The founder of the Raptor and Wildlife Refuge of Tasmania, Craig Webb, set out more than a decade ago to provide a home for eagles coming to grief in mankind’s world.
Over time Webb has released 20 injured wedge-tailed and sea eagles that have received tender, loving care at the refuge at Kettering but it is a bird actually born in one of the rehabilitation aviaries which has stolen the headlines in the past year.
A masked owl called Montgomery has become a free-flying attraction of the walk ‘n’ talk fund-raising experiences that Webb has introduced in the past year.
The story of Montgomery is a remarkable one, something Webb could never have imagined when I first met him at the fledgling refuge all those years ago. At the time, I was interested in writing a column about his adoption of eagles from a rehabilitation program within the grounds of Risdon Prison, in which prisoners had taken part. Webb had stepped in when the aviary was closed under redevelopment plans at the jail.
Over time I have seen the yearly expansion of the refuge from a set of huge aviaries catering purely for eagles to ones that are now devoted to smaller birds of prey, including owls.
It was the rehabilitation of two owls that set the refuge on a new course, that of a “nursery” for birds born in captivity. On his rounds Webb noticed that the owls – brought to the reserve with injuries which precluded their release – had laid eggs in a makeshift nest. This first attempt at nesting was unsuccessful, as was a second, but a third produced a viable male chick, which Webb named Montgomery.
And says Webb of his new charge: “Monty is a highlight of my life dealing with birds and animals. He is amazing in every way. He is a superstar here at the refuge and enthrals visitors.”
The reserve was primarily intended to be a raptor rehabilitation centre to deal with eagles injured by coming into contact with powerlines or motor vehicles or being poisoned and shot. Another dimension was soon been added with wild eagles coming to visit, these birds perching on the top of the giant aviaries to view the injured eagles inside, and Webb soon constructed perches for the wild birds.
At first it was only wedge-tailed eagles coming to visit but increasingly other raptors arrived.
As Webb puts it: “Drop-ins range from wedgies to goshawks to masked owls screeching at night: unless I had seen and heard it, I would find it hard to believe; in a nutshell, it’s bloody spectacular. I believe the terminology is kleptoparasitism when birds are hanging around to pinch a feed. Whatever it’s called, myriad raptors constantly come to the refuge for a ‘free lunch’.’’
And remarkably this situation has been reversed. One breeding season Webb saw a male brown goshawk feeding an adult female through the slats in her aviary.
Meanwhile, the masked owl story has entered a new chapter. The latest news from the refuge is the resident owls have produced another youngster.