First Lady, Second Generation

You must have been a beautiful baby! (not) - one of the new chicks

It is with great excitement that we bring you the news that our European Eagle Owls Rheia and her mate Sam, have managed to hatch two chicks for the first time!

Rheia is a very special bird for us at SOS as she was the first owl that we purchased when the centre opened over 12 years ago -hence her nickname, The First Lady of Stonham. Rheia was hatched on the 1st May 1995 and arrived at the centre as a chick only a few weeks old. As soon as she joined us, the process of “Imprinting” began - a technique whereby the falconer will take the bird under his or her wing, as it were, and replace the parents by manning and feeding the youngster to gain its confidence and make it easier to handle & fly in demonstrations.

The First Lady of Stonham - then & now

And so it went with Rheia for 10 years, up until 2006. However, she then grew into the habit of deciding that it was OK for her to fly a complete demonstration (about 10-15 minutes) for the first part of the year, and thereafter would take off at the start of the display, fly as far as the perch on the highest point of the showground, Eagle Mount, and then sit there happily enjoying the view until deciding to return in her own time. This could be be up to half-an-hour later - a tad disruptive to the proceedings as, being the largest owl on the block, no other birds can be flown safely whilst an Eagle Owl is at large!

So we took that as a message of 'enough is enough' and decided to retire the First Lady to the comfort of her own aviary with Sam for company, where she could survey her favourite views with no interruptions.

A year later - last year - the pair did produce eggs but unfortunately they proved to be infertile. So when we found two very healthy young Eagle Owl chicks in the nest a week or so ago, everyone came running to see the new arrivals. Since then, they have been moved to our incubator room to see them safely through the first part of their upbringing. One of the chicks will be staying with us here at SOS and will be part of our flying team (to replace her Mum) in the near future and we will be running a competition to name him/her - watch this space for further details.

If you'd like to see some of our young birds being fed by hand,
click here.

On the subject of Euros, it has been reported in the news of various known pairs breeding again in the wild in this country, most famously a pair in North Yorkshire that managed to raise 23 young since 1997. Due a lack of evidence, it is unknown where the birds originated.

Whereas the species has been absent from these shores for many years and the return of wild breeding pairs is notable, it is generally accepted that the species was not originally a native to this country. The European Eagle Owl is the largest of all the owl species with some females weighing up to nine pounds and a wingspan of six feet! They inhabit areas from forests to deserts to rocky mountainous areas and like to nest in a hollow on a rock ledge or cave - many will re-use an abandoned eagle nest. On the continent it was seen as a bird of bad luck and ill omen.

With Rheia, however, our feelings are just the reverse.