Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Wildlife Wednesday - raptors

Kangaroo Island has a place called Raptor Domain. We saw some brochures about it and a private show was advertised where you could hold a wedge-tailed eagle. We were in! There were 3 of us and 3 people were allowed in the private show - perfect.

We saw 5 birds - Australian Raven, Barn Owl, Masked Owl, Pacific Baza and Wedge-tailed Eagle. I think the brochure said 6 or 7, but we spent so much time with each animal we were thrilled with the ones we saw. We chatted a lot to the keeper, Dana, who just loved birds, knew a lot and shared it easily. 

Casper the Barn Owl
The Raven came out first and they’d taught it to pick up rubbish and put it in the bin! It had been rehomed from the National Park where it had been ‘attacking’ people eating at the outdoor cafĂ©. It was much happier with his new role - and so were the diners. The bird doesn't just randomly pick up rubbish, it came with a 'don't litter' message, which works well with the huge environmental focus on Kangaroo Island.

Matilda the Masked Owl
We then met Casper the Barn Owl. he took a liking to Dad and sat on his lap a few times before Dad was covered and protected by the blanket. And just quietly, Dad was pretty taken by the owl, especially how incredibly soft his feathes were. Casper did a fly by over us to show how soundlessly owls fly. Their feathers are shaped in such a way that they make barely any noise in flight, which is great for swooping on unsuspecting mice. All I felt as he went over was a breath of air. Incredible.

Matilda the Masked Owl was our next visitor and again, softest feathers out. Masked Owls are a lot larger than Barn Owls, and although Matilda have very dark feathers, not all Masked Owls are this dark.

The Pacific Baza used to be called the Crested Falcon.In the photo you can't see her crest very well as it's lying flat while she eats a meal worm. But the crest gave her a bit of a pigeon look. But those they're big and bright. They're right at the sides of her head and she watched every little thing that was happening. There was nothing pigeon like about the gaze. 

Pacific Baza
She wore jesses, and I asked quite a bit about them. I thought the bird may take some adjusting to having leather straps on their feet but apparently not. Horses are always stupid when their legs get bandaged as they seem to lift their legs ridiculously high, almost as if they're trying to step out of the bandages. Birds don't seem to be bothered at all. And it didn't appear as if they has to adjust their flight either. Maybe raptors adjust automatically because they often use their talons for hunting, so carrying extra size/weight in their feet is instinctive. Some of the owls start with jesses which are removed when they're no longer deemed a risk of taking off. Dana wasn't sure that the Pacific Baza woudl ever be rid of hers.

Jack, Wedge-tailed eagle
Finally, Jack the Wedge-tailed Eagle came out. He was magnificent. The size difference from the owls to the eagle was incredible, not to mention the weight when they're on your arm! Dad held him first and I took so many photos. Then it was my turn.

Jack was seated on my out-stretched left hand and my right hand had to go into my pocket. If I raised my right hand, I might scare the bird (and I imagine he may attack...but that wasn't said, it's just what when through my mind). Since that was in my mind, the first few moments were interesting as Jack and I sized each other up. I could see that massive beak and it was at about the level of my soft nose, and a lot of scenarios went through my head as I battled fear. But we came to some agreement to trust each other. Jack stopped staring, ruffled his feathers, relaxed on my arm, and I relaxed as well.

Me and Jack, when we're relaxed
We've been hand-feeding King Parrots for some years (and sometimes I offer the cockatoos when I'm feeling brave) and I didn't realise how much that would impact my eagle holding. My hand and arm were quite used to remaining relatively still. I could judge what the bird was going to do - Dana gave me a warning before he ruffled his feathers, but I hadn't needed it because I knew he was going to do it just as she did. That's because King Parrots do the same thing. If you flutter your hand when they're ruffling and relaxing, they go. I knew to remain still as Jack ruffled and relaxed. A bird so very much larger, and yet the philosophy remained the same. How very cool.

Dana and Jack cuddles
After we'd all held Jack, Dana then gave him smooches and cuddles. I could never have imagined anyone doing what she did. It was beautiful to see how much they adored each other. In a way, I wish she'd done that first so I had no fear when holding him... but in another way, I'm glad I had to work through that fear to do something completely incredible.

I thought the dolphins were awesome, and this was a very close second.

If you're ever on Kangaroo Island, don't miss Raptor Domain. They have shows through the day where the birds, as well as reptiles and venomous critters are displayed. It's not a zoo or a wildlife park. It's a rehab and education centre, and it's awesome.

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