As a child, I had always had a passion for birds in general and would spend time trying to rehab injured starlings and sparrows that had fallen from the nest.
My passion for falconry began at school when I was 14. My English teacher read ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ to the class as part of our curriculum. A boy I fancied in the year above me brought a Kestrel in to school to show everyone and he let me fly the bird with him on the school field. I never got to kiss the boy but I did get to fly my first bird of prey and my passion for falconry was well and truly cemented.
It would take another 30 years to fulfil my dream of becoming a falconer.
In 2003, my fiancé, Keith and I had been visiting Symonds Yat in Gloucestershire and whilst driving through the countryside, a Peregrine Falcon flew over the car. I told Keith how much I would like to fly a bird of prey. He told me to just go for it – and so I did.
I started doing research by buying books on falconry. I went to The Falconers Fair at Chetwynd Park and bought the equipment I would need to get me started. In August 2004, Keith and I got married. We visited the International Centre for Birds of Prey whilst on honeymoon and I must have dragged Keith around numerous other falconry centres where I asked lots of questions and I also enrolled on an experience day at a centre in Cheshire. I had also found a falconer who worked on a local landfill. He got me permission to accompany him on the landfill and he showed me how to handle, weigh and hood a falcon.
That same year, I joined the British Falconers Club (BFC) and went to my first meeting in the North West Region. Keith agreed to come with me and I am glad that he did because it was all very daunting as there were no other female falconers in the group but I was introduced to a breeder who lived locally to me and he offered to sell me a Harris Hawk. I was also fortunate enough to meet Paul Melton at the meeting who offered to become my mentor and who has remained a very good friend ever since.
So – in October 2004, I became the very proud owner of my first Harris Hawk – an 18-week-old male I named Red. I spent every minute that I could manning him. He went everywhere with me, including to work. Paul, my mentor, helped me to get Red following on, entered and soon I was out hunting.
A year later, in 2005, I became friends with another new member of our North West Region, Paul Kennedy who, like me was brand new to the sport and we started flying our Harris Hawks together in a cast. We flew mainly on a small piece of land we had obtained in Oxenhope near Keighley in Yorkshire and we spent most weekends during the gaming season hunting rabbits, hares and pheasants with our birds. We also attended lots of field meets in Malham with the North West group arranged by one of our members and my very good friend and fellow falconer, Brian Allan. These days and weekends spent in Malham were exciting and unforgettable.
My hunting partner, Paul, eventually had to give up falconry and he passed me his female, Blaze whom I still fly today. In 2014, I had to have Red put to sleep due to a tumour that had developed in his groin. I was devastated, as he had been my first bird. We had learnt falconry together and he had turned into such a feisty hunter and a loyal companion tackling anything he could and always catching something on the many days we spent together. Blaze has also proved to be an excellent hunting bird both on her own and in a cast with other Harris Hawks.
I have also owned a Lugger Falcon called Minnie and together we learnt how to fly to a lure. Whilst flying her down in Cornwall in 2008, seagulls chased her off and I lost the signal on her transmitter. I had always registered my birds with the Independent Bird Register (IBR) and so I reported Minnie missing. The next day I received a phone call from the IBR to say that she had been found. Unfortunately her leg-mounted tag had come into contact with an electricity transformer and her foot had been badly injured. After consulting with a vet it was decided that it would be best if she were put to sleep.
I never imagined that 4 years later, I would be running the IBR.
THE INDEPENDENT BIRD REGISTER
In 1994, DEFRA stopped registering non-native and the more common birds of prey which meant that if a bird was lost or found, there was no system in place to record the ring numbers of missing birds making it impossible to reunite any birds that had been found and so The Independent Bird Register was formed by a lady called Jenny Wray.
The register comprises of a database containing records of bird keepers and their birds’ ring numbers. The IBR also provides serialised unique rings both closed and split which carry a unique number and a national phone number. Owls and other birds are also included as it was felt that all birds needed to have an identifying ring not only to trace the owner but also to give a safer indication of legitimate origin.
The IBR acknowledges existing rings and microchip numbers and can trace registered birds on any of these features. It offers a fast and efficient service for bird recovery and is the only register of its kind in the UK. It is a small business, however and not a charity and is totally independent of any club, group or society. It is registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and treats all information it receives as confidential which will not be passed to any unauthorised person.
In 2008, the IBR was passed to Julianna and Neil Fowler and then in July 2012, I was approached and asked if I would like to take over. In the 8 years that I have been running the business, I have spent a lot of time promoting the IBR and its effectiveness of reuniting birds so much so that I am now inundated with reports of lost, found and seen birds via phone, email, WhatsApp, personal messenger and IBR messenger. Whenever a report is posted, I will be tagged in or sent a link to the post or comments on the posts will suggest that ‘Babs of the IBR’ be contacted. Obviously in 1994, there was no social media to assist but now, reports of lost, found and seen birds are being posted every day and not all of them are directly reported to the IBR.
Up until 2016, I was working full time and trying to run the IBR with the help of my husband but it got too much and so I decided to take early retirement and dedicate my time to helping people get their birds back.
I had my garage converted into an office and this is where I spend most of my time. My office hours tend to be between 9am to 1pm and 4pm to 7pm weekdays and then 10am to 2pm at weekends but I am constantly monitoring my phone, emails and social media and I am always available for anything urgent.
I tend to start my day around 8am – sometimes earlier in the summer. I check for any messages or texts on my mobile and WhatsApp, then I trawl through all my Facebook notifications and make a note of anything I need to know about. I will contact people who do not appear to know about the IBR and ask them for details of their lost birds and so I can put them on my database. I also use a mapping system where I plot all the lost and seen birds, which makes it easy to let keepers know of any potential sightings of their birds. I also post sightings of seen birds on my Facebook page to try and locate an owner but I will only post a lost bird on my page and website if the registration has been paid for.
Any birds that are found, I ask for the ring number and so I can check it on my database. IBR rings are quick to check and provided the keeper has reported the bird missing or has registered the bird, I can reunite the bird in minutes. I also have the facility to check all other breeders’ rings, as I have become quite a ‘geek’ on reading ring numbers. I keep a long list of ring number formats and so I can find most breeders within the UK, quickly and contact them if I need to find out whom they sold a bird to.
If I can’t find the keeper of a found bird, it is posted on my website and Facebook page. I normally give it 4 weeks and if the keeper hasn’t come forward by then, I arrange for the found bird to be re-homed with a competent person.
I have a wide network of falconers that I can call upon to help if a bird needs catching or picking up if the finder is unable to look after it. We all work as a team and together we have the most effective system in the UK to help recover and reunite lost and found birds.
Provided people register their birds and tell me when they go missing, I can reunite found birds more or less straight away.
The IBR provides closed rings to breeders and split rings to anyone that requires one for older birds. I start to get very busy at the beginning of the New Year, as breeders require rings for the new breeding season. I have a strict protocol for those wanting my rings, as I need to keep the database as up to date to as possible to maximise its efficiency. This entails the breeder informing me when he/she uses my rings with the hatch date of the chick, as my rings aren’t year dated. I then provide Captive Breeders Certificates, which has provision for the breeder to record the new keeper details, which should then be returned to me. I can then send a letter to the new keeper inviting them to register their bird. Some breeders will even register a bird on behalf of the new keeper. Every ring that is issued by the IBR is entered on the database and currently there are around 120,000 bird and ring records.
There are only a few breeders who don’t inform me of hatch dates and where birds go which means I then have to spend time contacting them to get details – that’s if they have recorded where their birds have gone!
To make life easier for those that use a computer, I am able to send a link to the IBR App, which allows members and breeders to access their record and bird list on my database and so they can update their records themselves. Once they submit their updates, I then receive an email which I can act upon and validate their records.
Apart from birds of prey and owls, I will provide rings for any species of bird – from corvids, pigeons, parrots, and pheasants to exotic birds in zoos.
Any bird that is found with a ring on, I tend to get contacted, especially those birds wearing British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) rings and Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA) rings. I also receive emails from metal detectorists and I have been able to inform those who have been missing a bird for years, that their bird’s ring has been found. On occasion, I have reunited birds that have been found in Europe wearing IBR rings.
My work is never ending and sometimes extremely frustrating but it is also very rewarding. To date, the IBR has helped to reunite 8,500 birds and will continue to do so providing people support the IBR, register their birds and purchase rings and the small amount of falconry equipment that I supply.
During my 16 years as a falconer so far, I have travelled all over the country to fly my Harris Hawk – Cornwall, Wales, Cumbria, Hungerford, Hertfordshire, Yorkshire and Scotland where I flew the mountain hare, which was on my bucket list. I also attended the North American Falconers Association (NAFA) yearly field meet held in Vernal in 2012 and I was lucky enough to stay at The House of Grouse with one of America’s best-known falconers, Steve Chindgren
I am the Regional Secretary and Group Representative for the North West Region of the BFC, General Secretary for the Female Falconers Club, trade member of the Yorkshire Falconry Club and supporter member of the International Association of Falconry (IAF). I am also a trustee for Raptor Rescue.
I am here to promote responsibility in falconry and to offer advice or help to anyone who wishes to contact me and if I can’t answer your question, I will find someone who can! You can contact me via my website – www.independentbirdregister.co.uk or via my Facebook page – Independent Bird Register.