Visit the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary

January 31, 2012 by  
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Established in 2006, the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary in South Africa cares for more than 180 birds representing 50 different raptor species. The sanctuary’s permanent residents have either been bred in captivity, or have sustained injuries which significantly limit their chances of survival in the wild. Located close enough to both Durban and Pietermaritzburg to allow easy access for a day trip, the sanctuary offers unique insight into South Africa’s amazing predatory birds which is both educational and entertaining.

The sanctuary’s permanent residents include vultures, eagles, falcons, kestrels, goshawks, sparrowhawks, buzzards, hawks, kites and owls. Many of the birds have been named, with a record of their rescue story available to visitors. Eagles are rightly viewed as the mightiest of the birds of prey and the sanctuary’s Eagle Alley allows visitors a close up look at some of these majestic birds. Other sections of the sanctuary are Hoot Hollow for the owls; Honeycomb Habitats housing diurnal raptors; and the Vulture Hide with its eight indigenous vulture species, all of which are considered to be threatened.

In addition to being a popular tourism attraction, the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary is dedicated to ongoing research, including breeding and rehabilitation projects, with a view to conserving the birds in their natural South African environment. The Raptor Rescue operation run by the sanctuary is kept separate from the public area and is not open to visitors. If rescued birds are to be rehabilitated and released into the wild again, it is in their best interests not to be exposed to too many people. In addition to being stressful for them, too much interaction with humans could make the birds tame, thereby hampering their chances of survival in the wild. For research purposes birds are ringed before being released into a suitable habitat, if possible where they were found.

One of the most exciting features of the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary is the flying display, and visitors should be sure to plan their day to include one of these demonstrations, bearing in mind that they are weather dependent. Flying display times are Monday to Friday at 10:30am, and at 10:30am and 3pm on weekends and public holidays. As a privately funded conservation initiative, the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary relies on entrance fees to continue their work. So, why not support this worthy cause, and enjoy an outing you are not likely to forget.

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May 15, 2009 by  
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Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The impressive Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) is the largest of all falcons. Its body measures roughly 60 cm in length and its wingspan may be as wide as 130 cm. The male is usually about one third smaller than the female and the bird may weigh between 2 to 4.5 pounds. The plumage of the Gyrfalcon varies quite considerably from white to almost black. Throughout history, this impressive bird has been highly sought after for falconry. Because of its size and rarity, it was often reserved only for those of noble birth and during the middle ages only the king had the right to possess one. The Gyrfalcon continues to be a popular bird for falconry today though modern falconers may keep their ownership of such a bird secret to avoid theft. Falconers generally refer to the male Gyrfalcon as a ‘jerkin’.

All variations of the Gyrfalcon are similar in size and have long, broad-based, pointed wings and a short, dark, hooked beak. The adult-grey morph has grey upperparts and white underparts with dark streaks. The flight feathers are pale and there is a thin moustache mark. The tail is grey with thin white bands. The adult-white morph has white plumage and a white tail with black barring on the back and wings. The adult-dark morph has dark brown upperparts and a dark tail. The underparts are heavily streaked and the flight feathers are noticeably paler than the lining on the wings.

The Gyrfalcon is circumpolar in nature and tends to nest in the arctic regions of North America, Europe, Asia, Iceland and Greenland, though they may be found elsewhere in the world when not breeding. They can live in either open, treeless plains or in swampy, forested areas and can be found near cliffs along shorelines, rivers or even in mountains. They usually nest in depressions on a protected ledge or cliff face and may even make use of an abandoned nest or a suitable man-made structure from time to time. When they nest, they generally lay 2 to 6 eggs that may take 34 to 36 days to hatch. Interestingly, they nest in arctic regions and often begin to lay their eggs in below-zero temperatures. Gyrfalcon‘s take about 2 to 3 years to become sexually mature. They generally feed on ptarmigan, grouse, seabirds, waterfowl, lemmings and ground squirrels, catching their prey either in the air or on the ground.

Merlin (Falco colombarius)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Merlin or as it is scientifically know as, Falco colombarius, is a falcon that breeds in many different continents like North America, Asia and Europe. In North America it is known as a pigeon hawk, and the Latin part of its scientific name, “columba”, means dove also indicating the falcon’s popular food choice. But the name is incorrect in that it is not a hawk but a falcon and so the name is not often used.

The Merlin is a small bird of prey that breeds in open areas like moor lands, birch scrub and taiga or willow scrub, coasts and desert areas. When temperatures become too cold the Merlin, like its larger counterpart the Peregrine Falcon, will migrate to more temperate regions. These northern European birds will go over to North Africa or to southern Europe, whereas the North American birds will head to southern USA and to northern South America. If the bird is found in Great Britain, one of its milder breeding ranges, it will leave high grounds and move to lowlands and the coast.

In Europe the Merlin is a social bird and will roost communally in winter, many times with Hen Harriers. However, in North America, communal roosting is rare because the Merlin is known for its aggression and it will go so far as to attack any bird of prey, even eagles. Throughout the Merlin’s territory range they will nest on the ground, for instance in the United Kingdom they will usually look for a shallow scrape on the heather moor land. They also enjoy long heather but because of the regular burning in that area they tend to be over managed.

The male Merlin’s coloring is specifically blue-gray with orange-tinted under parts. The female and the juvenile differ and have a dark brown back and a white belly with brown spots below. The American subspecies go from pale in the Great Plains to dark brown, black in the Pacific Northwest. This particular species is small in size and has dark under parts, and is distinguished from the Peregrine Falcon by its facial features, which are not as strongly marked.

These falcons prey on small birds like pipits, larks and large insects and because of this they rely heavily on their speed and agility to hunt prey. Merlin Falcons hunt by flying low, about one meter off the ground, and very fast catching their prey by surprise.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) is a predatory bird that is 15 inches in length and has a wingspan of 40 inches. It is one of the larger falcons and has the typical short and hooked beak, as seen on many birds of prey. This falcon has pale coloring over its throat and breast, with a black colored cap and a black ‘mustache’. These markings are in direct contrast to its white face. Its upper body parts are gray, black and white barred plumage under the wings and barred belly. White and gray bands are noticeable on the thin tail. Both sexes are similar in appearance, with the female being larger.

The Peregrine Falcon is one the most commonly found birds of prey, located across most of the continents, with the exception of oceanic islands and the continent of Antarctica. This predatory bird is an extremely powerful and agile falcon. It preys on small birds, ducks, bats and smaller mammals. The Peregrine Falcon has a record-setting flight ability and is able to swoop down on prey at 320 kilometers an hour, in a drop. It can chase its prey at speeds of 112 kilometers an hour. Although the falcon is capable of these spectacular speeds, it usually averages 40 to 55 kilometers an hour during flight. Its strong flying ability is also demonstrated by its migration, when some birds have been recorded to have traveled over 25 000 kilometers.

During the breeding season, the Peregrine Falcon will construct its nest on sea cliffs, rock faces or quarries. If the falcon is located in cities or towns, it will choose a high building for nesting. Falcons mate for life and will more than often return to the same breeding site each year. Their acrobatic maneuvers, deep dives and breathtaking spirals that are done in mid air as part of their courtship, is an amazing sight. The female will lay two to five eggs that are reddish brown in color and have dark spots. Both the male and female will take part in the 29 to 32 day incubation period. After the chicks have hatched, the female will remain in the nest to protect her chicks, while the male hunts. It generally takes 35 to 42 days for the chicks to fledge the nest, after which they will remain close by, until they have perfected their flying and hunting techniques.

The Peregrine Falcon bordered on the fringes of extinction due to pesticides, egg collectors, and the persecution of landowners. Fortunately, the crisis has been averted by the protection and control of pesticide usage, and breeding programs that have been able to release the falcons back into the wild thus increasing the population.

Birds of Prey

February 9, 2009 by  
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Birds of prey, or raptors, are birds which hunt other animals for food and are specially adapted to do so. Birds of prey include eagles, condors, kites, falcons, hawks, osprey, owls, vultures, buzzards and secretary birds.

When hunting, birds of prey use their highly adapted feet and talons to capture and kill prey. Hawks and owls will grab prey from the ground and then kill it by crushing it in their feet. Falcons use speed to effectively kill prey by plummeting down from high up and striking with its feet. Peregrine falcons reach speeds of up to 90 mph/145kph

Birds of prey are carnivorous and gain certain nutrients from the stomach contents of their prey. The entire prey animal is devoured by the bird of prey and later pellets of undigested matter are regurgitated. Falcons have a nook (notch) on their upper bill to break the neck of prey. Vultures have especially large, strong beaks to rip through hide and break bones.

Birds of prey have a highly developed sense of sight, far better than our own, and females are larger than the males (except for vultures and secretary birds) as they need to defend their nestlings.

The heaviest bird of prey is the Andean condor, it weighs in at 27 pounds (12 kg) which is a lot to carry in flight. The largest, however, are the eagles and vultures with wingspans of about 10 feet (3m). The most powerful bird of prey is the Harpy Eagle. The Harpy Eagle’s wingspan is 6.5 feet (2m) and their talons can be as long as 5 inches (12.5cm).

To truly experience birds of prey why not visit a local rehabilitation center and view them up close. Many places offer falconry demonstrations where you can see these wonderful birds in action. If you are interested in finding out what birds of prey are in your area consult a region specific field guide.

Any opportunity to see birds of prey in action will be an awe-inspiring and unforgettable experience.

Spectacular Birding on the Isle of Mull

August 1, 2008 by  
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The beautiful Isle of Mull is Scotland’s fourth largest island and a popular tourist destination for a number of reasons, one of them being that it offers superb bird watching opportunities in a wide variety of habitats. The island’s mountains, moorlands, sea lochs, hill lochans, damp boggy marshes and wide sandy beaches are home to many local species of birds, as well as a host of migrants at different times of the year.

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The National Birds of Prey Center in Gloucestershire

June 25, 2008 by  
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The National Birds of Prey Center, located near Newent in Gloucestershire, is one of Britain’s premiere attractions and one of the top birds of prey centers in the United Kingdom. It is home to roughly 170 different birds of prey, including 22 species of eagles, falcons and hawks – a real treat for any bird lover or falconer.

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Falconry Part 1: Origins and Applications

October 19, 2007 by  
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Falconry is a sport that involves the training of birds of prey to hunt game for their trainers. Although not all birds of prey are falcons, the previous use of the term “hawker” when hawks were used for hunting has come to commonly be used as a term describing traveling traders. For this reason the term “hawker” has fallen into disuse, with “falconer” and “falconry” applying to the sport irrespective of the species of bird used.

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