On a warm summer day last year, I sat on the grass overlooked by a beautiful castle. A barn owl swooped low close to my head and landed on a perch behind me. I was awestruck at being able to witness this beautiful bird flying so close. A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to feel the same sense of awe while standing in a field in Suffolk to photograph a falconry experience. I think I enjoyed it just as much as those who were handling the birds!
Falconry is the ancient art of hunting of wild animals using a trained bird. Artwork shows falconry having existed 3,500 years ago in Mongolia and ancient Mesopotamia. Originally there was a distinction between a falconer, who flies falcons, and an austringer, who flies hawks. However, falconer is the term currently used for use of all trained birds of prey. Falconry demonstrations and experiences have become much more prevalent in recent years.
One of my flying subjects on this day was a Harris Hawk, which is a very popular bird of prey to train due to its ability and temperament. Interestingly Harris Hawks are semi-social which is unusual for birds of prey. They have been known to hunt in packs. I enjoyed watching the Harris Hawk when it walked/hopped along the ground looking like a small dinosaur.
The other two birds I was able to photograph were Barn Owls, an African Barn owl and a European Barn owl. There is very little written in classic falconry regarding the use of owls. Barn owls are very prolific, found on every continent except Antarctica. They are known for being exceptionally quiet flyers. They accomplish near silent flight due to their wing and feather structure. While watching the owl I strained my ears trying to hear the noise as it flew, alas there was none to be heard. The quiet of their flight is starkly contrasted to their well-known screech. These are not the owls that you hear hooting nicely in the trees. Instead, they make a screeching/screaming noise which lasts about two seconds at a time. If you hear it once, you will forever recognise the noise.
Although the average lifespan of a barn owl in the wild is four years, they have been known to live up to 25 years in captivity. In the wild there have been a few notable birds which have lived quite long, an owl in America was known to have lived slightly past 11 years and another in the Netherlands was known to have lived for 17.
It was wonderful to be able to photograph these beautiful birds, as well as to capture the pure joy on the faces of the people who were enjoying the experience.
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