Countdown to Flying!

Spring is in the air which - for the birds of the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary - means coming out of the aviaries and back into training for the busy flying season ahead.

Over the winter months the birds which participate in the spectacular summer flying demonstrations relax in their spacious aviaries. They moult and rest after a busy six months illustrating their various aerial characteristics as part of our mission to inform the public at large about the need for the ongoing conservation of similar species in the wild.

New member of staff Mary helps Liz induct a pair of
our Red Kites to the 2016 weight watchers club!

After being left to “do their own raptor thing” over this dormant period, the birds are once again ready to work with the falconers to perfect a dazzling displays for visitors. So far this year, the following birds to have come out of the aviaries: Birkett (Great Horned Owl), Mir (Steppe Eagle), Templeton and Ash (Common Buzzards), April (Lanner Falcon) and Lock (Lannerette).

It takes a matter of weeks to bring a bird back to flying condition and the process starts with addressing some weight issues! The birds’ flying weight is necessarily lower than their dormant weight and their body condition is similarly at variance.

In order for a bird to return to the falconer’s glove it must be hungry and motivated by food, so slimming is on the cards for all the winter couch potatoes!!

Liz cradles Ash, one of our buzzards, in the
comfort of a towel as she fits his new jesses

Once the birds are returned to their slimline form, their flying equipment must be renewed. Each bird will be fitted with soft leather jesses attached to its leg with anklets. A leash can then be fitted to the jesses in order for the bird to sit out on the weatherings waiting to fly, instead of in an aviary.

Catching up the birds to attach their equipment also offers the falconers an opportunity to check the birds’ general condition. If necessary, beaks can be coped and/or talons trimmed.

Coping (or trimming) beaks can be necessary in captive bred birds. In the wild, birds cope their own beaks by breaking open bones and tearing meat from the bones of their prey. In captivity, they do not have this opportunity so, as well as providing material in the aviaries for birds to cope naturally, the falconers must occasionally clip or file a beak into shape. If a beak was left to grow unchecked it could become so long that it would crack, causing the bird considerable pain.

Ash's beak is very carefully filed - if it grew too
long it may split and cause pain to the bird

Once all the flying team birds have passed this annual M.O.T. they are ready to embark on the season’s programme of activities once again.