By Sharon McKee
Kevin sat on my arm and I gave him a nervous smile as I listened to how he has an appetite for small birds as well as mammals.
Kevin is a Kestrel and we met at Matfen Hall on an afternoon’s experience with Falconry Days.
I was a little less keen than my friend who suggested it – she has in her time adopted a pair of Jackdaws and a stray duck. I do like birds but I’m usually happy to just watch them from a distance in the garden or in the sky.
I was however beginning to fall just a little bit in love with Kevin. We were part of a small group standing in a semi circle and he was more than happy to fly from gloved arm to arm, occasionally having a cheeky hop into the trees or onto an unsuspecting person’s head.
He was a great introduction to an afternoon of getting up close to a variety of birds you’d never get near to or even see in the wild. Kevin was one of the smallest there, calm, cheerful and clearly enjoying himself.
Mark, our tweed clad host, runs Falconry Days and raises and keeps around 50 birds. It’s clear he has a fantastic relationship with them, many who think of him as ‘dad’ because they’ve been hand reared.
There was an impressive display from a falcon called Skye, who stooped down at stunning speeds to get the bait that Mark swirled around his head. He’s only ever been knocked down once by a falcon doing this display, he reassured us as Skye zoomed perilously close to the top of his head.
There is something very appealing about owls and their appearance got a welcome noise of delight from the crowd.
Two foot tall Great Grey Owl Grace/ Gordon (gender not quite yet determined!) was a particular favourite, almost too laid back to fly she/ he sat heavily but happily on your arm while you could stroke her. With a huge round head and enormous eyes she was exactly how you imagine an owl should look.
They may be trained and kept in captivity but their natural ability to hunt and kill anything from small voles to rabbits and other birds stays with them of course. It was a privilege to have something so powerful with killer talons and neck breaking beak sitting so amicably on your arm.
Mark is a natural narrator, passionate and knowledgeable with lots of fascinating facts and amusing anecdotes to entertain us with throughout the day.
I learnt a huge amount including that, despite my delight at seeing them in the sky, these birds are really rather reluctant to fly and only do so in the wild when absolutely necessary. They are weighed and fed carefully every day as need to be kept to their perfect ‘flying weight’. They enjoy a long life in captivity and the bigger birds can live for up to 50 or 60 years.
After displays from several different birds, and nearly as many cups of tea to keep warm, the afternoon’s finale was Charlie, a rare Chaco owl more usually found in Argentina. Small, full of energy and darting around the group, Charlie proved that owls can do a lot more than just sit still and look like wise old birds.
It was a fascinating and entertaining afternoon and if you want an unusual experience, in beautiful surroundings, it’s highly recommended. Falconry Days also do a range of vouchers, if you want a Christmas gift with a difference.
Find out more at www.falconrydays.com