One of my favourite places to visit on Vancouver Island, Pacific Northwest Raptors, otherwise known simply as The Raptors, is a raptor sanctuary located in Duncan, BC. It is a place I have visited multiple times in the past, and I keep going back to it for one simple reason: every time I go to visit, I fall head over heels in love with the unique personalities on display.
It is difficult to pick one bird to talk about, or one species, as any parent would say when talking about their children (although deep down, most parents tend to have a favourite, and I would be lying if I said I did not have a particular bird that I am drawn to more than others). I love each species for different reasons: from the sleek, efficient, and graceful Bald Eagles; the powerful and majestic Golden Eagles; the adorably tiny, yet unexpected deadly North American Kestrels; the incredibly social, and easygoing nature of Harris’ hawks; the blazing fast Peregrine Falcons; the fast and unrelenting Gyrfalcons; the rich history and ancestry of Saker falcons; the clever and intelligent Common ravens and Crows; the whisper-quiet and breathtaking flight of Owls; to the vibrantly beautiful Red-tailed hawks, and Ferruginous hawks. These are just a few of the qualities of different raptor species that come to mind, and I am sure there are many more reasons that words simply cannot express.
The birds living at The Raptors are the source of inspiration for my life’s work, and the legacy I want to leave behind for the future generations. Without realizing the significance of my choice, I had decided to become an Aerospace Engineer when I was in high school, a field of study heavily influenced by studying the flight of birds, and particularly, raptors. It comes as no surprise to discover that I had a natural affinity with birds, and that falconry would be a large part of my life. The more I learn about these amazing birds, the more hands-on experiences I have, the more I fall in love, and the more I want to do for them. This post is dedicated to the birds who have inspired me, and an opportunity for me to share their stories, in the hopes that they inspire others.
Theia, Juvenile Bald Eagle
Theia is a more recent addition to The Raptors, having been born during the last 2 years. She may look bigger, but that is likely a result of her age – she certainly likes to flaunt. She weighs about the same has the more experienced Hera, at about 12 lbs. This was my first time ever seeing her fly, and the difference in experience really shows: her attempts to fish out of a pool turned into a quick shower, as she has not figured out how to keep going upon catching the fish (she slows down before she reaches the pool). The result is quite comical.
Hera, Bald Eagle
She is a little difficult to see, but the difference in appearance should be immediately apparent. She looks visibly smaller, sleeker, and more experienced, something that is very noticeable with Manwe as well. Unlike the younger Theia, she has no reason to flaunt: she knows that she is a seasoned veteran and is a sight to behold when she’s flying.
Hawks (Harris’ hawks, Red-tailed hawks)
Pictured here are a group of hawks, or better yet, a caste of hawks. The Harris’ hawks are a chatty group, as there is usually at least one bird squawking its lungs out every few seconds, while the others squawk back, asking them to shut up. Both Harris’ and Red-tailed hawks are beginner-friendly birds for aspiring falconers; Harris’ hawks because of their incredibly social and forgiving nature, making them very easy to train in a matter of 2 weeks; Red-tailed hawks, though less forgiving, allow you to learn from your mistakes and improve as a falconer. The Harris’ hawks are the perfect companion for a hike in the woods, otherwise referred to as a hawk walk. The bird follows along overhead, while the falconer hikes long, and can occasionally call the bird down for a treat. This takes full advantage of the acrobatic abilities of the Harris’ hawk, as they maneuver around the trees and branches.
Pictured here are quite a few of the falcons living at The Raptors. I do not remember all of their names, but in the first picture, we have Ruby, a white-morph Gyr/Saker falcon hybrid, and Arrow, a pure Saker falcon (in the middle). In the second picture, we have Kessy, the most adorable little North American Kestrel, and Murphy, a pure white-morph Gyrfalcon in the far back. Kessy’s brother Twain, another American Kestrel, is not pictured here. In the third picture is Fraction, another Gyrfalcon hybrid (hence the name, though it is uncertain as to what the other species is). Fraction is quite the flyer, and it was quite the challenge keeping up with him. In the final picture, we have Bell, a 21-year old Saker falcon and perhaps my favourite bird of the bunch; she is the sweetest old bird, and still eager to fly (despite knowing she is not able to). She usually has Arrow sitting next to her, but due to a slight disagreement (Arrow and Bell are supposed to be a couple), Nitro has taken his spot. Nitro is one of the fastest birds at The Raptors, being a Peregine falcon. If you thought Fraction was an amazing flyer, Nitro takes it up a few notches.
Kessy, North American Kestral
I do not have the words to describe Kessy, though I will try to. Kessy is a bird who needs to be experienced up close. She is the sweetest little bird (weighing in at 100-120g), and is an amazing flyer. She loves to fly through the audience, and occasionally land on a person’s hat (she sees it as a perch). She captures my heart every single time, and if I could pick just one bird to be THE face of The Raptors, it would be Kessy. It is no surprise that everyone who sees her, and holds her, falls in love instantly.
Inspector, Spectacled Owl
Inspector is one of the Spectacled Owls living at The Raptors. Spectacled Owls get their name from the pattern of white feathers around their eyes. Elton is the other Spectacled Owl who lives at the Sanctuary, and there’s a funny story behind why she (yes, she) is named Elton. When she first arrived at The Raptors, she had been DNA sexed as male, but a few years later, she decided to lay eggs. This is a common occurrence among raptors, that it is difficult to determine the sex of the bird, and the only way to know for sure is if they lay eggs. There are other trends though; for instance, female raptors are typically about 30% bigger than the male counterpart.
Altani, Golden Eagle
People tend to focus more on Bald eagles when talking about eagles. That is not surprising, as bald eagles are a well known symbol in North America (particularly as the symbol of freedom in the United States). Golden eagles on the other hand, are bigger, more powerful, and in my opinion, far more majestic than bald eagles. Golden eagles have a wide range, and can be found around the world, and are one of the largest eagles in existence (the now extinct Haaste eagle is the largest known species).
Winston is one of my favourite birds at The Raptors, and the only crow who lives there. His story is a sad one. Winston was found on the side of the road, injured, and rescued by an elderly gentleman. In order to care for Winston, he quit his job and took care of the bird full-time, and Winston had partially imprinted on to him. Over time, Winston became too loud and required much more effort to take care of, which is when he moved into his current home at The Raptors. Due to his partial imprinting (he considered his previous owner as a “mother” basically), he has particular preferences in people he likes, and is usually agitated when a large group of people is nearby. He does appear to like me though, coming up close for head scratches (he loves his head scratches). This time around, he did something different: he picked up random objects (a stick and a tiny rock, on different occasions) and offered them to me, though when I go to accept the objects from him, he would not let go. It was as if we were playing a game of tug-o-war. Every time I visit The Raptors, I make sure to stop by and say hello to Winston.
Kyle, Common Raven
Kyle is a character. He is one of the many un-releasable birds living at The Raptors, having had one wing removed. I cannot remember the exact story of why his wing was removed, but due to that, he is not able to fly. He more than makes up for it with short hops instead, and is quite active. He has some of the most amazing vocalization, and loves to “talk”. His playful nature draws a lot of attention, and boy does he bask in that attention.
I could probably say more, but I will stop here in the interest of keeping this short. Much more can be said about the many birds at The Raptors, but the words cannot do them proper justice. It is well worth the visit, and participating in the close-up encounters. For the serious falconer, the week-long Apprenticeship program is money well spent, as it will teach all of the basic knowledge needed to get into Falconry.