Recently, we were lucky enough to have been given a Buyagift Falconry Experience for Two. Booking was easy, we contacted Yarak Birds of Prey Centre who the experience was with and were given a choice of any Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Despite being called a half day on the Buyagift website, we were actually offered the Yarak Full Day Experience, from 10-5pm, at no additional charge.
Arriving excitedly at Yarak at ten in the morning, we were greeted by the owner John and his team. Groups at Yarak always stay intimate with a maximum size of 10 but we were especially lucky to only have four in our group. This meant that we had even longer with each bird. As the weather was rather wet when we arrived and owls cannot fly when they get wet, we had our experience in the Yarak Indoor Flying Centre. This was a great space for the birds to fly safely in the dry.
After each of us were given falconry gloves, our first bird, the smallest of the day, was Ollie a fully grown Tropical Screech owl weighing only 4oz. Ollie was a small ball of fluff but big in character. Native to South America this perfectly formed owl demonstrated the amazing ability of turning his head 270 degrees whilst we all got to examine his magnificent markings and piercing blue eyes.
Ollie was a rather fussy bird and we all had the chance to hand feed him only the softest parts of food which were clearly his favourite. Before Ollie was taken back to his avery we donned gloves and coaxed with some more of his favourite food, Ollie flew between the 4 of us several times hardly making a sound.
Next up was Lottie a Tawny Owl, the owl mostly commonly associated with the sound “Twit twoo”, or as we found out its more like “Ke-wick” or “hoo-hoo”. The “Twit Twoo” call was actually given to Tawny Owls thanks to William Shakespeare, who thought “Twit Twoo” sounded more poetic to use in his famous Love’s Labour’s Lost. Lottie was a slightly bigger, darker eyed owl that seemed to have her eye on something out of the window.
However we quickly learnt that this couldn’t be the case as owl’s eyesight is only good at long distances and up close vision proves a disadvantage. To overcome this Owls are the only birds to fashion a filo plume, the moustache like feathers above their beaks. These are used almost like feelers to identify the best way to eat their prey and locate each part along the way! Once again with the help of slightly bigger bits of food Lottie flew seamlessly between us showing off her sleek silent movements.
A Southern White Faced Scops owl, Tig was our next encounter. A rather handsome example of this African owl with his characteristic black rimmed white face and amber eyes was quick to show off his magnificent Ear Tufts which although look remarkably like a pair of ears are actually just feathers (the ears being just two tiny holes on the side of an owls head). The ear tufts are used more for display and can flap up or down depending on the owl’s emotional state!
Tig was yet another silent flyer, and after a little more encouragement was needed than the previous birds, we were able to appreciate the stealth these birds need to catch their prey in the wild, usually large insects and small mammals.
Our next bird, Freddie the Barn Owl, was a young, inquisitive and mischievous example of one of the UK’s most common owls. Although quiet at first he quickly became quite vocal and despite being a little damp was raring to show off his flying skills.
His typical heart shaped face and ghost like wing span was an amazing slight gliding between each glove in the hope of a tasty reward. At the end of his display we were shown the sheer strength and impressive speed at which a barn owl is able to eat and engulf its prey.
Not an owl this time but a Harris Hawk, the youngest member of a family of three kept at the centre. Bruno was a young but fully grown Harris Hawk quite new to his training but none the less keen to give it a go. His rather large feet and talons put our falconry gloves to good use. With each take off, the force of these prehistoric like claws could be felt.
Although his flight was maybe not a graceful or quiet as the owls, his metre wide wing span created quite a draft as he flew and was definitely a close encounter. As a reward for his display Bruno was given some food which he instinctively protected with a “mantle”, the act of hiding prey beneath its wings, showing that although these birds are kept in captivity they still possess their natural instincts and behaviours.
Our final bird was an elderly, native Indian, Bengal Eagle Owl. Buffy had been kept in captivity for the first two years of her life before she was rescued by John, the owner of Yarik Bird of Prey Centre. Unfortunately due to her previous enclosure Buffy had suffered deformity to her feet, so instead of her flying between us, she flew over us!
Starting from a perch at each end of the indoor flying centre, Buffy first flew through our arms held up in a Y shape. Next she swooped low in an aisle we had made before finally, silently and gracefully she glided 30cm above our faces as we lay on the floor. This was such an amazing experience to not only see an owl doing what it does best and so up close but to actually feel it! This had to be the highlight of the day!
Our day at the Yarak Birds of Prey Centre was awesome and we thoroughly loved the Buyagift Falconry Experience for Two. It was truly an unforgettable experience and isn’t that just the perfect present.