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Birds of prey -

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Birds of prey

A demonstration at the British Association Science Festival showed bords of prey. Alaska, a
17-year-old female Bald Eagle from Canada is shown hunting, catching and eating its catch. Birds of
prey need to be taught to hunt. This happens in the first three months of life. After this they
really don't learn much at all!


Robyn Williams: And further down here we've got animals. I'm looking at a bald eagle, and you're
looking after him, what's your name?

Micky: My name's Micky and this is Alaska. She's from Canada, she's about 17 years old and she's a
particularly large female. We're doing some demonstrations in the hall this morning and we're
hoping to fly her over the heads of some very small children. She'll fly particularly low and we're
hoping for some excitement in there.

Robyn Williams: And the children will duck and scream.

Micky: The children will duck, it just encourages her to fly a little lower.

Robyn Williams: She doesn't actually grab a mop of hair or..?

Micky: No, she might take someone's wig off, but she's quite well trained. What we're trying to do
is to show different species of birds of prey and demonstrate the different methods they use to
hunt, catch and eat their food. So we brought a falcon with us. The bird on the end is a peregrine
falcon, a British species, his name is Billy Bob. He's a male and he's wild disabled. He came from
a power station near our centre in Kent where he was rescued by the lads who work there
because...he was not looking too clever when he came in, his mum and dad were feeding him on rancid
pigeons and he caught a fungal disease of his mouth called frounce, and he was given a lot of
medication. He's had a small part of his mouth cut out, and unfortunately this process went on when
his own parents would have been teaching him to fly and to catch food, so he's lost that part.
He'll do quite well with us. We've taught him to fly and to hunt to the lure, but he can't really
be released back into the wild.

Robyn Williams: I see. So is there a particular period during which you have to learn to hunt
otherwise you miss out?

Micky: Yes, their imprinting period, it's from the time they leave the nest at about 12 weeks to
maybe about three or four months old is very crucial to them. Once that period is gone you cannot
teach them anything. It's gone in, that's the blueprint for life, you cannot teach them anything

Robyn Williams: A bit like me, I haven't learnt anything in the last 30 years!

Micky: Well, that may be true, but with birds of prey there is no right or wrong. It's not like a
dog, you can't scold them if they're doing wrong. You have to teach them the right way, and after
that if they do do something wrong, it kills them. So that's Billy Bob, that's the falcon at the
end. Next one you see is a barn owl, his name is Casper. He's now 12 years old. We bred him, he's
been with us ever since, he's fully imprinted on humans, he believes he's a human and he's
extremely used to having people around him. In fact if you go towards him, rather than cower and
try and get away, he will jump towards you.

Robyn Williams: Doesn't mind being up during the daylight?

Micky: No, no, not at all, it's quite false really that people look at owls and think they should
be asleep at this time of day, but if you consider that if he was living in the wild, if it had
been raining for two or three days he would have to be out and about, no matter what the time was,
in order to find his dinner. And if he had young chicks, six or seven maybe, as they can do, he'd
have to be out almost permanently. This is why a lot of birds do well in these latitudes because in
the summer we get 16, 17, 18 hours of daylight, which helps them to find their food. It's why they
fly north in the summer and south in the winter so they get these extended hours of daylight.

Robyn Williams: Your hawk is missing, the hawk was here before, he's a catcher of rabbits.

Micky: Yes, the Harris hawk is in the hall at the moment doing its demonstration, and he's from
Central America from a unique species, they actually live in a family group, and they're extremely
successful; they have a fantastic kill rate and they're known as the wolf of the skies, and they
act exactly like a wolf pack.

Robyn Williams: So they will catch more than they actually need.

Micky: They will, and they will share food, and indeed in order to stir the gene pool up they will
offer food to a neighbouring tribe's youngsters to call them away, 'Come and live with us, life is
better with us, you will get more food.' You can imagine, if you live in a small group and you
don't mix your gene pool up you get inbreeding problems, so that's the way nature gets round that,

Robyn Williams: I see. So how many rabbits could they kill a day?

Micky: They've only got a need, obviously, to kill one. If a Harris hawk caught a rabbit it
probably weighs twice as much as it does and there's enough food there for three or fours days, but
if you were to take that rabbit away from it, it will go and kill maybe five or six more. If
they're feeing young they can...

Robyn Williams: Oh! That was a wonderful...

Micky: Yes, lightening the load. I'm sorry, I have to go now because I've got to take that other
bird in and swap it...

Robyn Williams: We just had this wonderful demonstration of backward poo from the bald eagle
lifting up its bum and doing a squirt. Thank you very much indeed.

Micky: Thank you very much.

Robyn Williams: That was Micky with his birds. They're a regular visitor to the BA Festival and
tremendous interest from all ages, as you can imagine, looking at these great big raptors and how
they live.