Trip to the Raptors – Sept 16, 2018

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An enthusiastic group of a dozen plus Nature Nanaimoites visited The Raptors in Duncan, on Sun. Sept 16th, carpooling together from Chase River.  The Centre is dedicated to the conservation of birds of prey, care of a number of raptors (and other unusual residents), wildlife management with working birds, and education for the public on raptors. Our enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide walked us through the Centre, introducing us to a number of the residents. Many of the birds can be viewed quite close at hand, and individuals were brought closer to the tour participants by the handlers. These birds are “working birds” at the Raptors, with a carefully monitored scheduled, and health and weight checks, to ensure they are not stressed by their job in educating the public.

We learned about the habits, habitat, prey, and characteristics of bald eagles, Harris hawks, peregrine falcons, barn owls, turkey vultures, American kestrels, spectacled owls, and Marabou storks (!). Most of the birds on site were born in captivity, some, like the Marabou, at facilities as far away as Ontario. Only one bird, a charismatic raven, was a wildlife rescue.

The most spectacular part of the tour was the flying demonstration at the end. Birds that participate in the flying demonstrations are trained to exhibit their skills and characteristic flight and hunting behaviours; however, they are also completely untethered or confined during this period, so are free to “improvise” and also to abscond!  They fly back and forth between a handler off the main flying field area, towards the aviaries, perches of their choice around the viewing area, and the primary handler and presenter. We got to observe a bald eagle, who demonstrated grabbing prey from the surface of water, a turkey vulture, a barn owl, a gyrfalcon, who demonstrated the acrobatic twists and turns this species can make in mid-air, and the beating with feet and body of prey to stun it, and a Harris hawk. The latter live in arid habitats and often forage on species like lizards, so they actually run after their prey –  a comical sight to see this bird dashing along the ground towards its handler! Our presenter would move about the audience so these amazing birds would swoop right over and land right next to us. It was breathtaking, and a little startling, to have a vulture wing beat the back of one’s head.

As intriguing as learning about the varied natural habitats and behaviours of these birds, was hearing about the wildlife management work done by the Raptors. A number of different individuals and species at the Centre are contracted to work at the Vancouver, and other, airports keeping geese off the runways to reduced bird-plane collisions. Some patrol landfill areas to minimize buildup of gulls and other species. The falconers at the Centre train their birds for these types of pest control work, as alternatives to trapping, shooting, or other lethal means.

If you haven’t been to the Raptors, take the quick detour off the Island Hwy in Duncan sometime to enjoy this terrific experience!

Gyrfalcon
Wings over the audience
Kestrel