The Falconry (and other birds of prey) Experience

As I mentioned in my last post, for Valentine’s Day this year I got Evan a Falconry (and other birds of prey) Experience for two through Groupon with the Ontario Falconry Centre. Very romantic Valentine’s gift, I’m aware, but we’re not usually super traditional on Big V Day, and who doesn’t like birds? Well, lots of people I guess… Evan does love birds though. He does not love snakes, so I would never get him an exotic snake experience…but birds I thought he would enjoy.

So last week we cashed that in. Now you would assume that because it is with the Ontario Falconry Centre this would be quite an official experience. It has an official sound to it, like the Ontario Science Centre, or the Royal Ontario Museum. I was expecting to go to some sort of bird sanctuary, so when the directions we had took us to the back of a church parking lot in Bowmanville I was a bit surprised. I was further surprised to discover that the Ontario Falconry Centre is a one-man operation and the “centre” would be his house, though the experience is not run out of his house — he rents the field at the church for it, so the “centre” in this instance was a trailer attached to the back of his truck. The owner Sam, is a guy who just loves birds and started raising them from a young age, and now owns the Ontario Falconry Centre.

As soon as we pulled up Sam gave us a thumbs up and we could see fresh stitches sticking out of his thumb…obviously we were all “OMG he was totally attacked by a bird” but no, he had been framing a house earlier that day and put a nail through his thumb. He also had a bit of blood (I’m assuming) splattered on his shirt, and he said he had just fed the birds so I am not sure if the blood was from that or if it was possibly from his thumb accident. And there may have been a piece of skin clinging to the big leather glove Sam handed to Evan… Evan just brushed it off and we sort of looked at each other and laughed and were like “welp, we’re here, we’re doing this.”

So we did. I wanted to give you an accurate picture and I hope I didn’t scare you off because that all being said, I liked Sam immediately. He’s a character for sure, but I think you have to be to run that sort of operation. He was hilarious but extremely knowledgeable, his birds were clearly loved and well taken care of, and though it was not quite what I was picturing, the actual experience was better than I imagined. He does a lot of work with the Discovery Channel, and he sometimes gets actual work for his birds. He told us that one time he got this contract to clear a dump of rodents, so he brought his falcons there and they just went hunting for rats. I thought that was really interesting. It makes me happy that they still get to hunt!

Here’s a great video on the whole thing:

Alright, let’s get to the birds. We started with three falcons that Sam brought. I am not super falcon savvy and I can’t remember all the facts he was telling us about them, so if you want to read more about falcons just go here.

This female falcon came out first, and she seemed to like us a little bit.

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Sam told us that if he took you on as his apprentice you would start with this bird.

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I think Evan might be tempted to get into falconry, but I am not sure what the point is of having pets that you can’t snuggle with.

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The male falcon was next. He was smaller than the female (and more of a pussy, apparently) but he did have beautiful eyes.

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And he did not mind us petting him.

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Don’t quote me on this but I think those were all gyrfalcons. Sam was explaining the difference, but I was kind of excited to be holding the birds so I am bad at remembering the details.

This is a Peregrine falcon. He was super wired and a bit of a coconut so he needed to keep his hood on.

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I guess with their hoods they are quite calm and won’t fly.

Once the falcons were out of the way, we were onto the birds of prey. Next was the great horned owl. Sam described her as a vicious killing machine and his best hunter. He said she once took down a coyote! There was no touching the great horned owl.

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But she was beautiful and this was the first bird I held where I could really feel her talons clenching my glove.

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I thought she looked quite fluffy and snuggly…but it was a trick. Sam was talking about how this owl imprinted on him because he had her when she was just a baby, and my thoughts immediately went to stupid Twilight. Pretty sure it is not the same context. She just thought Sam was her mama.

Here’s a video of Evan with the great horned owl:

Next was my favourite, the snowy owl! We could touch her!

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She was actually a little snuggly and let us pet her. She liked it.

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She totally looked like Hedwig from Harry Potter.

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The way those owls swivel their heads all the way around is so unnatural and weird looking. Interesting though, no doubt. She was a muffin. Here’s a video of Evan with the snowy owl:

And lastly we have the mother of all birds. The bald eagle. She had been sitting quietly on her perch with her hood on until then, and she came out with a vengeance.

She is HUGE. Sam said she weighs 10 pounds.

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Her talon was quite close to Evan’s bare skin so you can see he is definitely wary of that happening in the above photo.

It took her a moment to get settled so she just flapped her wings around Evan’s head for a minute while that was happening, which was entertaining.

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I think there is only one word to describe her, and that is majestic.

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She is amazing.

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She was so heavy that I had trouble holding her up so I had to brace my right arm under my left, and eventually Sam had to step in and help me out.

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Majestic, I tell you.

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Sam told us that once she is about nine or so he probably won’t be able to handle her at all anymore, she will be too vicious.

Overall it took about an hour and it was truly an amazing experience. Evan has been raving about it for days. We might do the second workshop where you actually get to fly the birds. I highly recommend it. You can book it without a Groupon but they pop up pretty often so keep an eye out!

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