of the centre's captive bred birds.

The wider the variety of accessible birds, the more bird knowledge visitors can acquire and the deeper their understanding of the conservation issues facing owls and other birds of prey becomes.

A recent addition to the sanctuary is a Siberian Eagle Owl chick - a somewhat misleading moniker as the “chick” arrived at the centre at 4 weeks old and already weighing in at 1lb 5oz! Quite a hefty youngster!

Tura the baby Siberian Eagle Owl attempts to hypnotise the falconer with the food supply!

Tura the baby Siberian Eagle Owl attempts to hypnotise the falconer with the food supply!

Once mature, this owl will fly in one of the thrice daily demonstrations at the sanctuary at a weight of around 9lb and demonstrate its spectacular flying technique and dramatic presence to visitors.

Thought  by many to be the most attractive of the Eagle Owls, the Siberian is lighter in colour than the European eagle Owl with distinctive orangey-yellow eyes.

Although these owls can be found over a wide area in the wild, ranging from central Siberia, throughout the Altai mountains and into Northern Mongolia, they are increasingly scarce and locally endangered, due mainly to hunting.

The new arrival has been named Tura, alluding to the river running through the owl’s native habitat.

The River Tura flows eastwards from the central Ural mountains into the Tobol River and was historically important as the main entry point for goods and travellers into Siberia.

Regular visitors to the sanctuary will be privy to Tura’s gradual training regime which will transform her from a clumsy, awkward youngster into a magnificent and graceful free flying member of the sanctuary “family”.

Tura's downy appearance will soon change into the dramatic   colouring of a fully-fledged bird just beginning to appear

Tura's downy appearance will soon change into the dramatic colouring of a fully-fledged bird just beginning to appear

Initially, she will have soft leather anklets fitted around her legs to enable training to begin - these anklets will be custom made to her own requirements to ensure that they are both comfortable and effective.

Jesses are then attached to the anklets - these leather straps will enable the falconers to hold her gently on the glove whilst acclimatising her to a “free flying” situation.

When she is comfortable to be out on the glove with the falconers, a creance (or long line) will be attached, allowing her to fly freely but securely around the demonstration ground.

Once she is familiar with this territory and flying happily within its perameters, the falconers will allow her to work on her own, with their guidance from a distance.

We trust that Tura’s presence in the displays will serve as a reminder of the impressive and irreplaceable nature of so many of the creatures which are now threatened by human predation.

Aerial Hijack

A photographer from East Anglia recently captured some amazing photographs of an unusual aerial hijack - a Kestrel stealing food from a Barn Owl on the wing! 

The audacious heist was recorded by photographer Chris Skipper over the Norfolk Broads near Wroxham. 

barn-owl--kestrel-o02.jpg

Chris said: ”After watching the Barn Owl spend a good 30 minutes hunting for prey, it was returning to its chicks with food when a Kestrel decided he wanted the kill. The Kestrel just came from out of nowhere and attacked him.”

At first the Barn Owl seemed unaware of the intruder’s presence but before long the Kestrel was attempting to wrench the prey - probably a vole - from the Barn Owl's talons. There was a brief tussle and at one point they both had hold of the prey, but the kestrel eventually won the day. 

barn-owl--kestrel-o05.jpg
barn-owl--kestrel-o04.jpg

Not long after, Chris was able to photograph the Barn Owl out hunting again.

barn-owl--kestrel-o06.jpg

Chris is curator and contributor to the popular Norwich Peregrines website, which showcases his wonderful images of the peregrines who roost and breed in the tower of the city's cathedral. “I try to get down to the cathedral once a week, weather permitting, to keep a digital 'diary' of the peregrines throughout the year.”

If you’d like to see a selection of Chris’s other superb bird photography, visit his website here.

All images © Chris Skipper