This week, we have been catching up with one of our fabulous Bird of Prey experience providers – Icarus Falconry, in Northamptonshire. Expert Falconer, Jo Askew was kind enough to take some time out of her busy day to share her knowledge with us…
The centre was born from the passion of Mike Hewlett (and his then business partner), for birds of prey and the natural world. Set up in the early 2000s to be a centre of excellence for the care of birds of prey and hands-on experiences, the centre has also continued to remember its roots in the historic sport of falconry. The collection of birds here has grown over the years, to become one of the most diverse in the country.
What makes your experiences unique and special for customers?
We specialise in making our guests experiences unforgettable and as hands-on as possible. The emphasis is very much focused on guests having the opportunity to handle and spend quality time with our birds, in both the natural surroundings of the rolling countryside and woodland, and the fine formal gardens of Holdenby House. Small groups (up to 4 participants) ensure that everyone who attends gets lots of opportunity to handle the birds and receive maximum attention of our expert staff.
Our most popular bird by a long way is 'Pedro', our Burrowing Owl. At a mere 4.5oz he is the smallest owl we work with at the centre and one that anyone can get involved with flying. Like all of our owls, Pedro has been hand-reared by staff, so he is very confident when flying to guests. The joy of having such a tiny owl gently alight from the palm of your hand is an experience which is never forgotten! As his name suggests, Pedro also enjoys tunnelling through his very own custom-built burrows!
I also got the opportunity to hand rear a baby Milky Eagle Owl (Africa's largest species of owl!) this year. He spent all his baby time in my home and came everywhere with me. He now flies to guests at the centre, on experience days and I am very proud.
As a falconer, I have the privilege of working with what is essentially a wild animal on a daily basis, and love watching them progress, displaying their natural behaviour in the air. This gives me a brilliant opportunity to teach people all about the natural world and, where possible, how they can help with the conservation of endangered species.
Being out in the beautiful Northamptonshire countryside everyday isn't bad either!
And are there any less enjoyable aspect of Falconry?
It's not always dry! The weather can occasionally test us and sometimes means a halt in birds' training.
Q. Can I take photographs?
A. Of course you can! We want all our guests to capture the abundance of wonderful memories being made during their experience.
Do you have any exclusive information you can share with us?
Throughout the seasons the flying team changes and we are often training new additions, so every experience is different. A word to the wise - if you visit us in the spring there is every chance you'll see some of our baby birds being fed, reared and trained.
And finally...are there any members of the team you'd like to give a special mention to?
All of them! Our small team of staff are dedicated to the job they do with our birds and the care of the guests they welcome to the centre.
Thanks again, Jo for chatting with us! If you’d like to take part in either a full day or half day bird of prey experience with the fantastic falconers at Icarus, please take a look at the activity details, here.