Boasting the largest collection of Birds of Prey in the north of England, this is a lovely setting in the grounds of Duncombe Park on the outskirts of Helmsley.
There are over 40 aviaries housing different species of owls, hawks and eagles from across the world. Apart from the ‘trained owls’, all the birds are part of a breeding programme to release the offspring back into the world. Several birds were incubating eggs when we visited. On each cage is a notice with information about the birds, their range, habitat, breeding and migration as well as a fun fact about each species. Birds vary from the tiny burrowing owls to the massive eagles with their 8’ wing span. On the wall of one of the aviaries are cut out silhouettes showing the size of the birds with a bag of sand showing how much they weigh.
At the centre of the site is the ‘Hawk Walk’. This is a grassy area surrounded by aviaries. The birds are flown daily and in good weather they are brought out onto perches in the lawn to enjoy the sunshine, and fresh air. This is a chance to see bald eagles, Steppe eagles, hybrid falcons and Harris hawks up close and not through a wire mesh.
There are two flying every day with three in the summer months. The flying ground is a short walk from the aviaries and four birds are flown each session, with different birds flown at each. We saw the Harris hawk, Steppe Eagle, tawny owl and a kestrel being flown. Each display takes just over five minutes and the handler explains a bit about the bird, where it is found and how it is trained. The experience of watching a Steppe Eagle fly close above your head as it circles the flying are is awesome.
In bad weather, there is an indoor flying area.
The centre also runs photography courses, falconry experiences and a chance to watch owls flying at night during the winter months.
It was a bitterly cold day in early February when we visited. We enjoyed looking at the different birds and were amazed by all the different owls from the tiny burrowing owls to the huge great grey owl and the spectacled owl with its dramatic plumage.
The flying display is the highlight of a visit and shouldn’t be missed. Staff may also be training birds as well.
We probably spent an hour admiring the birds. We enjoyed the visit, but probably feel we have ‘done’ the centre now. It is a worthy cause, especially in helping to preserve these wonderful birds. The Steppe Eagle used to be one of the most common birds in Asia but numbers have plummeted recently. Farmers have been using diclofenac (voltarol) in cattle to prevent painful joints. This has got into the bird’s food chain causing kidney failure. Without breeding programmes, these birds are in anger of extinction.
The centre is open seven days a week from the end of January until Christmas Eve. There is a good shop and a cafe from Easter until the autumn. Entry isn’t cheap at £9 for adults and £8 for concessions but weighed against this it has to be remembered that overheads are very high. Visitors are given a wristband, so can re-enter the centre during the day. For those contemplating several visitors there is a season ticket. You can also support them by adopting a bird.
There is plenty of parking by the centre. It is well adapted for people with disabilities or wheelchairs and pushchairs. Assistance dogs are allowed with advance notice.