If you drive around Cornwall you may well spot owls perched on roofs and chimneys all over the county. Once you see that they are still there every time you pass, you will eventually realise that most of these are artificial owls, perched on roofs to scare away pigeons!
However, a trip to the Screech Owl Sanctuary at Goss Moor near St Columb has only real live owls on display, I promise! The sanctuary is quite an amazing attraction as it has over 130 owls and other needy residents who all require personal attention when it comes to feeding, housing and tucking up for the night.
The founding of the Screech Owl Sanctuary
The sanctuary is located just off the A30 at Indian Queens and is well signposted. It was started in 1990 and the founders, believe it or not, are passionate owl lovers called Tom and Caroline Screech.
You can see a range of beautiful owls up close, learn about their habitats and status (several are endangered species), and see them in flight during falconry demonstrations. One thing that surprised me was how silently a huge owl can glide past ‐ no wonder they are efficient hunters of frogs, mice and other small four-legged snacks!
The sanctuary is only open to the public from late March to the first weekend in November. Admission is £9.50 for adults with concessions for seniors and children up to 13. Family tickets are well discounted at £29 (2014 prices).
The sanctuary offers a number of discounted theme days including Biker days and Mickey and Minnie Mouse days so it's worth checking the website before planning your visit.
Owls from all over the world
The owls are fascinating for anyone who is a keen birdwatcher or animal lover. Some of the endemic species of British owls I saw on my visit were white-faced barn owls, little owls and tawny owls. However they were some truly huge owls including European eagle owls, weird-looking Ural owls and scary-faced great grey owls. I wouldn't want to meet these predators on a dark night, and I'm not even on their menu!
There seemed to be owls from all over the world represented at the Screech Owl Sanctuary including African, Asian and American owls and species from New Zealand and the West Indies. Screech owls are actually a specific species, but many of the owls seemed to have wicked spine-chilling calls rather than gentle hoots.
Many of the owls arrive at the sanctuary after being injured, abandoned as chicks or found sick. The staff are able to offer general care and feeding but may need a vet for more serious cases. Where possible the owls are rehabilitated and returned to where they were found.
The sanctuary offers a number of flying displays as well as falconry courses for anyone wanting to learn how to handle owls and other birds of prey.
What to expect at the Screech owl Sanctuary
Visitors have the chance to meet and touch some of the tame owls in the Hand-Tame Area under the careful instruction of the sanctuary staff. Falconry displays take place weather permitting and are an enthralling way to witness these magnificent birds of prey flying and “catching” food.
The sanctuary has a broader interest with other animals to pet and stroke. There are gorgeous black-and-white pygmy goats, Shetland ponies, emus, meercats, alpacas and other animals that have found a home at the sanctuary.
Your support in the café and gift shop also raises funds for the ongoing work of the sanctuary. You can certainly pick up some novelty gifts such as pens, key rings and jewellery on a cute owl theme. The 50-seat tearoom has homemade cakes and light meals making it a pleasant day out for visitors looking for a change from the usual sand and sea attractions.
Have you ever seen an owl in Cornwall? Do you know what type it was? We'd love to hear your owl experiences so feel free to share them below.