Topped & Tailed

Stand by for take-off ~ before long our Saker will be back in the air

The first week in February is an exciting time as the falconers at the Centre start to look ahead to the new display season, when many of our birds are flown free to demonstrate to our visitors their many & varied aerial skills. This year, the season begins on Good Friday in mid-April; not as far away as it seems - but hopefully considerably warmer! There's a lot to be done in preparation and first priority is to begin to reclaim some of the display team.

Having had a good rest over the winter months, the first raptors to be reclaimed at SOS were 'Comet', the male Peregrine Falcon and 'Nell', the Saker Falcon. Both Comet and Nell have had an extra long sabbatical from flying, as they both began to moult early at the end of last season (moulting is where raptors drop old feathers to make way for new ones to grow). Now that they have finished their moult, their retraining can begin in earnest.

Initially, once Comet and Nell had been reclaimed, the first thing the falconers did was to place a hood over each bird's head. This helps to keep them nice and calm whilst the rest of the necessary equipment is attached. Next, each bird had an anklet, jess and bell fastened to its leg. The jess is part of a tethering system for attaching the bird to a perch or glove. The bell helps the falconer to keep track of a bird when it's flying free. After this Comet and Nell each had a swivel and leash attached, which helps to prevent them from getting tangled up on their perches.

New jesses & bells are fitted, giving the falconer an aural take on where his charges are!

Whilst the birds are relaxed & quiet, two other important bits of ‘bird m.o.t’ are undertaken - coping, by which any overgrown elements of the beak are gently & carefully filed back so the creature has no difficulty eating; and ‘clipping’, a process where the over-long talons are clipped back. Then comes the important fitting of the 'tailmount', which allows a transmitter to be affixed before the bird is flown free - if one of the falcons suddenly gets a bit of 'wander lust', the falconer can easily keep track of it so that it doesn't get lost.

“Coping” - gently filing away any overgrowth of the beak

Now complete with their various bits of equipment, it was time for Comet and Nell to have their first 'weigh in' - something we all dread post Christmas! Comet weighed in at 1lb, 9.5 oz; just a little on the tubby side - time to cut out the mince pies and start up the exercise regime! Nell weighed 2lb, 4.5 oz - slightly lean for her species, so the weeks ahead will be used to build up her flight fitness.

At last Comet and Nell were ready to put on their perches, where they settled comfortably as though they had never been away.

And so the new falconry year begins!