As part of our new ‘Behind the Teams’ series, step behind the scenes of Leeds Castle and hear from the experts who work here about their day-to-day work, where their passions lie, and what their jobs involve.
1. How long have you been at Leeds Castle?
I started at Leeds Castle on the 6th February 2012, so just over 7 years.
2. What does a typical day at work look like to you?
When dealing with animals there is no such thing as a typical day, that’s what makes the job so entertaining and different. But usually - and most importantly - it starts with a cup of tea! In the morning, we check on all of our birds; give them fresh water and a clean; put the birds out on weathering ground for visitors to see; clean out the Mews (overnight quarters) and prepare their food for the day. I also have a team who will be out doing a daily Swan count, feed and checking on the wildlife and nesting birds. Throughout the year, we even run pre-booked falconry experiences and do a daily visitor demonstration at 2pm.
3. How many of you are in the falconry team?
My team currently consists of four staff members and 14 wonderful volunteers.
4. What’s your favourite thing about your job? And have you always wanted to become a falconer?
I’ve always wanted to be a Falconer. From the very first day I saw two Barn Owls flown at a demonstration when I was 3, it’s been a dream of mine to do this for a living. But it’s hard to pick one favourite part of the job as its generally just amazing being able to work with such beautiful creatures and have an amazing team of staff. The joy we get from seeing our visitors’ faces light up as the birds fly past them on experience days and at the demonstrations makes all of our work worthwhile.
5. You work with a lot of different breeds – do you have a personal favourite?
It’s difficult to pick a favourite Bird of Prey out of the 28 we currently have. They all have their own characteristics and each day can be different depending on their mood. But as for the 26 Swans we have, I have 2 favourites - Pickles, our 28 year old male Whooper Swan and Tibias, our male Trumpeter Swan. Both of these birds have great personalities and can often be spotted wandering across the Estate.
6. Best spot on the estate for visitors to spot some great wildlife?
We’re very lucky at Leeds Castle to have such a mix of Wildlife on the estate, waterways and lakes. As you walk up through the Wooldland Walk you can often spot Kingfishers flying along the stream, as well as swans, ducks, moorhens and coots on the small ponds. If you’re very lucky you might even spot Buzzards and Kestrels. If you look closely at the Boat House you’ll see two arches, in the left side one you’ll see a metal rod that we placed there for Kingfishers to perch on and use for fishing. Of course, on the Moat and Great Water you’ll always see our Swans, Ducks, Geese, Guls and more.
7. Anything visitors should look out for in 2019?
2019 is already an extremely busy year for us in the Falconry & Wildlife department - we currently have 3 black swan nests (with a total of 18 eggs!), and many of our ducks and geese are already nesting across the Estate. We built five new aviaries at the end of last year at our Bird of Prey Centre, two of which we’ve converted into breeding aviaries. I’m pleased to say that we now have our pair of Harris Hawks currently sitting and incubating three eggs, so fingers crossed they’re fertile and all hatch! The plan will be to keep and fly all three together in our demonstrations. We’re also on the lookout for a new female Burrowing Owl to go with Jack, our five year old male, so we can hopefully breed them as well.