Lend A Helping Hand
Bird Watching|March 2017

Wildlife centres can often be the only venues for many to see birds close up. Here, one volunteer explains the important work they carry out.

Stefanie Browne

NOTHING CAPTURES PEOPLE’S interest in nature quite as completely as babies. Whether it’s seeing sprightly lambs in the fields, an obedient line of ducklings following their mother, or the straggly balls of fluff that become our most magnificent raptors, very few of us are immune to their charms. But while lambs and ducklings are a relatively common sight, for most of us the youngest birds of prey are reserved for admiring in photographs, alone.

This secret nature is what draws visitors to wildlife centres during ‘baby season’ – the opportunity to see what a Tawny Owl looks like when it has just hatched, or to discover whether Barn Owls are as beautiful when they’re a week old as when they’re gliding ghost-like over the fields (they’re not, by the way, they look a lot like miniature dinosaurs at that age).

These types of questions were what drew me to volunteer at a wildlife centre local to me. I often watched the behaviour of birds near my home in the Fens and wished to understand them better. But books and observation from a distance can only get you so far.

That was almost two years ago, and volunteering has transformed my opinion of the birds we all admire. I never really appreciated before how much personality an individual bird can have – perhaps it was my naivety, but character and individuality were not traits I had witnessed. ‘Baby season’ changed all that.

Baytree Owl & Wildlife Centre, near Spalding in Lincolnshire, is home to about 90 birds and a number of other native species (including the most recent arrival of a Fox cub).

The centre is run by Mark Birdsall (yes, that is his real name) with the help of a team of dedicated volunteers and, by the middle of April, we all have our work cut out raising the next generation.

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