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Most people are content to have a cat or a dog as a pet, but for some people keeping an animal that they can work with is the ultimate partnership. Whether it’s a horse, a working dog or a bird of prey, there are many creatures that will work, as well as provide companionship, and give their owners an overwhelming sense of pride and satisfaction when the partnership is successful. If you prefer a pet of the feathered variety, then keeping a bird of prey can be very rewarding, however there are a number of things that must be considered before you take the plunge. A raptor is not an easy animal to keep and there are laws which must be adhered to in order to keep one legally in the UK. Birds of prey also need very specific care - they require attention around the clock and you must have arrangements in place if you are unable to look after the bird. You should also work out whether you have enough time, funds and facilities to care for your new friend.
If you are considering purchasing a bird of prey, the chances are you have some experience of these fabulous creatures and the people who work with them on a regular basis. Visiting a Bird of Prey centre is a great place to start, but you’ll need some hands-on experience before you bring your own bird home. Talk to owners and keepers; see if you can get some work experience or help an existing owner. Do whatever you can to fully understand the commitment required. Many birds of prey or falconry clubs offer classes for beginners and there are a few good-quality courses out there that will help develop your experience. If you have a friendly breeder or keeper living nearby, seek them out and see if they’d be willing to share their experience. DVDs and books are also a useful source of reference material, but these cannot replace actual experience.
There are very strict laws surrounding the keeping of raptors in the UK. You must ensure the bird is captive bred so you need proof of breeding. Before you obtain a bird, you should contact Defra to find out exactly what is required from a legal point of view. Depending on the type of bird you are considering, there are a number of criteria that should be met before bringing a bird home and all should be ringed and have appropriate documentation as proof of its origins. Again, you should find out exactly what paperwork should be in place before purchasing an animal and it’s worth seeking out a reputable breeder who can help guide you through the process and provide you with your first animal. There are a numerous pitfalls associated with buying a bird of prey so it pays to be vigilant.
Suitable living accommodation should be prepared before the bird arrives. Whether you are providing an aviary or weathering area, you should ensure this is of a minimum length and width that is at least double the wingspan of the species being housed. As much room as possible should be given to the bird to ensure optimum comfort, any signs of stress in the bird when in its quarters should be noted and issues addressed without delay. All housing should be safe from cats, dogs, mink and other predators at all times. When the bird is not flying, or during extended periods of inactivity – such as moulting - the bird will need to be somewhere he can fully relax. The housing area should protect the bird from all weathers and should be dry, draught-free and completely free of contaminants such as fungal spores. The area should also be easy to clean as droppings and discarded food will need to be removed daily. Any fittings and fitments should be designed not to cause injury to the bird, and the structure should be robust enough to withstand extremes of weather and temperature. There will also be times when the bird will need to be transported – be it to a demonstration, or for a visit to the vets. All birds should travel in a specially constructed box. This should be big enough for the bird to stand without touching the sides or the top of the box. The interior of the box should be dark, as this will keep the animal calm, but ventilation holes should be included towards the bottom of the box. Clean open-weave carpeting or astroturf should be used on the floor of the box to give the animal good purchase. Overheating should never be allowed, and as birds are particularly susceptible to fumes, they should never travel in a car boot. The box should be clearly marked with the contact details of the owner as well as those of its intended destination.
If you intend to train your feathered friend then a nutritious diet should be offered. Any meat should be fresh, stored hygienically and free of lead shot. There are commercial suppliers of raptor food and these can be found in the IBR Falcon Directory. A source of fresh, clean drinking water should be available at all times.
Day flying (diurnal) raptors should not be tethered unless they are flying daily, in training or undergoing veterinary treatment. Small owls for example should not be tethered once they have undergone training and should be kept in an aviary when not being flown. No tethered birds should be exposed to extreme weather conditions, predation or kept without water. Any perches offered should be of an appropriate size and type for the bird and these should be checked regularly for signs of wear and tear. Most foot problems diagnosed in captive raptors are the result of perches in poor repair.
Any captive bird of prey should be checked daily for signs of injury. You will quickly get to know your bird and recognise even the slightest deviation from the norm that may indicate illness. These are delicate creatures and any potential problem should be attended to rapidly. In order to keep potential illnesses at bay the bird’s accommodation should be cleaned daily and any left-over food removed to prevent decay.
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