Orion and me: Journey to England for an up-close experience with true birds of prey | VailDaily.com

Orion and me: Journey to England for an up-close experience with true birds of prey

Laura Bell
Special to the Daily

Having Orion, a bald eagle, stare at me eye-to-eye was humbling and in turn, awe-inspiring, dramatic and truth be told a little heart stopping.

A 6-pound bird of prey, Orion is one of three bald eagles at The Hawk Conservancy Trust in Andover (southeast) England.

The Conservancy believes such experiences are extremely valuable.

"Our flying displays have been specially crafted over the many years that the Trust has been open. By being able to see our birds in action as they swoop close to your head, visitors get a better understanding of their role in their natural habitat," the Conservancy says. "We combine this with a fun, informative live commentary which explains what the birds are doing and why. For those visitors who feel inspired after spending a day with us and want a more personal and hand on experience, we can cater for this."

Hence my interaction with Orion who, although weighing only 6 pounds, has a 6-foot wingspan. When he spread his wings and clenched his talons deeper into the leather armband I was wearing, my fear gave way to awe and I fully appreciated the Conservancy's message.

"We believe education is a key part of successful conservation. The more information we share about the work we do and the importance of looking after the birds of prey, then the greater chance we have of people being inspired to protect them. As a result, education is an integral part of our mission which is to conserve birds of prey."

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Unique chance to touch

Equally inspiring was the opportunity to fly a harrier hawk. Parsley, weighing less than 2 pounds, flew from his trainer to my gloved hand and was rewarded by a piece of raw meat. We repeated this scenario a few times and Parsley was happy to pose for photos and sit quietly on my arm.

Although there are a few places in the United States where you can learn to fly a hawk, what separates the Conservancy in England is that these hawks are not hooded and you do not need special permits. There are no places in the United States that will allow an uncertified falconer or one in training to hold an eagle.

"Through the activities we offer every day, including flying displays and demonstrations, coupled with our onsite information boards, we aim to allow visitors to discover as much or as little as they like. On top of this, our team have a huge passion for what they do and are always happy to stop for a chat and answer questions," the Conservancy said.

There is a restaurant and gift shop making the outing a full-day event.

If you go …

The Hawk Conservancy Trust, in southeast England, is open daily except for Dec. 25-26 and select times in January. For more information or to purchase tickets online, visit http://www.Hawk-Conservancy.org.

For those interested in meeting, flying and photographing the birds, The Hawk Conservancy Trust offers experience sessions: https://www.hawk-conservancy.org/your-visit/experiences/.

For those who would like to participate in a four-day beginner falconry course, an association with Amews Falconry, the Trust offers an opportunity to gain the nationally recognized LANTRA qualification: https://www.hawk-conservancy.org/product/lantra/. There are several lodging facilities in the vicinity.