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A Raptor Encounter of the Up-Close Kind

The Mountsberg Raptor Centre, located at Conservation Halton's Mountsberg Conservation Area, invited us to experience a Raptor Encounter a few weeks ago and we soared at the opportunity.  You see, we like birds.  Especially birds that you don't see very often, like hawks and owls and falcons.  In fact, watching for birds has become a way to make long (and short) drives a little more interesting.  I'm always trying to spot a hawk or falcon perched on a fence post or hunting over a field, a heron fishing in a pond or a turkey vulture soaring on the thermals.

Eastern Screech Owl, Mountsberg Raptor Centre, Raptor Encounter
This is Echo, a lovely little Eastern Screech-Owl.
While I enjoy playing spot-the-cool-bird whenever I get in a car or head out on a trail, Emma has developed a bit of an obsession with owls. She has owl decor throughout her bedroom. Owls on clothing. Owl stuffed toys. An owl wallet. An owl purse....  You get the idea.

You could say we have a bit of a feather fascination, so we could not resist meeting some avian awesomeness face-to-beak.




What is a Raptor Encounter?  It's a personalized, behind-the-scenes look at the Mountsberg Raptor Centre that includes the incredible experience of putting on a falconer's glove and holding a resident bird of prey.  And that, my friends, is a very cool encounter of the up-close kind.

Our tour started inside the Raptor Centre, where Raptor Centre Lead, Amy met us and talked about the centre and the work they do with the birds.  Did you know that approximately 15 birds of prey call the centre home?  Many of the residents have had injuries that make them unable to survive in the wild  - often because of the actions of humans.

Each bird has a different biography of how they came to call Mountsberg home, but the theme of human interference is a sad and common thread for many of them.  Hearing the stories of human ignorance that took them out of the wild made me angry.

The good news is that after spending an hour with the staff and volunteers at the centre, I also felt uplifted with the knowledge that there are people dedicated to caring for our native birds while teaching about the importance of these animals to our environment and constructively educating people the right (and wrong) way to co-exist with birds of prey.

We started our behind-the scenes look where food is prepared for the birds and, medical care is given and health and welfare of the birds is meticulously monitored and recorded.  I was amazed to learn that each meal is recorded and the birds are weighed daily.

We also learned about the Centre's Shrike Recovery Project.  The centre has launched an initiative to help bring the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike back from the brink of extinction.  We met one of the resident Shrikes and were amazed to watch it's skill at impaling it's prey on sticks before it eats it.  Gross? Maybe. Cool? Definitely!

As a side note, we also saw meals for the birds.  A bucket of chicken - and I don't mean the deep-fried-secret-recipe kind - was on the counter ready for feeding. Once I figured out what was in the container, I didn't spend much time checking it out. But the chicken was raw. And I think there were still feathers attached.  I'm not overly queasy, so it didn't bother me to see the raptor food.  Amy warned us before we went into the room that there may be some raptor food out.  The staff conducting raptor tours will ensure that you don't see the food if you let them know it could be a problem - something to consider if you take young children on a Raptor Encounter, or you have a sensitive stomach.

Moving through the centre, we entered an enclosure area for a number of the resident birds.  Volunteers were working hard cleaning the cages.   This is where we learned that much of a volunteer's work involves cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning.  These folks definitely must love the raptors, as they spend a lot of time with water hoses and scrub brushes to keep the enclosures clean.

As the volunteers cleaned,the raptors relaxed in a side room outfitted with perches and a couple of cages. This is where we met a few of the residents and had the ultimate experience of holding a bird.  There is something awesome about entering a room where you can reach out and stroke the feathers of owls and falcons - animals that are usually only admired from the other side of a cage or from a great distance in the wild.

Amy explained that only certain birds are used for raptor encounters, chosen based on their temperament.  As she introduced us to the birds, she pointed out their  body language, shared their stories and revealed the quirks of each bird's personalities.  I felt like we were guests being introduced to a very exclusive party.

After our introductions, Amy helped Emma put on a falconers glove and gave her a lesson on the proper position to hold her hand, arm and the raptor's leash.

Mountsberg Raptor Centre Raptor Encounter America Kestral
Amy gives a lesson on how to hold  Bean - an American Kestral.

This was moment we had been waiting for.....

Mountsberg Raptor Centre Raptor Encounter Eastern Screech Owl
Emma and Echo check each other out during our Mountsberg Raptor Centre Raptor Encounter
Emma, Alex and I each had a turn holding Echo the Eastern Screech Owl and Bean the American Kestrel.  They were lovely hosts and patiently perched on our gloved hands as we asked questions and savoured the moment.

In one hour, we learned so much about Ontario's native raptors and the Mountsberg Raptor Centre. And we experienced a rare and awesome opportunity to meet the birds we had only admired from a distance.   Now, as I watch the birds soaring overhead as we drive along Ontario's roads I feel an even greater appreciation for our province's raptors and smile a little smile as I remember meeting them up-close, face-to-beak.

You Should Go! Here's What You Need To Know....

Raptor Encounters are designed to give Mountsberg Conservation Area visitors of all ages an opportunity to explore their interest in hawks, eagles, owls, vultures and falcons.

You must book your Raptor Encounter in advance and there is a fee of $55 (plus HST) for two people. Additional guests (ages 3 and up) to a maximum party of five are $6 per person (plus HST).

Gate fees to Mountsberg Conservation Area are NOT included in Raptor Encounter prices.

Please note that dogs are not allowed to enter any part of the Mountsberg Raptor Centre, including the Wildlife Walkway or the Flyway.  (However, dogs are permitted in the Mountsberg Conservation Area)

To find out more information about booking a Raptor Encounter, or for directions to the Mountsberg Raptor Centre please visit the Conservation Halton website.



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