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World Owl Trust - leading the World in Owl Conservation
Saturday 20th December, 2014

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Volunteering at the World Owl Trust,
based at Muncaster Castle

I have been involved with the World Owl Trust for eight years as a volunteer in different capacities.

The reason I enjoy the work is that it is so different to my normal desk job. At the Centre, as a Volunteer Keeper I am outside most of the day, the tasks are physically demanding so I get plenty of fresh air and exercise. The grounds and gardens of Muncaster are full of wildlife and beautiful trees and plants and last but definitely not least, I am able to get close to the amazing owls. It is a real privilege to care for them and be involved in their world. In the breeding season we have owlets to rear and watch grow up and they are very entertaining.

A typical day for a volunteer starts around 8.30 am with a walk round checking all the birds and their aviaries, looking to see that the food put out the previous night has been eaten and picking up the leftovers where it has not. (How much a bird has eaten can be an indication of its current health). This is followed by an early feed for the Buzzards, Kestrels and Kites, the Waterfowl and not forgetting the Tortoises.

When this is done, it is time to start cleaning! Armed with hosepipes, scrubbing brushes and rakes, we set about the aviaries, washing away the birdlime, changing their water and scrubbing the feed tables. (Some owls have no table manners at all). With some birds, it is necessary to wear protective clothing as none of the birds are pets and they must all be treated with respect.

At 10.30 am it is time for a quick cup of tea before cleaning out and treating the hospital cases. Between 11 o’clock when the visitors arrive and lunchtime at 1 o’clock we try to get some maintenance jobs done. A bit of gardening in and around the aviaries or a trip to the woods to get some new perches to replace some that have rotted away. Sometimes it can be rather more physical, like replacing an aviary roof or changing twenty barrow loads of bark on the aviary floor.

After lunch, it is time for ‘Meet the Birds’ the daily Muncaster Flying Display. The birds have to be prepared by weighing them to check they are at their correct flying weight. Fitted with their jesses and their reward food has to be prepared. I stay guard over the birds when they are waiting their turn in the display. Whilst one of the other keepers gives the talk, then I tempt the birds to fly from post to post and back to my gloved fist as part of the display. After the flying display the birds are brought forward to allow the audience to take photographs and ask questions.

When all the flying birds are safely away after ‘Meet the Birds’ it is time to do the main feed. Feeding time tends to make some of the owls more active than at other times during the day and, of course, the visitors show more interest too. It feels as though you have turned into the Pied Piper of Muncaster sometimes, there are so many visitors following you round.

Wild Herons are fed at 4.30pm in front of the Castle and often more than 25 come down for their free meal.

Two more jobs to do before home time. Firstly, the food for the following day has to be taken from the freezer and laid out so that it will thaw overnight. Then lastly, another walk round to check that all is well before locking up and going home.

Such is a description of a typical day for a volunteer owl keeper. Sometimes wet and muddy, sometimes hard and physical, but always enjoyable and satisfying.

Terry Evison

The Owl Centre
Muncaster Castle
Cumbria. CA18 1RQ

Telephone: 01229 717393
FAX: 01229 717107

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The World Owl Trust is a member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) and the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA). The Trust relies on a dedicated membership, visitors, donations and legacies.
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