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Owl and Rare Breed Centre, Kington, Herefordshire


Taking full advantage of the Indian summer my partner and I visited the Owl and Rare Breed Centre near Kington, Herefordshire. As soon as we entered the Centre, we were greeted by a line of owls tethered in open pens. They were individually named and happy to be petted.

Personally we preferred to leave them be and walked through to the café to have a drink before starting our tour.
It was a short distance along flowered walks to the ‘Owl Garden’ where owls from all over the world are kept in individual cages or ‘flights’.
We were impressed by the clean, healthy environment, the contented birds and the easy-read information boards.
The first bird we came to was a beautiful, mottled Burrowing Owl (pictured below) from the Americas.

These owls prefer short-grass prairies or lowland desert. They have exceptionally long legs which they use to excavate nest holes although they prefer to take over holes made by small mammals such as Prairie dogs. They also have a habit of head bobbing when excited. They often smear cow dung around the entrance to their burrows which attracts flies which they can eat. It also deters snakes from entering their accommodation. Burrowing Owls and Short Eared Owls are the only owl species known to carry material to line their nests.
Next were a trio of Tropical Screech Owls which were lined up and ready for their photograph to be taken!

This is a common and widespread bird, often inhabiting parks and urban areas in central and South America; however, it is rarely seen due to its nocturnal habit. Because it prefers open spaces and lightly wooded habitats, this owl has actually benefitted from deforestation as this opens up the much desired clearings. They lay their eggs in almost any cavity from a tree post to an abandoned birds nest or even a rotten fence post and defend their chosen nest vigorously earning the description of ‘feathered wild cat’.
Moving on to what has to be my favourite pair on the day; the Indian Scops Owl from ….India!

They are also found in Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Typically found in orchards or forestry, they prefer to lay their eggs in tree holes. These nocturnal birds prey on insects, small birds, lizards and mice.
Further on was the rather stately Long Eared Owl, another poser.

They live in small patches of woodland, mainly conifer plantations. They are widespread throughout Britain although unevenly distributed, the greatest threat to the species being road vehicles. Long Eared Owls feed mainly on mice and voles but during the winter rely more on small to medium sized birds such as blackbirds and meadowlarks.

Here is a dear Little Owl, now common in England and Wales. They were first brought over to Kent from Europe in 1879 and sold as pets as they were excellent cockroach killers. Florence Nightingale kept a Little Owl in her hospital to control pests.
Of all the British birds, this is the most likely to be seen in daylight although it prefers to hunt at dusk and dawn.
And here is another owl whose name escapes me. Even the wooden planks of the pens seem to have owlish eyes looking out from the grain

Another nameless pair

This one is easily identified as a Snowy Owl which in the picture is a male, the females being heavily barred and dotted which helps camouflage her when nesting. This is the largest of the British Owls, occasionally seen in Scotland during years of high population. They have bred in the Shetlands in the fairly recent past.
The population varies tremendously according to the number of their prey species such as lemmings, which have a population explosion every four years. Largely diurnal, it is a strong flyer and can take birds on the wing like a falcon.

Buffy Fish Owl
The Buffy Fish Owl is found in the mangrove and freshwater swamps of Tropical Southeast Asia. They nest in cavities of rocks or trees near streams and feed mainly on fish, frogs and crustaceans. They also prey on bats and small birds. The main threat in the wild is persecution by humans because of its fish hunting skills.
This owl differs from other owls in three respects:
i) Their feet have no feathers and are adapted to catching slippery fish
ii) They have a less prominent facial disc because their sense of hearing is an unimportant aid when locating fish
iii) They lack soft plumage and silent flight because their prey is underwater and therefore unable to hear them.
Moving on, we came to the cage of the Short Eared Owl where a sign asked ‘Can you see this owl? He is watching you’. With great difficulty, we spotted one in the long grass. He kept perfectly still and even when taking the photo it was difficult to focus the lens onto him. His mate was high up on a beam, again keeping perfectly still yet watching our every move.

The Short Eared Owl is the rarest of the British owls and prefers open country, notably moorland, heathland and sand dunes. The ear tufts are used to communicate mood to aggressors. It is a social bird, collecting to roost outside the breeding season; as many as 200 have been known to come together where food is plentiful.

Malaysian Brown Wood Owl
This owl is found around India, South China and South East Asia. They are nocturnal woodland birds, roosting by day in pairs, well hidden in dense foliage. They will often compress their plumage and half close their eyes taking on the appearance of a piece of wood.
They prey on insects, large birds, rodents, reptiles and, occasionally, fish.
To me, this owl had very ‘human’ eyes.
Continuing on, we came across an adorable pair of Ashy Faced Barn Owls, which can only be found on the island of Haiti & the Dominican Republic.

Unfortunately tourism and de-forestation have caused its numbers to decline rapidly. They also struggle to compete with the much bigger and stronger American Barn Owl which, ironically, was introduced to the island to keep down the rodent population which infest the sugar and palm oil plantations. These factors all mean that extinction for the Ashy Faced Barn Owl is almost certain in the near future.
Emerging from the Owl Garden, we found ourselves looking out over paddocks and enclosures where a variety of animals and birds spend many a contented hour feeding, inspecting visitors and playing with each other.
The Centre, covering just 17 acres, can only house a limited number of animals and birds. It therefore focuses on rare breeds from all over the world.

This small Golden Goat of Guernsey, dates from the Middle Ages, and was almost extinct until a few years ago. During WW2 and the German occupation of Guernsey, a woman, Miss Miriam Milbourne, collected together as many nanny goats as she could and hid them from the enemy to save them from being slaughtered for food.
By 1965, she had increased her herd to about 30 goats and the first imports to England were made in 1967. Although growing in number and popularity it is still classified by the R.B.S.T as a rare breed. The Golden Guernsey is adaptable to stall feeding and can be kept by those without much land.

The striking South African Boer goat was first brought to Europe in 1983. ‘Boer’ is Dutch for ‘farm’ and was probably used to distinguish the native goats from the Angora goats, which were imported into South Africa in the 1800s. Apart from the Boer’s distinctive colouring and docile nature, its main characteristic is the bulky body size and shape, which makes it a fine meat breed.

The woolly looking Angora goat is a very friendly, sociable animal whose name originates from the Turkish province of Ankara (formerly Angora) where it has been farmed for centuries. Until the mid-nineteenth century, Angoras were so sought after and prized that the penalty for illegally smuggling them out of Turkey was death by beheading. A few animals were released to Texas, South Africa and Australia and from there exported to England.

The Centre houses the smallest breed of sheep in the world, the Ouessant…

…and the smallest breed of cattle in the world, the Miniature Zebu

A very friendly pair of black swans accompanied us on our tour.

These geese left their wet footprints behind….

…whilst these fluffy chicks sought a dryer spot to snuggle down.

This tiny quail is content to stay indoors (note the egg in the coop behind).

Superb views of the Herefordshire countryside act as a backdrop to the Centre’s buildings and paddocks

As well as the other animals, the Centre is home to a colony of red squirrels who entertained us with their shrill alarm calls and high speed games.

Tortoises come in a variety of colours and sizes…

…including this blue one, a mere 4 inches across

Athough there was only one pair of pigs, we could hear them honking all over the park!

More goats; this time Centre staff were choosing a nanny Pygmy goat to transfer to Billy’s paddock for his entertainment.

He was extremely interested in meeting the new flame; which is more than can be said for her!
The Pygmy goat grows to a height of 16 to 22 inches and originates from Africa, where it is still kept in desert and scrub areas and is bred for meat.
There are two main varieties; the Nigerian and the Cameroon. The Nigerian is longer legged and comes in a variety of colours with a sleek coat. The Cameroon is a predominantly blue-grey squat, shaggy goat.

Llamas are free to roam…

…unlike this owl who could only look out of the window by the exit and dream.
There is a small outhouse that displays information about the Centre. A collection of newspaper clippings make good reading and there’s a world map showing where all the animals originate from.

In the same room was an enclosure where a tiny, nervous Barn Owl was hiding behind a rock. He was born on 30th July so only three months old, and still growing out of his juvenile feathers. No wonder he was hissing!
When he is fully feathered and has learnt how to perch he will join his siblings in the Owl Garden.
At this point, we decided to have another cuppa in the café. Afterwards, making our way round towards the exit and car park, we met this delightful family of chickens; literally ‘free range’ (although safely shut away at night).

And this caged owl waving us goodbye by fluffing out his pantaloons.

The Centre has many sculptures and works of art, usually made from recycled materials. The examples shown here are near the exit.

A wooded walk led out into the car park, where we were greeted by a metallic bull…

…and stag beneath a young Norway spruce.

Then we were back in the car and heading home through the beautiful Herefordshire landscape.

The End

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What a wonderful blog,White horse,and superb photo's..I loved reading all the info on these beautiful Owls,and Animals..The Owls are my favourite bird,and I especially liked the mottled burrowing,and the Indian ones..I'm adding this to my favorites,so I can keep going back to it..I do,however have one of those stone ones,very similar to the one shown..:o) thank you for sharing with us...

13 Nov, 2015


This is a winner of a blog and totally delightful - owls are irresistible! I had no idea there were so may kinds.
Don't you wonder how that lady managed to keep a flock of goats secret???
Definitely one for Favourites.

13 Nov, 2015


Thanks for your feedback; better than the article sitting on a shelf mouldering away. Yes, I did wonder as I was writing about the WW2 lady!
I neglected to of the owls is called
'Tea Towel' (the children usually name them)!
I also neglected to say that the Centre is open all year round except Christmas Day.
A truly wonderful place deserving all the attention it can get.

14 Nov, 2015


Thank you for putting this blog together, wonderful photos and text. We visit a couple who have about twenty birds, mainly Owls and Harris Hawks and as a collection of Owls are a Parliament, the birds have names like Maggie, Winston, Boris, Enoch, Nigel etc.! Wonderful creatures, the Owls, not the politicians!

14 Nov, 2015


What lovely picture.....a fantastic blog. Lovely creatures, all of many owls that I have never seen before!

14 Nov, 2015


I thoroughly enjoyed your blog, White Horse - a very impressive centre!

15 Nov, 2015


Wonderful photos White Horse, many thanks for sharing.

BTW, in the book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a lady manages to conceal a pig from the occupying Germans!

15 Nov, 2015


What a wonderful blog you've written - so informative & interesting!
As others have said, I had no idea there were so many different types, we have a barn owl in the vicinity that I hear at night when he's hunting, they are such a sight to see at dusk in the half light.
You must have taken lots of notes to remember all that info. The centre & animals look wonderfully looked after. The goats & llamas are such characters, I also love the sculptures especially the owl on the side of the building.
Wonderful place, thanks for sharing.

15 Nov, 2015


Enjoyed your blog "the_White_Horse". Thank you for posting.

17 Nov, 2015


Thank you...I photographed information boards dotted around the Centre then typed up at home.
The only thing I knew about owls prior my visit was that they are wise and hoot a lot.
A barn owl floated past me one evening; the experience was dream-like as there was absolutely no sound.

20 Nov, 2015


I had the same experience once at dusk just as the mist was falling. It was strangely eerie & utterly unforgettable as the huge white wingspan of the ghostly hunter soared silently just above my head.
There is one around here that I hear frequently but not seen although a local man knows their haunts & sees the young where they are parked in the hedge, he says just 2 this year.

20 Nov, 2015


They are a bit ghost like in the dark aren't they. But the sound they make is terrifying - I woke up one night and thought a fox was killing a rabbit, the scream was awful. In fact I got up and went to have a look, and saw the owl float out of a big tree near the house -talk about surprise...

20 Nov, 2015


I hear the screech frequently & know what it is but foxes are really alarming! The first time I heard them I was convinced some poor creature was caught in a trap but my then hubby said, no, it's just foxes calling.
They always use that call in scary horror films & Midsummer Murders, lol

20 Nov, 2015


My daughter has a family of foxes who regularly visit her garden. The noise at night can be horrendous - quite demonic. There are thousands of them in Midsomer County!

23 Nov, 2015


Thoroughly enjoyed this blog White Horse, owls are such beautiful birds and the rest of the sanctuary looks equally as good for a day out, I always know its going to be interesting when you post and appreciate all the info you put with the photo's, thankyou for sharing this wonderful place with us.....Added to my faves....

9 Dec, 2015

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