Bird of prey man turns passion into career

Chris Bennett with White Tailed Sea Eagle "Tiny" at Talon Falconry at Lightwater Valley. (110401M3a)
Chris Bennett with White Tailed Sea Eagle "Tiny" at Talon Falconry at Lightwater Valley. (110401M3a)

A FALCONRY enthusiast who volunteered at a bird of prey centre has given up his job to make his hobby his new career.

Chris Bennett, had been volunteering at Lightwater Valley Bird of Prey centre for five years while working as a mechanical engineer in his home town of County Durham.

When the lease came up for renewal Chris jumped at the chance to take the centre on and work with birds of prey full-time.

“I think if you can make your hobby into a business you can’t ask for much more,” he said.

“Falconry is something I have always been into. My parents were wildlife people, and I followed the same route with birds of prey.”

Chris did his first falconry course at the centre, which he has now named Talon Falconry, in 2003 and then became a volunteer.

“This is somewhere I have always wanted to be.

“If any falconry centre could have come up, I always wanted it to be this one.”

Chris spent 23 years as a mechanical engineer, keeping birds of prey for the last seven years. In 2009, he started a part-time business doing bird of prey displays and taking barn owls to weddings as ring-bearers.

Now he has family and friends helping out at the centre - parents Keith and Christine, wife Katherine, and son Karl, 14, are all involved.

The centre will have 25 birds on display, including Tiny the six-year-old white tailed sea eagle, who has a wing span of 8ft, and breeding pairs of pied crows and European eagle owls.

In the next week the centre will also become home to two three-week-old baby barn owls.

Chris and his team will be displaying four of the birds in the flying arena – Olly the barn owl, George the European eagle owl, Rocket the peregrine barbary falcon, and Rolf the harris hawk.

The centre re-opens tomorrow, Saturday, April 9. During the summer, opening times will be 10am-5pm and 11am-3pm in the winter. Admission costs £4 for adults, £2.50 for children, £2 for senior citizens and £9 for families.