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.
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.
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.
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.
When Hisan returned to his trainer, everyone in the audience was able to don the gauntlet and experience this beautiful bird up close.
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.
The Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre is at:
1164 Paradise Valley Road, Ngongotaha, Rotorua 3072, NZ
Phone +64 7 357 4469