Free as a Bird!

At the beginning of May, the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary was able to resume it’s exciting flying displays, after the lifting of avian flu restrictions.

During the period of ‘bird lockdown’ displays had been suspended and bio-security measures put in place to help to prevent the spread of avian flu in the local area. This also afforded an opportunity for the falconry team to work with the birds to move towards a more ‘hands-off’ and bird centred approach to demonstrations.

A new aviary block was built to not only provide spacious, individual accommodation for the flying team birds, but to also incorporate a covered training ground in which the birds could be free lofted. This they will do during the new displays, flying directly from hatches in the back of these aviaries onto the flying ground, so there is no longer any necessity for the falconers to carry birds on the glove, secured by jesses.

A few of the centre’s larger birds are already accustomed to flying straight from aviaries…notably the vultures and red kites. This has always proved very popular with the public, as the birds’ imposing entrance to proceedings is quite spectacular.

It has also reaped benefits from a bird welfare point of view, dispensing with the need to tether birds whilst they are waiting to fly. This shift in emphasis from tethering to freedom of movement has necessitated many hours of patient interaction between the falconers and the birds.

Captive bred birds which have been accustomed to waiting patiently on perches for their handler, can be somewhat reluctant to immediately take to spacious aviaries and lots of space to fly free. The process of familiarisation with this new environment is a gradual one, progressing over several months until the birds are confident and content in their new surroundings.

Visitors will be able to enjoy the evidence of this new regime twice every day, at the 11.30am and 2.30pm flying displays.

In addition, the popular meerkat talks will also take place at 11am and 2pm.

The sanctuary site offers two acres of landscaped grounds, with a pretty Woodland Walk – home to the cheeky meerkats and shy red squirrels – and a quiet, relaxing Sensory Garden featuring bee and butterfly friendly borders and wheelchair height herb garden. Paths are level and tarmac, affording ease of movement for wheelchairs and buggies and there are plenty of picnic tables provided for al fresco lunches – some are wheelchair specific.

The education building is also home to the giant millipede, cockroaches, Indian stick insects and black rats. Younger visitors can also enjoy an inclusive play area with double width slide, multi-child swing and wheelchair accessible roundabout.

Several wheelchairs and walking aids are available on loan (please phone to book in advance).

There is a bistro style restaurant within a few yards of the centre and as visitors leave the sanctuary, they are welcome to browse in the unique, owlie gift shop.

For further details, please ‘phone 0345 680 7897 or refer to the website at