My Valentine’s Day gift from Emily was a Falconry Experience at Yarak Birds of Prey Centre in Cullompton, Devon. Such is the popularity of the place that we had to wait until this past Bank Holiday Weekend for an available slot – always a good sign for experiences like these. Arriving for 10am we pre-ordered our lunch before walking around the aviaries and seeing the many birds kept at the centre through rescue and hunting / falconry programs. From owls to hawks to eagles, this place had it all, all in immaculate and spacious homes.
The incredibly cute Southern White-faced Owl… So fluffy!
Starting at 10:30, John (owner and Falconer) took our group of around 14 into a smaller indoor flying space to meet and spend the morning with owls, some of the smaller birds at the centre. An informative and funny session, we learned about every bird we met – Tropical Screech Owl, Southern White Faced Owl, Barn Owl and Eagle Owl – totalling an incredible array of species.
The eyes of this Eagle Owl are amazing! Imagine that being the last thing you ever saw…
The morning was spent getting used to the glove and having the predators perched on you. With the work each bird goes through when flying and hunting for food it is little wonder that they are more than happy to roost for upwards of 20 hours a day! Understanding Yarak’s commitment to giving these birds a fulfilling and happy life makes the experience all the more worthwhile.
That glide though!
After a stop for lunch (I can recommend the fish pie) we reconvened for the main event; open field flying and “proper” falconry. Starting with the impressively wicked looking Harris’ Hawk we got used to having the larger birds of prey swooping down on us at great speed for their food. This was to make sure we were ready before graduating to the big daddy of the experience…
Emily with the beautiful Harris’ Hawk
A freaking Golden Eagle! The second largest bird of prey in the UK (only slightly smaller than the White-tailed Eagle) and an intimidating beast to say the least! With wicked talons attached to feet with enough PSI to crush skulls the training of this ferocious predator was impressive to witness. Flying towards you with a 6 foot wingspan, I can honestly say I was amazed by the majestic beauty of this killing machine. Yarak means the heightened condition of a bird that is fit and ready for hunting. The centre more than lives up to the name… Quite simply, if I was any smaller, I would probably have shat myself!
Staring down the throat of a Golden Eagle
After the exhilaration of flying the Golden Eagle we returned to the indoor space to handle one of the most beautiful birds I have ever seen – the Chilean Blue Eagle. Far too big to fly indoors, being up close to this wonderfully placid animal was an encounter in itself. The plumage would blend in perfectly with the stony mountains it naturally hunts in. Perfect evolutionary design!
Chilean Blue Eagle being rewarded with a whole chick for putting up with me!
Our final bird of the day was to fly a recently rescued Kestral, with underdeveloped pectoral muscles. Unable to fly more than a few feet when John rescued the animal, this bird is now flying greater distances and just beginning to be able to hover as it would before plummeting on its prey in the wild. After a full day spent with all of these birds it was a pleasure to be able to help one of them get stronger. I hope Yarak can continue the good work for many years to come.
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Recovery flight for the small Kestral
A full day experience for two at Yarak Birds of Prey Centre is priced at £170. Emily was able to get a discount through Groupon and we feel that it was worth every penny, whatever the price!
Who can put a price on that?