John and I took a picnic to the Birds of Prey Centre in Horsham this week. We spent the morning wandering around taking photos, talking to the keepers, admiring the birds, having a laugh with the kookaburra and gazing at the flowers in the garden. We got chatting to Julian, the owner, who works incredibly hard and gives every ounce of his energy to caring for the birds at the Centre. He told us about some of the captive-bred birds of prey he has rescued, like the owl who was tethered in someone’s garden all its life, enduring all weathers and horrible children throwing stones at him, or the hawk who spent the first seven years of its life in a barn and never flew. Sad stories indeed, but happy endings for these proud creatures now cared for at Huxley’s.
Despite the thick dark rain clouds overhead, the weather stayed dry, so we ate on the benches overlooking the well-kept lawn. I had tuna and John had an egg and bacon sarnie which looked rather scrumptious. I was feeling a little impish so I employed one of my ‘stretch and swipe’ techniques, managing to acquire a large piece of bacon, a blob of egg and a crust from John’s sandwich. Good haul! I had to nuzzle around him for several minutes afterwards to get back in his good books, but he was suitably impressed when I bravely fended off a wasp before having my early afternoon nap.
I was awoken at 2.30pm by Huxley the European Eagle Owl hooting at his dad (that’s Julian) as he got ready for the flying displays. We were treated to a whole two hours of flying (pretty darn good for a fiver) and volunteers from the audience helped Julian and his team to fly the birds. I wanted to have a go but the gauntlet (leather glove used in falconry) was too big for my paw and there were concerns for my safety. Something about small mammals and talons! Although John might argue that there’s nothing small about my gluteus maximus!
I opted for staying on my seat whilst we watched Cola the energetic falcon (lanneret) chasing the pigeons from the trees and Neo (another lanneret) fly to a swung lure (leather pad) which represents their airborne prey. Khan (the Harris hawk) played hunting games with a ‘dummy bunny’ (dragged lure for a bird that would normally catch ground game) and the a rather enthusiastic kestrel called Turbo came out and squawked his little head off trying to impress his dad. Mature majestic Marsha (a buzzard found in the Kent marshes) who flew graciously from person to person, not bad for an old girl of 30. Most birds of prey typically live 10 to 15 years in their native environments but can live up to 5 times longer in captivity, thanks to good healthcare, plentiful food and no stress associated with surviving in the wild.
I always leave Huxley’s with a great sense of awe at the dedication shown by Julian and his team. It’s not easy to run smaller zoos like this one with a limited budget and all the registers, insurances, inspections, licenses and other bureaucratic ‘hoops’ they have to jump through. Calm down Shad! Julian has a great sense of humour and was quite cheeky to me during the displays, teasing me because I asked him if birds have teeth! But I can easily forgive such mischief because he loves cats, and has 3 of his own (all rescue of course).
- Shad does Huxley’s Birds of Prey, Horsham (shadthecat.wordpress.com)