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Birds of Prey require a lot of speciality care in regards to housing, feeding, exercise, disease/infection identification, and veterinary care. Mark Thomas, a 45-year-old-man from the United Kingdom was recently banned from keeping birds of prey for the next 15 years – although with the way he treated these birds this should be a permanent ban. Thomas will also be spending the next 16 months in jail as he pled guilty to four charges of animal cruelty. The RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) rescued all hawks under the care, or should I say neglect, of Mr. Thomas, but unfortunately one of his hawks, Storm, was found dead. Two other hawks were found underweight and in poor health, but have since made recoveries; unfortunately due to their overall treatment they will both be living with chronic health conditions.

Storm was a female Harris hawk who upon a post mortem assessment was found to be only 770 grams. This weight is not unheard of but normally female Harris Hawks average around 1 kilogram. In addition to her low weight, Storm was found with severe bumble foot on both feet, muscular atrophy, very poor bodily condition, poor feather quality and fecal staining all over her feathers. All of these conditions point to malnutrition, total lack of husbandry, improper housing, and neglect.

Bumble foot starts off as small callouses or pink areas of irritation, but untreated can turn to large lesions, open wounds, and severe infection. Bumble foot appears in different stages, and if caught early, can be rectified quite easily with a topical cream and a change of perch. In fact an inappropriate perch is the number one cause of bumble foot. Different species of raptors require different style perches which provide the most natural resting location for them. For example, falcons are more suited to block perches, and hawks are more suited to a ring, or bow perch. If the perch is not suited for the specific bird, or the material used to make the perch is too rough, a raptor can easily develop bumble foot. There are also other ways a raptor can develop bumble foot including a damp/unsanitary aviary, lack of activity, overgrown talons, and vitamin A deficiency.

When taking care of birds of prey, they must be assessed and weighed daily. Although there are many different infections and diseases they can be susceptible to, assessing your bird’s health on a daily basis will ensure you catch any early signs of disease or infection, and allows you to treat the problem before it rapidly evolves into something more serious.

The aviary provided for Thomas’ Harris Hawks was absolutely unacceptable and did not meet good practice requirements. This housing did not contain proper perches, and lacked proper weather proofing. The door was constructed with wire fencing which the birds could easily cling to, damage their feathers, or get stuck. The aviary was very small for even one Harris Hawk, never mind three Harris Hawks, and the conditions were unsafe and unsanitary – including the storage of a lawn mower in their mews.

Mark Thomas has spent his life offering falconry training and falconry experiences, teaching other aspiring falconers and members of the public about birds of prey. I am very grateful that this man was exposed for the mistreatment of his birds, and will not be teaching anyone else these neglectful ways for at least 15 years, if not forever.

If you would like to experience falconry and birds of prey that are in well-kept aviaries exceeding good practice standards, come visit us at Hawkeye. We house over 20 different birds of prey, which are all assessed, weighed, and fed daily. You will get the opportunity to have a Harris hawk in good health fly directly to your fist, get up close and personal with our birds of prey, and learn all about the sport of falconry. Contact us to book your falconry experience today!



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