Friday, 27 August 2010

Raptors on the Burren

When we visited the Burren, The Girl and I visited the Raptor Center that lies on Ailwee Mountain over the caves. As I mentioned, the center takes in birds that have been injured or brought to Ireland illegally, and trains them to perform in shows that keep the center going and educates the public about these magnificent animals.

The birds' trainer said that they each bird species sees the world differently, their bodies specializing in diffferent niches. The eagles soar, their wings built for grand sweeps down toward prey, and while they have no sense of smell and their hearing is no better than ours, their sight is amazing: they have telescopic vision and can see ultraviolet. We are colour-blind by comparison to them, and I cannot imagine what world they see all around us, to which we are oblivious.

The falcons are kamikazes, the fastest animals in the world, and are made to snatch other birds out of the sky in mid-flight. At the climax of the show, as her human swung a leather pouch at the end of a three-metre rope, she leapt dozens of metres into the air until she was a dot against the sun, twisted in mid-air, and dive-bombed the target at 150 kilometres an hour.

The owls are built for stealth, of course, and are almost colour-blind; seeing colours would interfere with their night vision. They are extremely far-sighted, so while they can spot movement far away, they are blind close-up, and cannot see their prey as they catch it. They know the world mainly through hearing it, and this makes them the most difficult to train; they constantly hear cars in the distance and other modern noises we cannot hear. It gives them, I'm told, the attention span of kittens. But no less amazing to watch.

Top photo: Owl in flight.
Middle photo: Falcon alighting from perch.
Bottom photo: Eagle against the sun.

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