Close encounters of the bird kind (sorry, really, I couldn’t resist)

Close-up shot of juvenile NZ falcon named Hisan, at the Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre, Rotorua, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Hisan, a juvenile NZ falcon. Seen at the Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre, Rotorua, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

The Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre in Rotorua has been on my list of places to visit for a while, and last weekend the Big T and I finally got there.

The Centre was established out of a commitment by a group of individuals to preserve the native NZ falcon, or Karearea, and other threatened native birds of prey.

Wingspan supports wild populations directly by releasing captive bred falcons and rehabilitating injured wild birds. Through research and advocacy, Wingspan also supports long-term sustainable conservation action by identifying the reasons for the decline in wild populations and promoting action to reverse this. — Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre

As well as aviaries for the birds currently being bred, rehabilitated or permanently cared for, the Centre also has a fascinating collection of falconry items in its museum.

Juvenile Karearea (NZ Falcon) resting on falconer's gauntlet at Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre, Roytorua. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

A snack while the audience assembles. Hisan the Karearea eating rabbit held in the falconer’s gauntlet. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Hisan the Karearea snacking on rabbit at the Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre, Rotorua. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Making short work of it. Hisan the Karearea snacking on rabbit. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Hisan, juvenile Karearea, at Wingpsan Birds of Prey Centre, Rotorua. Image: Su Leslie

Hisan, juvenile Karearea, at Wingpsan Birds of Prey Centre, Rotorua. Image: Su Leslie

But the highlight of a visit to Wingspan is watching a flying display. I confess I’m always dubious about attractions that seem to involve “performing” animals, but at Wingspan, the focus is on the bird’s welfare and development. We were told that Hisan, the juvenile Karearea we saw, is a good candidate for release into the wild. But for that to happen, the Centre staff need to be sure he has the skills to survive. So while Hisan’s afternoon flight sessions are highly entertaining for watching humans, they are vital to his development and well-being.

NZ falcon at Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre, held by staff member during display. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

An explanation to the audience before Hisan was released. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Hisan, juvenile Karearea, getting ready for flight at Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre, Rotorua. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Ready for take-off. Image” Su Leslie, 2016

We were told that Hisan’s flights were becoming longer and taking him further from “home” — signs of his maturity. It meant quite a lot of waiting around for us, but I felt much better knowing that Hisan’s welfare wasn’t being compromised for our entertainment.

Hisan, a juvenile Karearea in flight at Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre, Rotorua. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Hisan in flight. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Karearea eating meat attached to falconer's lure, Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre, Rotorua. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Caught! Hisan devouring the meat attached to the falconer’s lure. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Heidi, Hisan’s trainer, swung a feathered lure on a long rope to attract Hisan back to her. His skills are developed by intercepting the lure while it’s airborne.

Juvenile Karearea, at Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre, Rotorua. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Image: Su Leslie, 2016

When Hisan returned to his trainer, everyone in the audience was able to don the gauntlet and experience this beautiful bird up close.

Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre falcon trainer readies the gauntlet on a boy's hand to attract Hisan. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Baiting the gauntlet with meat for Hisan. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

The Big T with Hisan. Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre, Rotorua. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

The Big T with Hisan. Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre, Rotorua. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Both the Big T and I are still raving about our afternoon at the Wingspan Centre. We loved that it provided a really down-to-earth, interesting visitor experience in an environment that is fundamentally about conserving a beautiful native species of bird which is threatened by loss of habitat and other forces.

News Flash: in the last couple of days, Hisan has made his first kill — an important milestone on the road to his release into the wild.

wingspan-fb-page

Great news from the Wingspan Trust FaceBook page.

The Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre is at:

1164 Paradise Valley Road, Ngongotaha, Rotorua 3072, NZ

Phone +64 7 357 4469

www.wingspan.co.nz

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27 thoughts on “Close encounters of the bird kind (sorry, really, I couldn’t resist)

    • Thank you Amy. I did get to hold him. It was amazing to look into those eyes close-up; he is utterly beautiful. The Big T took photos on his phone, but I forgot to ask him to send them to me.

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  1. How exciting and interesting! And good for Hisan, catching his first live pry. It sounds like he’s well on his way to a successful release into the wild. How wonderful. What an amazing place.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the title, Su, and I really, really enjoyed the post. I love birds of prey and I’ve seen a falconer fly hawks and falcons before. It was wonderful. He said that you are never the birds’ friend and he had a young one that he said might not come back when he flew it. (It did.) The place you visited sounds fascinating. Thanks for sharing the wonderful photos as well as the commentary.

    janet

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    • Thank you Janet. The trainer we met said much the same thing as the falconer you mention. She said it was a very one-sided love affair. Just a couple of weeks before we were there, a mature falcon did fly off and not return. He was 12 and the people at Wingspan weren’t optimistic about his chances in the wild. So sad. Su.

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  3. Pingback: 2016: a personal retrospective | Zimmerbitch

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