Last month, the girls and I joined some fellow homeschoolers to visit the Raptors in Duncan, BC. No, we weren’t at a sporting event, as many people assumed when I mentioned the name. We got to see real, life Raptors—the winged, clawed type. We’ve often seen the sign for the Raptors when driving up-island, so I was very excited to have the chance to actually stop in and see what was there.
It was a drizzly, rainy morning when we arrived (a little bit late) in the middle of a presentation about two birds that weren’t raptors. Our guide was showing off the turkey vultures and kookaburras, two predator-type birds that don’t fit the description of raptor.
Seeing the kookaburras brought back memories of Australia for me, especially when she made them laugh and commented on how they’re hated by Aussies because of their tendency to steal food. There were quite a few kookaburras around Pittwater, one of the hostels I stayed and worked at, and I knew enough not to leave my food unattended when they were around. However, one morning while I was enjoying my toasted English muffin on the sunny deck overlooking Morning Bay, a cheeky kookaburra swooped right in and stole it from my hand!
Back to the raptors. After meeting the kookaburras and turkey vultures, we followed our guide over to where the real raptors were waiting for us—looking just as miserable as we were in the rain. First, she had Manwe, a bald eagle, hop up onto her arm. (A few of us loved the Tolkien reference.) Manwe apparently didn’t like her hood, so she took it off for him. He eyed us up while she talked about what he liked and didn’t like and what he could do. For me, it was fascinating to see her relationship with this huge bird, and how he acted while sitting on her arm. She asked us to guess how heavy he was, and all of us were way overboard. The eagle looked big, but was actually only about seven pounds. (Oh right, birds have hollow bones.)
We moved on to view Altani, a golden eagle, who had been shrieking at us the whole time we were visiting with Manwe. Our guide explained that Altani was a young eagle who, like any spoiled toddler, was simply shrieking to get attention. If she’d been in the wild, she’d stop doing that when her parents kicked her out of the nest, but since she was here at the centre, she was turning into a spoiled teenager. We all laughed. Altani delighted us by demonstrating how eagles have baths in a little blue toddler pool (apparently they actually like rain, because it gives them a chance to clean up).
We then wandered past a few wet hawks sitting out on their perches. Our guide said she’d put them away immediately after we viewed them, because they didn’t like sitting out in the wet any more than we did. We then went inside, where she brought a few owls to introduce to us as well as a falcon. Even Jade (now 20 months) was getting into the presentation and watching the birds, wanting me to hold her so that she could get a better view. She was quite concerned when a couple of the birds pooped on the floor—actually, we all were after the owl pooped, as it was very stinky and finally chased us outside to some fresh air for the end of the discussion about his abilities.
Finally, we got to the most exciting part of the field trip, and the one to which our guide had been referring all morning. We walked down to the flying field, a wide open green space with a swamp, a forested hill to our left, and several rows of benches for us to sit on. The benches were wet, so we spread out a few coats (it wasn’t raining now) for the kids to sit on, and waiting for the guide and the birds to show up.
We didn’t have long to wait. She soon arrived with some food (mostly quail meat) in a belt to tempt the raptors into flying, and we got to see these amazing, graceful birds in action. Manwe was brought down to fly by another staff member, who remained up the hill near a perch. It was amazing to watch the eagle up close as he swooped down the hill, a few scant inches off the ground (creating his own wind currents to hold himself up). Our guide demonstrated how eagles grab fish from ponds (swooping near the surface rather than diving in). Manwe flew back and forth, and each time it was breathtaking and amazing to see him go past.
We got to see a peregrine falcon swoop down upon a lure (fake rabbit) and pretend to kill it, and to watch the owls fly back and forth, and even saw the turkey vulture showing off his skills (he was liked flying right over our heads, nearly bumping a few umbrellas).
Overall, it was a fascinating day. I grabbed a couple colouring books for the girls in the Raptors’ Gift Shop, to continue talking about the birds at home. I’m looking forward to going up there again with my husband on a sunnier day to see the birds fly again. If you’re in the Duncan area, I thoroughly recommend stopping in at the Raptors. To find out more about the hours (which are seasonal), what they do, and watch a birds of prey video, drop by the Raptors website.