Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Birds of Prey at Sylvan Heights

by Sylvan Heights Staff

Falconry is the use of a bird of prey - such as a falcon - to hunt with, and is arguably one of the oldest sports known to man. Earliest records have it dated back to 2000 B.C in the Tigris-Euphrates river system. Many people think of falconry as the sport of kings, but it wasn’t actually introduced to Europe until about 350 A.D when Mongol tribes invaded Western Europe. Falconry has remained much the same since its conception, with only a few technological advances in the last twenty years changing the sport slightly.
Here at Sylvan Heights we have four species of raptor, also known as birds of prey. The term “raptor” comes from the Latin word rapere meaning to seize or plunder with force. The word refers to the hunting style of hawks, eagles, and falcons, with many species using their feet to grab their prey. Our collection of raptors is financially supported through the generous donations of our sponsors, with three of the species on public display. You can see our breeding pair of Eurasian Eagle owls (Bubo bubo), that are considered one of the most genetically important pairs in the country, on display across from our picnic area. And a new pair of burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) is now on display, too. We have high hopes of future success with them.

We also have plans for a future bateleur eagle (Terathopius ecaudatus) exhibit. Currently, our single male is part of only a handful of bateleurs in the United States, with the last successful breeding almost fifteen years ago. It is their precarious future in captivity that has us interested in working with this species.
Sylvan is also home to a female red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) named Cara. She is different than our other species of raptors because she is used as a falconry bird. Our resident falconer trapped her in October 2012 and has been training her ever since. Red-tails are a favorite hawk in the sport because the species is found throughout the United States. Young birds are trapped from the wild because their mortality rate is naturally extremely high, with an estimated 1 in 10 reaching adulthood. With such a high mortality, taking a young bird has no detrimental effect on the population. In fact, many responsible falconers release their birds after several hunting seasons so they can carry out their natural life cycles, and because these birds have survived their first year and know how to hunt they tend to be very successful after their release.

Cara is off exhibit, but some of our Sylvan Heights members receive flight demonstrations for special occasions, getting to meet her and her falconer up close and personal. But for those of you interested in meeting Cara or learning more about the sport of falconry, Sylvan will be hosting Raptors Rule on April 20th, an event sponsored by the North Carolina Science Festival. Come join us as Sylvan Heights staff member and falconer, Dustin Foote, gives a talk about the sport of falconry and raptors.