Back in the Spring an amazing thing happened~I won something on Facebook!OK it wasn’t a Luxury Camper Van (I can’t believe how many people didn’t know that was a scam) but it cheered me up no end. The prize was a voucher for two for a visit to the National Bird of Prey Centre now based at Russborough House in Co.Wicklow. The competition had been run for Mother’s Day and I entered only because I wanted to make a joke…
‘This prize would be great for the Owl Mammy…’ I commented. And I won…
So one sunny day me and the Owl Mammy shot up the M9 for our visit. We were taken around to see the various birds by Tom who give us the low down on each bird, as well as interesting bits of information and anecdotes. There were hawks, owls, kookaburras, and even a South American snake catcher, a Seriema, an amazing creature to see.
The Snowy Owl was impossible cute, like a marble statue, motionless on his perch as he would be in the snows of the Arctic, only the slits of his smiling eyes visible.
Then we were taken to where four owls stood on perches and we were allowed to let them perch on our gloved hands. The Barn Owl was so beautiful, the pattern on the feathers so delicate and the bird itself is so light, all feathers. The arrangement of feathers around the face is to accommodate their hearing , sort of like a hearing trumpet or satellite dish. This one kept wobbling from foot to foot the better to adjust to sounds from different quarters.
I loved this little guy, a white-faced owl, by turns he looked like a pirate and a cat…they also have an inner eyelid of the most startling blue which I caught here..
This guy, a Tawny Owl, was so cute too and kept calling out…
Afterwards we went outside the courtyard to the grasslands that stretched to the horizon, horse-chestnut trees drawing down the sky, to fly one of the Barn Owls, Cupid, named for his heart-shaped face.
Before we left we met young Stanley, a fifteen week old Grey Owl, a real character and live wire~partly due to his species, partly due to his own fabulous personality~as he flew around the reception or perched on the computer monitor, squawking all the while.
It was a lovely experience. All the birds we were introduced to were relaxed and calm. Many of them were hand reared and used to humans. Most of the birds are kept in cages which are spacious and often they are housed with a mate or a friend of another species.
I have to say I feel conflicted when I see animals and birds in captivity but the centre, certainly the day we were there, is quiet and in a beautiful location surrounded by trees and vast fields. The cages as I have said are as spacious as they can be. Many of the birds are very familiar with humans and were out in the open air. When you think of how so many of the wild raptors are killed in this country by poisoning and by shooting, by ignorance really, you realise how necessary these centres are.
They keep birds safe and allow for re population programs. Many birds, like the Hobby, ~thus named as they are amazingly fast flyers and people would fly them for fun~have historically been trained by humans for hunting and sport. More importantly These centres introduce people to the beauty of birds right up close. The school tours are especially important for it may mean that future generations may be more appreciative of these beautiful creatures and what they can bring to our landscape than we are.
The birds are well cared for, obviously loved in fact, most of them have names~Gizmo, Stanley, Cupid, Albert, The Professor and so on. You can read some of Toms’ stories about the birds he has cared for here…
Getting a chance to look into their shining, unfathomable eyes, to touch their soft feathers and feel their weight as they rest on my outstretched arm is a wonderful experience. The National Bird of Prey Centre is well worth a visit.
While you are there check out Russborough House. I did not get a chance as time was a factor but next time I will for sure.