Meeting an owl called Whetu

It’s school holidays again and we planned a trip to Rotorua to visit Wingspan. They focus on NZ birds of prey – falcons, hawks and owls.

As well as kārearea (NZ falcons), swamp harriers (kāhu) and ruru (morepork), they also care for one of NZ’s latest arrivals, a pair of barn owls. How many of us would ever get to see kārearea in the wild? Thanks to the dedicated and caring people, who look after these endangered birds, we can learn about the bird on our $20 note (NZ Falcon), and watch displays of the ancient art of falconry.

At Wingspan they care for injured birds, exercise and train them before releasing them back into the countryside. Watching these birds soaring overhead, practicing their hunting skills and landing on your outstretched arm is a joy.

Kārearea (and kāhu) are diurnal meaning they are active during the day unlike owls, which are nocturnal birds of prey and hunt at night. They can fly at over 100km per hour, turn, swoop and soar with astonishing agility as well as catch live prey with their sharp talons. It is almost impossible to understand that anyone would shoot these rare and beautiful creatures.

The star of our visit was a young morepork named Whetu. He kept us entertained with his antics and endearing personality. We won’t forget his comical expression, the way he tilted his head to inspect us or his soft murmurs. Next time you are in Rotorua make sure you schedule a visit to Wingspan.

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