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Outdoors

THE MIGHTY STELLER’S Martin Ballam, Xtreme Falconry

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n one’s career there is often a certain subject that becomes a want, a wish, a passion to be part of. For over 20 years I have had a dream. The Steller’s Sea Eagle. This is not just a bird of prey, this is a beast. If only I had a pound for every occasion I have been asked, ‘What is your favourite bird?’, ‘What is the biggest bird you have?’, ‘Which is the hardest to train?’ And so on and so on. Well, here she is! The Steller’s is a big bird. Is it the biggest raptor in the world? This is a difficult question to answer as there are three main contenders. We will remove the obvious biggest in the world: the Andean Condor. With a maximum weight of around 15kg and a 3-metre wingspan, it is huge but it’s basically a giant American vulture. We want to talk about hunting raptors and the contenders are the Harpy Eagle, The Philippine Eagle and the Steller’s Sea Eagle. The Harpy and the Philippine are big, the Harpy coming in at 9kg and the Philippine coming in at 8kg. However, these are forest eagles, with short wings but very long tails for agility through the canopy. The dimensions from beak to tail are great because of this. Now let’s consider the Steller’s; also weighing in at up to 9kg it is certainly a contender for the title of biggest in the world of eagles, with a huge and powerful wingspan for lifting large fish from water and, boy, what a beak it has! I saw my first captive Steller’s just over 20 years ago. My good friend Travis and I took a long drive to what was, at the time, the only centre in the UK to have a pair of Steller’s. It was a moment neither of us will ever forget: two hardened men who have trained hundreds of raptors standing in front of an aviary that housed two Steller’s. We stood there, quietly, open-mouthed, basically speechless and almost dribbling. These were awesome birds. Captive breeding of raptors has come a long way since that day and a small handful of people (mainly in Europe) have been successful in breeding this beast of a bird. Could I ever own a Steller’s and, even more importantly, could I ever become part of a 38 | Bridport Times | April 2019

breeding programme? Early in 2017 I was contacted by a friend in Holland who had a small raptor park. He owned a female Steller’s aged 3 years who was rather ‘difficult’. The bird in question was captive-bred in the Czech Republic and had been housed in a secluded aviary with no real training, conditioning or acceptance of people nearby or within its presence. I agreed to take the bird on and drove to Holland, via Germany! We are part of a breeding programme for Africa’s largest eagle, the ‘Martial Eagle’, and a new male was to be collected as part of this, hence the Steller’s would be collected on the return journey from Germany. Coming through customs was really rather funny: ‘Have you got birds on board sir?’ ‘Yes, here’s the paperwork,’ I replied.

Profile for Sherborne & Bridport Times

Bridport Times April 2019  

Featuring Swanherd Steve Groves + What's On, Arts & Culture, History, Wild Dorset, Outdoors, Archaeology, Food & Drink, Body & Mind, Home, G...

Bridport Times April 2019  

Featuring Swanherd Steve Groves + What's On, Arts & Culture, History, Wild Dorset, Outdoors, Archaeology, Food & Drink, Body & Mind, Home, G...