Saturday 22nd January 2011
It would seem that the server/internet provider is down, so I might not be able to post this blog today. If that is the case, you will be reading this in retrospect.
There has been a hard frost again for a few nights. The hosepipes are frozen solid again, but somehow despite being cold, you know this is ‘British’ cold, and not like it was through December. The nights don’t seem quite as dark as they did a month ago. When I go home at night, it is dusk rather than dark, so light can now be seen at the end of the tunnel. You know spring is round the corner despite the fact that it is still January.
The owls know this as well. The Eurasian Scops Owls are calling at dusk time; ‘Sweaty Betty’ the female Mackinder’s Eagle Owl in the Breeding Ground’ is rummaging in her nest tray. The White-faced Owls in the Owl Garden are thinking about breeding, as the female is in the nest box. As you are probably aware, we already have some breeding results; the Indian Eagle Owls and the Ferruginous Pygmy Owls have already successfully bred despite the cold.
The keepers have been reading a book which was recommended by a keeper in a zoo in Canada. It’s about ‘clicker’ training, where the animal is taught to accept the reward of ‘a click’ for a desired course of action. This is how many animals are trained in zoos the world over. Snowy Owls have been trained using these methods for films like Harry Potter. If you can train a Snowy Owl, you can probably train any owl. We use falconry methods, where the owl gets rewarded with a piece of meat. To ensure the desired outcome, the flying session coincides with mealtime when the bird is hungry. This is called ‘bribery’. We may look into the possibility of training an owl using the clicker method. My instinct tells me that an owl with a full belly knows its own mind, and will vote with its wings and clear off. There is no harm in exploring this possibility though, with one of our performers, and monitor its progress on the creance line. You never know, I might be wrong. And let’s face it; if we are going to try, we have to start thinking about it now, as the window for preparing the birds for Meet the Birds is fast approaching.
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