Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Falconry and Owls

 Over the weekend we visited a country fair in north Notts primarily so that I could shoot some close-ups of owls because there is always, always a tent full of owls at these type of events. Normally they are common British species such as Little Owls, Barn Owls and Tawny Owls but quite often there is a chance of getting a picture of an Eagle Owl or a Great Grey. I was not to be disappointed as there were at least two such tents at this event! One held three or four owls - the most interesting to me was a Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus. This owl is probably the most widespread owl in North America but why does one end up in a tent in Notts? Why this species?

Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus

Likewise in another tent I came across this White-faced Scops Owl or Northern White-faced Owl Ptilopsis leucotis a sub-Saharan African species.
White-faced Scops Owl

Also present was this Eurasian Eagle Owl Bubo bubo which is widespread across the Palearctic region. So three different owls from completely different regions of the planet. Why these? I know absolutely nothing about keeping owls or where one gets them from but there must be certain species that are easier to keep in captivity than others. Some owls must be almost impossible to keep fit and healthy under captive conditions whilst others do well. I presume that all of the birds on show were captive bred and that over time you just know which birds will thrive and which won't.
Eagle Owl

The diurnal birds of prey which were present were captive bred and bought. I know this as a falconer was openly bemoaning the fact that he was not allowed to take wild birds for himself to train up and show. He was saying this through an open mic. to everyone present. For 4 000 years, he said, man has been hunting with falcons, all of which were taken from the wild and it has had no impact on wild numbers and it never did nobody no harm!! He was complaining that he had to buy captive bred birds - at a cost and that they sometimes flew away. Excuse me! Again, falconry is a subject I know nothing about, but birds sometimes flying away I would have thought was a risk you take when birds!
Now the next question I want to ask is why are so many falconer's birds hybrids? Apart from the ubiquitous Harris Hawk Parabuteo unicinctus which I always see in any falconer's tent (apparently because it is a good bird for beginner falconers to train) all of the other big falcons seem to be cross-breeds. Gyrs, Peregrines, Lanners and Sakers especially seem to be let loose on each other to merrily produce all kinds of (presumably infertile) offspring.  Is this deliberate artificial selection by the falconers: are some hybrids more docile than pure breeds?
This one for example has a lot of Gyr Falcon in it but I don't think it's a pure bred Gyr
Gyr and....?
And what's this? There was no label that I could see near this bird. Perhaps I didn't look properly. It looks to have some Peregrine in it and also some Merlin! It was getting on for the size of a Peregrine. Would these two species mate? Any answers please in the comments box below.
Peregrine and....?
Harris Hawk Parabuteo unicinctus
Bateleur Teratopius ecaudatus

Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway
The Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway and the Bateleur Teratopius ecaudatus two species from different continents were both surprise "Country Fair" birds for me. I can't imagine either of them being falconers' birds. How could you train a Bateleur? Is it possible? How would you feel if one of those flew away? And that Caracara would need some very careful handling.
I presume that these birds were on show purely to entertain and educate the public. Then again they might be flown by falconers. Either way I wouldn't like to think that these were being taken from the wild!
All of these pictures were taken at the country fair. The Gyr type bird was being flown but the others were all tethered.

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