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The Cornish Bird of Prey Centre (Cornwall)

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Address: Winnards Perch / St Columb / Cornwall / TR9 6DH / Tel: 01637 880544

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      19.05.2011 11:50
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      If you are looking for a cheap fun day out in Cornwall, check this out

      The Cornish Bird of Prey Centre
      The Cornish Bird of Prey Centre is a real family affair, a partnership of just four people- Mick, Kath, their daughter Kelly and fiancé Andy who all run the centre and look after the birds. They bought the centre in 2007 and have been expanding it ever since.

      It shows that the people here really care about this place. The birds are well cared for and the people are always around to chat to visitors and give information about their centre. It's also worth knowing who's who- I'll explain why later on.

      Location & getting there
      The Cornish Bird of Prey Centre is fittingly located at Winnards Perch, St. Columb Major which is about seven miles from Newquay, Cornwall. It's easy to get to by car, it's well signed and there is a fair sized car park. Public transport is easy too, there are regular bus services from St Columb Major interchange, which links buses from Truro, Wadebridge, Bodmin and other major and smaller towns. There are also direct services from Newquay and Padstow. Buses are run by Western Greyhound (www.westerngreyhound.com for timetables) and helpfully, there were timetables on the wall in the centre's reception for the return journey.

      Visiting Times
      The centre is open from 10am to 5pm, daily between 1st April and 31st October. If Good Friday is earlier than April 1st, the centre opens earlier. We arrived as the centre opened, took our time to look around, saw a flying display, had something to eat and left around 2pm. We had quite a leisurely morning and four hours is ample to enjoy what the centre has to offer, having said that I could have happily walked around a few more times and made a full day of it, though travelling by bus we were a little restricted by bus times. There are three flying displays a day and whilst we saw one, they fly different birds at different displays so to get the full benefit of seeing a variety of birds being flown it would be worth sticking around and seeing them all.

      Facilities
      The centre is fairly modest in size, but has a lot to offer for Bird of Prey enthusiasts and animal lovers alike. As you enter, there is a small gift shop come café which doubles up as a reception area. We came in here for a drink after we had gone around the rest of the centre. The drinks and snacks are reasonably priced but there's not much choice. Focus here is on the animals and informing people about them. Whilst all facilities you could want are here, this is a place for the birds first and the public second. I can't really criticise them for that, it's Bird of Prey Centre after all, not a restaurant. It does mean no lavish catering though, so if you want more than a coffee and cake, I'd take a packed lunch as there's no shops or pubs nearby either. The centre has places to picnic and it's a lovely location to do so too, so just hope for sun!

      The Birds of Prey Exhibits
      As you enter the main part of the centre you are immediately confronted with a row of good sized cages containing some of the most beautiful birds of prey I've ever seen. Some of these species I've not seen anywhere else before and they also have a number of cross breed or hybrid birds. The cages are practical both for the birds and public as the birds have a good amount of space and you are able to see them very clearly, wherever they are perched. There were very few cages where we couldn't see anything, which was great. I often find with visiting zoos and the like, many animals have so many places to hide you never see anything. Many of the birds seemed as interested in us as we were in them and were right at the front checking us out so we got excellent views (and photographs!)

      The bird of prey exhibits continue around the centre featuring over 100 birds. They have a vast selection from cute Little Owls to a magnificent Golden Eagle. Each cage has informative descriptions of the birds, not only about the species but the pet names, habits and characteristics of each individual bird and a little bit about their background story of how they came to be at the centre. It seems the centre has become somewhat of a sanctuary as a lot of the birds seemed to have been rescued from people who couldn't look after them, or in some cases they were mistreated. It's a nice touch to give the public some information about each birds story and also shows what a good job the centre is doing. This is where I found it handy to know who's who at the centre so that I know who's being talked about in these stories or it may get a little confusing! (There is an 'about us' bit in the guide book.)

      In addition to the caged birds, there is 'Hawk Walk' and 'The Mews' in which the birds are not caged and you can get a really close look (but don't worry the birds are tethered and there is a barrier so your little ones won't be lunch!)

      Exotic Birds
      Birds of Prey is not all the centre has to offer. We spent a ridiculous amount of time talking to some of the centre's more exotic residents. My other half I lost to a very friendly cockatoo who kept calling him darling! In fact a lot of the parrots talked, one as I read on his description, even swore though he must have liked us as we were spared any abuse! As you walk around this area you are likely to be wolf whistled, constantly said hello to and one may even do his train impression for you. I love parrots and found this part of the centre particularly enjoyable. The collection ranges from smaller birds such as cockatiels to some beautiful macaws and cheeky African Greys and Amazons. Of course, you will also be treated to a chorus of 'bye byes' as you leave!

      Education Room
      The education room has a collection of birds eggs and photographs documenting some of the progress of the centre and it's residents. We were also surprised to see a number of reptiles tucked away in here, from snakes to terrapins and lizards, however this was a very small area and I felt they were a little hidden away and maybe would have liked some of the limelight.

      Other Animals
      In addition to the birds, there are a number of other animals to see, feed and pet. You can buy animal feed at the shop on the way in and feed it to the ponies, sheep, ducks, llamas, pigs and goats. All of the animals are very friendly, some a little over friendly! Whilst the gorgeous little ponies and sheep were very sweet and loved a fuss, the goats, characteristically, were after one thing only - food! This won't stop at animal feed, they love a bit of jacket, bag, hair..whatever gets near enough their mouth really! While the birds can't get at you to eat your little ones, the goats might! We had great fun feeding them, they are very funny animals and whilst they'll eat anything they were surprisingly gentle.

      Further along, you come to a lovely nature walk and lake surrounded by beautiful Cornish countryside. There is a collection of wildfowl including swans, geese and the more unusual muscovy ducks.

      Flying Displays
      As I mentioned there are three flying displays a day, one at 12pm one at 2pm and one at 4pm. These are not only to give the public a great view of the birds in flight as well as commentary about the birds themselves but also is the birds' daily exercise. I guess this is why there are different birds at each display.

      Although we only saw the one display it was a good selection of birds, from owls to eagles to a gorgeous little kestrel. If you are nervous of birds flying, as I know some people are, this is one to avoid. The birds fly right over your head very close and even clipped us a few times! I personally found it thrilling to see these magnificent birds doing their thing so closely.

      The falconer, Andy, and in fact all the people here really seem to know their stuff and are happy to answer any questions about the birds both at the displays and as you wander around the centre. It was an educational day out as well an enjoyable one and I learned a fair bit and got a much better understanding of birds of prey.

      Falconry
      Whether you have a passion for birds of prey anyway or that visiting this place just inspires you to learn more about them, as it did for me, the centre offers a variety of falconry experiences from handling for 1hour (£25) so you can get close and learn about the birds to half days (£59) and even five day courses (£475) for those people looking to take it up seriously. I've asked for a handling session for my birthday!

      Photography
      I've recently got into photography and got some fabulous shots on out visit. There is plenty of opportunity here for people wanting to get some pictures of animals they may not otherwise get a chance to see. The fact that a lot of the birds were uncaged was brilliant and the flying displays also give you some great chances, though you need to be quick!

      For professional and budding photographers alike, the centre also offers sessions specifically aimed at people wanting to photograph the birds both still and in flight. They come at a cost, £50 an hour for static and £80 for flight at the time of writing, however it's a great opportunity and had my budget allowed it, I probably would have treated myself as I don't know where I'd get views like that again. Beats waiting in a hide for days on end!

      Cost of Entry
      For the amount to see this is a bargain day out. Entry for Adults is £6.75 and Children £5.25 (under 3s free). If you travel by bus as we did you get two for one entry too.

      I think this is exceptional value, considering how much some other days out can cost. Most other animals attractions I've visited in Cornwall you won't get change form a tenner and often they are so focussed on being visitor attractions that there is more gift shop, playground and food outlets than the actual exhibits. Not so here, all the money seems to be spent on what you are actually going to see, and the amount of exhibits here make it well worth the money.

      Conclusion
      I can not recommend this place more. For people who have a passion for birds of prey there is so much opportunity here to learn more and get stuck in, a variety of things to see for those who are just animal lovers in general like me, lots of cute farm animals to interact with for small children, the educational aspect for school kids, great views for photographers and beautiful countryside for those who just want a taste of what this great county has to offer. All that too, in an accessible location and at a good price. Be sure to stop off if you're in the area.

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