Sunday, 17 May 2015

Feathers and Fur Falconry Centre Review

A few months ago I received vouchers for a falconry experience day for my birthday. I had been hinting (or nagging) my fiancĂ© for a few months but we had struggled to find a free weekend to go and do it on, hence the 3 month delay. Luckily today we had a day of amazing sunshine and I have to say that we had a fantastic few hours with Feathers and Fur.

The Feathers and Fur Falconry Centre is just outside of Reading town on Bath Road (towards Maidenhead). It's located at Ladds Garden Village; it's really easy to find and has ample free parking on site.

We were greeted by the lovely owner, Sadie, and her adorable dogs (a Cocker Spaniel and a Black Lab) who were roaming around the centre in the sunshine living the dream doggy life. The group was made up of about 16 people (including a few spectators) of all ages but we were all adults which was great as I imagine the experience is different when there are a lot of children present.

The first bird that Sadie brought out was a Barn Owl called Wiggy. Wiggy was absolutely adorable and had the softest little head ever. Sadie told the group how barn owls have flourished and declined in numbers throughout British history. She also explained how they hunt and also why Wiggy was rocking back and forth (essentially she shook her booty for a good 15 minutes straight). Sadie was clearly very knowledgeable but also came across as really passionate about the birds and protecting their best interest by imparting that knowledge onto the local community.

The next bird of prey we met was a Tawny Owl called Ash. We were taught that tawny owls are very aggressive hunters in the wild and also a little bit about the way they hunt and roost. It was really fun to watch the birds fly towards you to grab bits of raw chick meat from your glove (not as gross as it sounds, you get used to it pretty quickly when you see how much the birds enjoy it!).

The biggest bird we met was Billy Jean, the European Eagle Owl. Billy was absolutely huge and also weighed a ton but was somehow still very graceful. Sadie described how she had to teach Billy to fly as he had been raised to walk everywhere. This was quickly apparent as he hopped around the field looking for the food bag. Billy was my absolute favourite because he seemed to have a real personality and was also a bit of a crowd pleaser which was super cute. I really wish I had managed to grab a video of him stomping around the ground!

(I was absolutely as terrified as I look here. What a flattering chin angle)
Ben and Billy Jean
Finally, we met a Harris Hawk called Echo and a Peregrine Falcon called Acer. Sadie made sure that everybody got to hold each bird (except for the falcon, he was capable of speeds of 200mph and we watched him fly for miles around before returning to Sadie at a ridiculous speed so I can understand why). We also played a cool game with the harris hawk where we made a large circle and called the bird over by name. None of the birds looked frightened or stressed even once. The tawny owl, Ash, spent a while sizing up a wild Red Kite that had landed in a nearby tree; they clearly felt safe in the hands of the staff.
Echo the Harris Hawk

Sadie and Acer
The whole experience lasted about 2 hours and 15 minutes and I think it was great value for money. I would encourage anybody looking to do something like this to call the centre directly rather than booking through something like Group On. Sites like Group On take more than half of the fee you pay leaving the centre (and the birds!) with very little at the end of the day. I'm sure if you were to call and speak directly with the centre they would be able to be accommodating with regards to the price.
Acer showing off his wingspan

 Lady looking glam. Sian looking ham.
I didn't have much knowledge of birds of prey before today. I certainly wasn't a bird enthusiast and I've never been one for birdspotting. However, I really would like to do something like this again. It was educational but almost in a way you wouldn't notice because of how exciting and beautiful the birds are. The centre was in perfect condition and we were not "sold to" at any point during the afternoon. The time was completely about the birds and the history and I was relieved not to be pushed towards a gift shop selling t-shirts for £30 a pop.
There were plenty of other birds at the centre (along with a HUGE rabbit named George and some ferrets) and there are lots of different kinds of experiences to choose from, such as Hawk Walks or Owl Handling. Feathers and Fur also do birthday parties and photography sessions so there really is something for everybody.
Overall I would rate this falconry experience day very highly and will definitely be recommending Feathers and Fur to my friends and family. It was completely different to any other animal experiences I've had and it was a really enjoyable way to spend a few hours in the sunshine.


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