Visit the ICBP in North Yorkshire

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The market town of Helmsley in the picturesque Ryedale district of North Yorkshire, England, is the location of the new International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP) which opened to the public in March 2013. Spread over eleven acres with historic Duncombe Park as a backdrop, the visitor attraction features more than a hundred birds housed in some forty aviaries, and is set to become one of the top tourist attractions in the district. In addition to being a visitor attraction, the ICBP runs a program of breeding endangered birds, most notably Steller’s sea eagles, which are among the world’s largest birds and listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN.

The ICBP has three flying demonstrations per day where visitors can witness the exceptional abilities of a variety of birds of prey. As each flying demonstration features different birds, with commentary offering fascinating facts about the performers, visitors may want to spend the entire day at the centre and watch all three demonstrations. In the event of inclement weather, the centre will move the demonstration to a sheltered wooded area or indoors, so visitors are assured of seeing the birds in action.

Visitors may want to start their tour of the centre along the Hawk Walk, where they will be able to approach within a few feet of the trained birds which includes hawks, falcons, eagles and buzzards. The main aviary area features a series of enclosures which have been carefully designed with the comfort of the feathered residents in mind. The three solid walls of each aviary provide the birds with a sense of security, which makes them more content and enhances their breeding abilities. The success of the aviary design is evident in the fact that the ICBP has successfully bred 65 species of birds of prey.

Overlooking the parkland in front of Duncombe Park’s main house, the Flying Ground has seating for demonstration spectators, as well as picnic tables and acres of well-tended lawn to relax on. The east and north of the area are sheltered by ancient oak, chestnut, ash and lime trees with the west open to the prevailing wind, providing perfect conditions for the birds to perform in.

Other facilities include the Fountain Tea Room, a shop and a play area. A visit to the International Centre for Birds of Prey is sure to be memorable. Don’t forget to take your camera!

World Sparrow Day: Highlighting the Plight of Sparrows

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Found in most parts of the world, the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is the most widely distributed wild bird and has a conservation status of ‘least concern’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, in recent years conservationists in some parts of the world, including the United Kingdom and India, have been drawing attention to the fact that the numbers of these cheerful little birds have been dwindling, with no clear indication as to why this is the case. In order to alert the public to the plight of the Sparrow, as well as to enlist public support and participation in counteracting this trend, conservationists in London and India have joined forces to create World Sparrow Day, taking place on March 30, 2013.

Under the banner of “Rise for the Sparrow: Experience the Power of One”, World Sparrow Day is calling on citizens, educational institutions and corporate companies to do their bit for conservation and raising awareness. Individual citizens, wherever they may be, can assist by providing a regular source of food and water, eliminating poisons from their gardens and gardening organically, planting more bird friendly plants including hedges, and even putting up nest boxes for House Sparrows. Another suggestion from the organizers of World Sparrow Day is to take some grain along on outings and picnics, set it out near a thicket and wait to see if sparrows and other ground-feeding birds appear. This is a great way to teach children about the importance of birds in our environment.

Known for their life-long loyalty to their chosen mate, House Sparrows are gregarious little birds, often roosting communally with nests overlapping one another in clumps. They may regularly be seen dust-bathing or bathing in water together and they frequently join together in song. While some birds may migrate in regions with harsh winters, the majority of House Sparrows seldom fly more than a few kilometers from where they were raised. As their name would suggest, they are comfortable around humans and are often the first birds children become acquainted with. They are also very resourceful in obtaining their preferred food of seeds and grains, and are known to peck open bags of feed in warehouses and supermarkets. For this reason, some may consider them to be pests, but in general they are a welcome sight, particularly in the suburbs as they help clear gardens of aphids, snails and a variety of destructive insects. So you may want to consider getting involved with World Sparrow Day to ensure these cute little birds are still around for our children’s children.

Farmers Could Save Endangered Ibis

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The elegant white-shouldered Ibis is a critically endangered wading bird that is found in the southern regions of Laos, Vietnam, the eastern region of Kalimantan and in the northern areas of Cambodia. Its natural habitat includes wet grasslands, sand and gravel bars at the water’s edge, marshes and forests that do not consist of dense vegetation. The coloring is quite distinctive with dark plumage covering the bird’s body, red legs and a bald black head. Its name is derived from a unique feature which can be found on the inner forewing of the white-shouldered Ibis, a light, almost white, colored patch of plumage.

This beautiful bird has found its way onto the critically endangered list, the IUCN Red List, of bird species and it is estimated that there are fewer than 250 birds remaining in the world. Recent studies have revealed that there could be ways to save this wonderful bird, as they began to investigate the reasons behind the speedy decline in the species. The University of East Anglia has recently published their results.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds funded the project and studies were concentrated in Cambodia, as the biggest collection of the white-shouldered Ibis is found here. Watching and studying the approximately 160 to 200 birds, has revealed that they prefer open areas, with open sand areas and ground level vegetation, as it makes access to prey easier, makes it easier for the birds to see oncoming danger and assists them in landing and take off as there are less obstacles. What has made the study even more fascinating is the fact that human interaction almost always plays a negative role in the survival of animal and bird species, but in the case of the white-shouldered Ibis, human activity is playing a vital role in the protection of the remaining birds. Open fields where livestock graze and areas that are burnt down by farmers to create more open fields, in turn accommodate these birds and opens more habitats to them. As the white-shouldered Ibis seems to be dependant on the farmers for their existence, it is hoped that this relationship between farmer and Ibis can assist in the survival of the species and hopefully increase white-shouldered Ibis numbers.

The Fascinating Flightless Cassowary

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The Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) is a large flightless bird found in the Seram Islands of Indonesia and the tropical rainforests of Aru, as well as New Guinea and northeastern Australia. Cassowaries have a reputation for being bad tempered and dangerous, a reputation that has been reinforced by the 2004 edition of the Guinness World Records, which lists the Cassowary as the most dangerous bird in the world.

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One in Eight Birds in Danger of Extinction

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According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one in eight bird species is currently facing extinction. The most recent update of the Red List of threatened bird species listed 190 bird species as ‘critically endangered’. Eight of the birds on this list were added this year and a further sixteen species have been given a higher threat status. In sharp contrast, only two species were found to have improved prospects of survival. Clearly things are spiraling out of control.

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A Look at the Intriguing Lives of Honeyguides

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Honeyguides, also known as indicator birds or honeybirds, are a relatively small Old World family of near-passerine birds, related to woodpeckers and barbets. Honeyguides are entirely parasitic, laying their eggs in the already occupied, but temporarily vacated, nests of other hole-nesting species such as barbets, kingfishers, bee-eaters, woodpeckers and tinkerbirds. For this reason, honeyguides are often treated as pariahs by other birds in their neighborhood. Birding enthusiasts agree that these aggressive, opportunistic little birds are fascinating to watch.

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The Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis

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The striking northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremite), with is long red bill and oblong-shaped black body, is not a bird that would usually attract too much attention because many people would not think of it as the most attractive bird. However, it is currently very much under the spotlight as it is a critically endangered bird that may be facing extinction if more effort is not put into preserving this species.

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Black Grouse Saved from Extinction

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The Black Grouse appears on the IUCN Red List of endangered species and was considered to be one of the bird species most likely to become extinct. However, through the dedicated efforts of conservation groups over the past two decades, the dramatic decline of this rare bird has not only been halted, but turned around, and Black Grouse numbers in the northern Pennines are slowly rising.

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