|Welcome to Cheshire Waterlife|
The little owl was introduced to Britain in the nineteenth century and now ranges throughout much of England and Wales but only a small proportion of Scotland. Other introductions include New Zealand where they have become well established. In the wild this bird is most commonly seen on a perch by roadsides or flitting along hedgerows at dawn or dusk.
The long eared owl (Asio otus) is a bird of woodland and forest edges. In our aviary complex we exhibit a pair of the Eurasian race, there being three others worldwide. When roosting, this owl is capable of contracting its feathers against its body to form a very thin shape. Coupled with its brown streaked plumage this makes very effective camouflage. When settled the feathers are relaxed and the owls form becomes much more rounded. The ear tufts which give this owl species its common name have an unclear purpose. They could be involved in signalling or even have a sensory role. They do not however aid in hearing! However, hearing in all owls is exceptionally acute and is used in prey detection. The facial disc of owls formed by the feathers serves to channel sound to the ears. The size and structure of the ears varies between left and right which enables the owl to locate the source of a sound with a high degree of accuracy. This enables an owl to catch prey in total darkness. Long eared owls feed almost exclusively on voles and their numbers are linked directly to breeding success. Up to as many as ten eggs can be laid in a good vole year. Incubation takes 25 -28 days and the young leave the nest at 25 days although they cannot fly for another ten days. This helps avoid detection by predator - an open nest of youngsters being prone to detection by predators.
Tawny owls pair for life (pictured right) and tend to occupy the same territory throughout this time. Territory size is linked directly to prey availability. These include voles, mice, roosting birds even moths and beetles. Eggs are laid in clutches of two to six in the U.K. and hatch within a month. A further month later the young leave the nest and begin the search for new territories. This is not an easy task since males will fight to defend a territory. Its a hard life for these young owls and in many cases a short one.
Always a favourite with the public is our pair of Snowy owls (Nyctea scandiaca). These beautiful birds are typically inhabitants of the Arctic circle although migrations have taken them as far south as California, France - even Korea and Pakistan! They are occasional visitors to the UK. The male snowy owl is almost pure white with the female showing black bars and flecks across the white background.
The only birds larger than the snowy owls here at Cheshire WaterLife are the pair of European eagle owls (Bubo bubo). The female, Ozzie, weighs almost 4 kilos! Only the occasional bird is found in the UK either as a straggler from the Eurasian population or captive escapees. A variety of habitats is used by these owls from northern coniferous forest to desert. Plumage can vary considerably depending on the range.
This species is generally a ground nesting bird the nest itself usually taking the from of a simple "scrape" or depression in the ground. Rarely , they will use the nest of another bird. An absolute maximum of four eggs are laid although all the nestlings from a given clutch seldom survive to adulthood. The male provides all the food for the female for the first month until she can leave the young and hunt herself. Although quite common in Bird of Prey collections - even with private collections this magnificent bird is declining in the wild. It prefers undisturbed countryside and remote areas which are becoming increasingly scarce due to human encroachment.
Activity is largely concentrated at dawn and dusk but daytime forays are not uncommon.
The Malaysian wood owl is a shy bird and can be difficult to spot in the wild. Its plumage offers superb camouflage in the forested areas it inhabits. It preys on a variety of animals including large birds, insects, mammals and even fish in certain parts of the range. Two eggs are laid in a tree trunk or similar nest but little else is known about the reproductive biology of this species in the wild. It is being bred with increasing frequency in breeding projects in this country and several; institutions around the world .At Cheshire WaterLife a Malaysian Wood Owl features quite heavily in our flying displays. "Marmite" was bred by a local breeder and raised by the falconry team here at the centre. He has a unique character and is much loved by our visitors!
One of our most unique owl residents is the free flying Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa). Mistral forms an integral part of our flying displays and is one of only 2 trained Great Grey owls in the country. Its large appearance is afforded by voluminous feathers which hide a quite small body. This is an adaptation to the extreme climate in the areas in whcih it is found. The Great Grey is found in north america and europe occupying the huge coniferous forests typical of the northern reaches of these areas.
Perhaps the most unique feature of this owl is the huge facial disc which acts like a satellite dish - focusing sound waves to the ears. By contrast the eyes are small, suggesting that this bird relys far more on hearing than sight in prey location. The fact that their volume is greater than their mass is reflected in their prey species. These consist mainly of small, vole sized mammals. In years when voles are scarce the Great Grey may have to range further than its usual territory in order to obtain food. Another factor which belies this owls small body weight is the incubation time for the eggs which is only fractionally longer than for the Tawny owl. As long as the great northern forests of North America and Europe remain largely untouched by man this owl should continue to grace them with its presence.
A new addition to the aviary complex is the lovely White-faced scops owl (above, left).
This is next to it's somewhat different looking cousin the Indian Scops owl (right).
Of which this picture portrays one of the pair we have recently acquired. We have high hopes that they will breed in the near future.
Next to the owls is the first of our hawk species.
Our first hawks species is the Harris' Hawk. This aviary contains one of the first birds ever trained by a member of staff at Cheshire WaterLife. "Tula" is a mature female Harris' hawk who is currently in a breeding program with "Moose" - a three year old male. Tula was a superb hunting bird over recent years but also retained her very amiable disposition We felt that this was a desirable trait and one we hope will persist in her offspring.
Falcons at Cheshire WaterLife