Not every trip I make overseas is to the wild. Sometimes, it is more convenient to experience a taste of wilderness when traveling with family members in a more convenient location. When I was in Roturua, New Zealand, I was recommended a nearby place called “The Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre“. It is a facility that undertake captive breeding and rehabilitation of the threatened New Zealand Falcons. Visitors can visit and see birds of prey up close during interactive flying displays, so we timed our visit for just such an occasion.
The New Zealand Falcon or kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) is New Zealand’s only endemic falcon and the only remaining bird of prey endemic to New Zealand. It is a versatile hunter that has the ability to hunt in both forested and open habitats. Nonetheless, it is a threatened species. Like most native New Zealand bird species, it evolved during a time when the land was free of mammals and human. Consequently it nests on the ground, which now means that they are susceptible to modern introduced predators. This, combined with widespread habitat loss, modification and degradation means that falcons have fewer places to successfully nest.
During the flying displays, both a male and a female were set free to fly about and rewarded with morsels of meat once they successfully perform certain difficult aerial maneuvers. This training permits them to regain natural strength so that they can be successfully re-introduced to the wild one day. The males and the females differ in size and looks, with the males only two-third the weight of the females. Although I was not observant enough to differentiate, apparently the size difference meant their hunting strategies differ, so the training for them differ too.