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Oundle's junior scientists enjoy a spectacular indoor falconry display

Published on isbi School News dated Wednesday 16th of October 2013

The School's first Junior Science Society talk of the year welcomed David Sharp, of Raptorxotics Ltd, who gave a very engaging talk on a variety of birds of prey, most of them native to Britain, from the diminutive yet handsome kestrel to a huge golden eagle.

Chemistry teacher, Dr Neil Higginson commented, 'The huge silhouette of a golden eagle slowly describing a massive arc in the sky, high above Oundle was the sight that I had imagined as I looked forward to the falconry event; an autumn spectacular planned to launch the new academic year for Oundle's Junior Science Society. However, the weather did not follow the script, and what actually transpired (on what proved to be the only rainy day that fortnight!) was an equally spectacular indoor falconry show.

In order to conserve energy, all but the most desperately hungry of peregrine falcons would just roost in the shelter of a tree rather than hunt in the rain. Apparently, a peregrine's feathers are so perfectly optimised for hunting, that moisture compromises the control surfaces. This was our first interesting insight into the world of falconry.'

As the pupils entered the lab, they encountered an African white-faced owl, a wonderful little character with striking plumage and the most amazing orange eyes. Pupils gasped as owls flew across the lab in eerie silence, sometimes so close that the owls' wingtips brushed across their heads.

Neil added, 'The Physics lab was the wet weather venue of choice as all the window panes can be covered by blinds. Owls have trouble with window panes apparently! With heads that are predominantly filled with what is effectively an internal set of binoculars, there's not a lot of room left for great intellect!'

The pupils learned that an owl's flight feathers and leading edges are adapted to disrupt air flow sufficiently to suppress the usual whoosh of wing beats, and thus allow them to fly in total silence. This is vital for owls to be able to listen out for prey in the dark of night. Their faces are shaped like two satellite dishes, in order to focus sound onto their ears, which are intriguingly positioned at different heights up their head to achieve greater directional perspective when listening.

Next up on display was a golden eagle which was encouraged to flap its wings. The shadow seemed to fill the room; the sound and the downdraft were incredible. What was also amazing was that this 7 foot wingspan was that of a 16 week old bird. Having hatched from an egg smaller than that of a chicken, it had grown to over 9 kilograms in under 4 months. Its huge talons are effectively on internal ratchets; designed for an effortless 'grip of death' the eagle can relax as it waits for its hapless prey to yield to its inevitable fate.

Pupil, Yat Long Tse (14) commented, 'It was amazing to watch the different types of bird hunt and feed on their prey. They would hover above our heads and engage with the falconry expert who fed them with meat. As he spoke, his passion for falconry and affection for his birds was quite apparent. It was a truly splendid experience to have such a rare opportunity to watch these creatures.'

Neil concluded, 'All in all it was an evening of true spectacle and fascinating facts. The pupils, staff and children were captivated. An indoor falconry display, who'd have thought it?'

Next month pupils will enjoy an indoor fireworks spectacular, as the Revd Ron Lancaster MBE, chemistry teacher and founder of Kimbolton Fireworks, comes to Oundle.
Oundle's junior scientists enjoy a spectacular indoor falconry display - Photo 1Oundle's junior scientists enjoy a spectacular indoor falconry display - Photo 2Oundle's junior scientists enjoy a spectacular indoor falconry display - Photo 3
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