Andrew Charlton takes the Weekender under his wing and gives us the inside scoop on what really goes on in the mind of an owl…
Anyone who has caught owl trainer Andrew’s performances at previous Lambeth Country shows will know it’s a swift operation, with several birds flying at one time. However, don’t be fooled: these birds aren’t natural performers.
“Owls are not social creatures; they’re very territorial. They frequently attack and kill each other in the wild,” Andrew says. “We frequently fly up to four different species of owls simultaneously and the challenge is keeping them busy and concentrating on me not each other because they would happily kill each other.”
Andrew’s company Berkley Owls, which he set up 20 years ago, has grown from humble beginnings to become one of the largest owl specialist, rescue, rehabilitation and display teams in the UK. The company picks up locally injured birds –mostly hurt in traffic accidents- and also takes in injured owls that people bring to them.
Training the birds for over 20 years, Andrew insists it’s not for the faint hearted. “My North American horned owl is said to be one of the most dangerous species in the world; every morning he flies at me feet first when I come into his cage,” he tells.
Andrew’s passion for birds began during childhood and at thirty he got his first owl. Within a year he had 100. “We had to get a bigger place and the cost of running and maintaining escalated to the point I couldn’t afford to do it, which is why I started doing shows,” Andrew explains. With the annual food bill for his birds weighing in at a whopping £10,000 a year, it’s no wonder the owls have to earn their keep!
Although training year-round in an indoor flying space in Lincolnshire, the owls only fly for around fifteen minutes a day, Andrew explains. “In the wild, owls sit around all day just waiting for their next meal. They cat nap and doze all the time,” he says. “They’re very susceptible to the weather. We rarely fly them in the rain because they’re very light in weight and they’re not waterproof so they soak up water like a sponge, which makes them very heavy. They get taken by the wind easily too,” he says.
The owl-trainer will be bringing 20 of his 37 owls to this year’s show, with priority given to the most obedient. “The ones I bring will be the best behaved at the time of departure. The naughty ones will have to stay at home,” he laughs.
The Berkley Owls will be in the Main Arena at the Lambeth Country Show, Brockwell Park, Dulwich Road SE24 0PA on Saturday July 20 and Sunday July 21 at 11:30am.