Pirates of the Skies

Over the last few months we have had many adventures here at SOS as part of our new ‘Activity Days’ programme for children. The latest took the form of a Pirates Day, created to coincide with the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie which went on general release in the UK in May

It proved to be a very popular day with the children who appeared captivated and stimulated by the theme and eager to learn more.

You may be thinking, “What possible connection could there be between Pirates and Birds of Prey?”  

Well, the answer is more simple and straightforward than it seems! “Piracy” is a technique that several raptor species resort to in order to obtain a free meal.  It may not be fair, but in the natural world it is a much easier and more “energy efficient” option to steal someone else's meal rather than go to the trouble of finding your own.

In order to understand this concept in simple terms, you could say that the raptors we studied, were infact 'pirates of the sky.'

The dictionary definition of the word ‘pirate’ refers to human beings who attack and rob other ships at sea, just like ‘Captain Jack Sparrow’ of POTC fame. The raptors we looked at, do a similar thing in the air - they attack and rob other birds of their food!  

There are several raptor species around the world who employ this technique but we decided to focus on some closer to home, those that are located in the UK.  This we were able to do with the help of a man called Brian McFarlane and his collection of amazing photographs.  (Brian has been a great asset to SOS over the years, taking many of the photos that we use in our publicity material - and I would like to say a personal thank you to him for allowing me to use his photographs for educational purposes).

Thanks to Brian, I was able to show the children a series of nine photographs taken over a period of just five seconds, showing a wild Kestrel stealing (or should I say pirating) a meal from a Barn Owl.  A truly remarkable achievement to catch this incredible moment on film.

After that, it was time for the gang of youngsters at Stonham to get down to the real business of becoming a pirate for a day!  In order to do this properly we first had to look the part, and this required the making of pirate hats, which we did with the aid of a few old newspapers.

Once our hats were in place it was then time to make treasure maps, because without the all important map, how would a Pirate ever find the buried treasure?  We had lots of fun making them, and to make it more interesting we even used old fashioned quill pens (feathers dipped in ink) to design them. We were lucky enough to have children of several different nationalities attend our Pirates day, so we also made maps in French and Polish as well as English.

So, with pirate hats, treasure maps and eye patches at the ready it was time to search for Captain Flintlock's Treasure, (a notorious pirate famed for terrorizing the Suffolk Coast).  Well, actually it wasn’t his treasure to begin with, but he was certainly responsible for its theft!

As a Pirate sailing the coastal waters of East Anglia, there was only one treasure that Captain Flintlock was seriously interested in - and that was the famous Anglo Saxon treasure buried in a long-ship at Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge.  (For more details of the Sutton Hoo find go to 

Being named after two of our favourite falcons here at SOS (Flint & Lock), it seems that this particular Salty-Sea Captain had a liking for treasure with a bird of prey theme, especially if it contained beautiful red garnets and was made of ancient 7th century gold.  (See photo at the top of this story). Somehow (and we don’t know exactly how) Captain Flintlock, had managed to steal a single piece of this fabulous treasure and had hidden it away in a treasure chest secretly located somewhere within the grounds of SOS.  

So this became our young adventurers last mission of the day!  To use all their skill and understanding of Birds of Prey to solve Captain Flintlock’s Avian riddles and find the stolen treasure!

You can see just how difficult their mission was when you read just one of Captain Flintlock’s riddles.

Captain flintlock’s  Treasure Hunt

If you want my booty – you first must go

Up the rigging with a Yo, Ho, Ho!

Along the ladder and down the other side

Beside the maze is where I reside

Inside out and upside down

The wheels on the bus go round and round

If you look very closely – then maybe you’ll see

That inside one of these two

Lies clue number three!

Well , much fun was had by all as the day continued and our “Pirates of the Skies” day was especially so, and for many of the children who have previously attended our Activity Days, they thought that it was the best adventure yet!

So if YOU would like to attend any of our free activity days then click here to find out about the whole series, or contact us directly to reserve a place in advance - but please hurry because as numbers are restricted to 16 per day on a first-come, first-served basis. We look forward to seeing you!