A Peruvian beauty named Lima and I lock eyes. I offer her my arm and together we walk through the tranquil gardens and magical woodlands that surround legendary Ashford Castle. The sleek beauty nestles into my shoulder and delivers a few pecks. But just when I think we’re about to strike up an affair to remember, Lima flies off.
A relationship with a Peruvian Harris hawk, I discover, can be fleeting.
One of the favoured activities for guests at Red Carnation’s amazing Ashford Castle is falconry, the “sport” that dates back to ancient Egypt (circa 1,300BC) and became popular with the royal elite, both in Great Britain and the Middle East, in modern times.
Ashford’s Falconry School offers guests the chance to interact with the 20 hawks housed on the grounds and meet other birds of prey that call Ashford home, like Peregrine falcons and an huge Eurasian owl named Dingle.
Six instructors educate guests on the bird’s feeding habits and their ability to take down large animals with their dive-bombing techniques.
Anna Aseeva, a charming falconry instructor from Russia, fits me out with a large leather glove before introducing me to Lima, one of the youngest Harris hawks on site.
“Harris hawks are great hunters,” says Anna as she shows me how to hold my arm and hand so Lima feels more comfortable during our walk. “I’ll get you to launch Lima and then we’ll lure her back with some pieces of chicken,” says Anna, who tucks small portions of chicken into the glove and Lima, with her massive wings spread, flies back, lands on my arm and devours her treat in seconds.
“Harris hawks will eats a couple of ounces of food every day and they sleep a lot,” says the instructor, who points to a small sack on Lima’s chest. “They can’t digest all the food at once so the chicken will sit in the sack and Lima will digest it slowly.”
The instructor says weight is very important. “It’s the only way we can tell if the birds are ailing. So we’ll weigh them every day and if there’s even a slight change, we react quickly.”
The experience is not just educational, but also lots of fun.
Back at the falconry school, Anna introduces me to Dingle, the massive owl with the saucer-sized eyes and the wing span of a 747, and tells me “this species has been known to take down small deer.”
By Marc Atchison, Editor-in-Chief,
Check out the other articles in this series.
Click here to learn about Ashford Castle
Click here to learn about the Spa at Ashford Castle