Each of the birds at Wings to Soar has a distinct personality. Yet, all of them seem to have a special bond with Dale. I don’t know exactly how to describe what a bond looks like when it comes to these mighty hunters, but there’s a level of trust and calm that the birds have with Dale.
I suspect the birds would be far more agitated being handled by me if Dale weren’t nearby.
Whatever the effect Dale has on the birds and vise versa, there are times when I’ve noticed her expressing what can only be described as a motherly affection for the birds. For example, once during an educational program in an open field, a train came through blowing its whistle and scaring the bejesus out of Theo. Theo was flying with a light line hooked to his jesses to prevent him from flying far, but he did take off and fly as far towards the trees as possible.
Dale had to go retrieve him from the middle of the field. I swung the camera around and followed Dale for a bit. When she retrieved Theo, the two of them bent their heads towards one another in some form of secret greeting. It was like they were reconnecting after a fright. Theo immediately appeared to relax.
On Saturday, when it was Theo’s turn to fly, that affection came through loud and clear. Theo didn’t seem particularly motivated to fly. After flying to me a couple of times, he wasn’t into modeling for my camera, probably because he had a full belly.
To coax him into flying, Dale stood close to his perch and then backed away so Theo would get a longer flight in. This didn’t work so well the first attempt–Theo was obviously confused as to why Dale was running away and tried to land on her glove at her side. The only thing to do when a raptor is trying to land on you is to give them the glove–you sure don’t want them to land anywhere else!
The second time Dale tried this approach, she started running away sooner and ran faster. As she approached the distance Theo normally flies, she turned back towards Theo, but kept backing away. Theo performed some impressive maneuvers in his attempts to avoid colliding with Dale as she changed speed and direction. I wish I’d been set on video–I swear I saw Theo fly backwards at least twice.
In the end, they did a graceful mid-air eskimo kiss just before Theo readjusted one more time to land on Dale’s glove. The amount of effort Theo made to get to Dale’s glove spoke volumes about what this owl feels about his momma. The smile (just visible through the feathers of Theo’s wings) on Dale’s face as she nearly collides beak-to-beak with a Barn Owl speaks volumes about Dale’s own feelings.
It’s hard not to smile when you see Dale working with these magnificent birds.