Stroke the silky-soft feathers of a surprisingly little Barn Owl, experience the rush of air as a Spotted Eagle Owl whooshes silently over your head and feel the weight and power of a Verreaux’s Eagle, as he lands on your (well protected) arm.
These are just some of the experiences to look forward to at Eagle Encounters.
A little way away from the hubbub of Spier’s tasting venue, picnic lawns and restaurants lies Eagle Encounters’ enchanting wildlife rehabilitation, conservation and education centre-home to some truly majestic birds of prey, as well as a myriad of other furry, scaly and fluffy creatures.
The non-profit NGO receives over 200 injured, poisoned, abandoned and illegally hand-raised birds of prey annually – 65% of which they admirably rehabilitate and release back into the wild. Only birds that have been hand-reared, and therefore very sadly imprint on humans, whom they come to irreversibly rely on for food, call Eagle Encounters their lasting home. However, it is these fantastic fowls who also become the ambassadors of their species and give visitors, both young and old, a chance to learn more about their imperative role in our precarious South African ecosystem.
We began our tour with the interactive barn owls and petting part of the centre, where we were introduced to each resident owl by one of Eagle Encounter’s wonderful young volunteers. The crepuscular hunters are nonplussed by the attention they receive but also carefully monitored by staff. We gently petted the bobbing Barn Owls, African Wood Owls and Spotted Eagle Owls on their perches and even met a very tiny (and rather bald-looking) chick who’d just been brought in. After encountering Paul – the gangly, teenaged heron who lives with the more austere Eagle Owls (with comical names that bely their disapproving gazes), we headed over to the flying arena for the 11am ‘Stars in Training’ flying show.
Live Flying Shows
Chantal, one of Eagle Encounter’s knowledgeable handlers, released Spotted Eagle Owls and Barn Owls to fly amongst us, as she educated the captivated crowd about their hunting and eating habits and dispelled common myths that do so much harm to the wondrous birds.
After a few ‘Owlfie Selfie’ pics with those willing to stretch out a leather gloved arm as a landing perch, she replaced the silent flyers to release the superstars – the sharp-eyed falcons and kites who darted around at lighting speed and impressively snatched miniscule bits of meat, while flying in mid-air. The vast wingspans, grace and agility of the kites and eagles was breath-taking to behold up close – inspiring a new appreciation for our raptors that are increasingly under threat from human expansion.
After a leisurely and informative stroll through the various enclosures that house Cape Vultures, a very regal Secretary Bird, and a host of kites, eagles, buzzards, hawks and dozing owls, we headed over to the large eagles that are tethered on their perches (the safest and most humane way to keep birds of their magnitude). Holding Leo, the resident Verreaux & Eagle, on my leather gloved arm was a wonderful highlight, as was witnessing the Martial Eagle stretch out her 8-foot wingspan as she proudly ruffled her feathers, enjoying the admiration from onlookers.
Friends Without Feathers
Fearsome raptors aren’t the only creatures that call Eagle Encounters home. The “petting zoo” is populated by very sweet little potbelly pigs, rabbits, tortoises, chickens and even Green Iguanas and Bearded Dragon Lizards – all of whom can be held under supervision. If you’re feeling bold, ask to drape Charlie – the Red-Tailed Boa Constrictor over your arms, and feel his powerful muscles slowly glide around your shoulders.
The heartfelt passion for education and conservation is evident at Eagle Encounters – a must for families and anyone keen on learning more about the Western Cape’s rich birdlife.
Spier is a one-stop destination for wine and food lovers so make sure to flit down and grab a bite at Hoghouse Bakery and BBQ. Read more about our mouth-watering experience here.
Visit Eagle Encounters
Blog post by: Tarah Darge
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