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Bill Bailey opens birds of prey hospital near Newent - and poses for an owl selfie

By CitizenNews  |  Posted: April 06, 2014

  • Bill Bailey takes an owl selfie at Newent Birds or Prey Centre

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Well, owl's about that - comedy star Bill Bailey could not resist a 'selfie' with a Great Grey Owl when he opened a new wild bird hospital yesterday.

The fifty year old comic has become passionately interested in birds of prey since rescuing a live owl from a restaurant in China - where it was on the menu.

Yesterday Bill was guest of honour at the International Centre for Birds of Prey near Newent, Glos, where he declared open its new £35,000 hospital for sick and injured birds.

After watching a flying display involving a sea-eagle, buzzards, hawks, a peregrine falcon, kites and a burrowing little owl the comedian told a few 'owlers to amuse the audience before struggling to pull away the curtain covering the new hospital sign.

The curtain would not come away as Bill tugged repeatedly at the string - but it fell in the end.

Bill and his wife Kristin were then given a tour of the the state-of-the art facilities by the centre's owner, world renowned birds of prey expert Jemima Parry-Jones.

The star of 'Black Books', a frequent guest on shows such as QI, then donned gloves to have Suliska the Great Grey Owl sitting on his wrist.

He was stunned that despite its size the bird felt so light. And he could not resist getting out his smart phone and taking a selfie of himself with Suliska - trying to look as wide-eyed as the owl.

Moving on into the hospital's nursery and brooding room, Bill was delighted to be able to hold a tiny 11-day old Scops owlet.

The new hospital facility, partly funded from a £2.2million grant of Euro cash to the Forest of Dean Action Programme, means the centre can look after three times as many poorly birds as before.

Jemima said "We only had room for about six injured birds before, in a very small and poky little room, but now we can accomodate 18 in this wonderful new hospital."

The centre, established in 1967 by Jemima's father Philip Glasier, takes in up to 100 injured wild birds of prey a year from the general public. Many are successfully treated and released back into the wild.

Some are too badly hurt to go back to the wild and become part of the centre's display stock.

"The vile little room we had before was an old generator shed," she said.

"Now we have 18 critical care boxes and two small walk-in rooms where we can put the larger birds when they are beginning to recover and before they go out into our aviaries."

Bill told guests at the opening that his link with Jemima and the centre had come about as a result of a family trip to China when he found a Eurasian Eagle Owl being offered for dinner at a restaurant in Guangdong Province.

"It was shocking and quite surreal," said Bill, who often recounts the story during his stand up appearances across the country.

"I’m not an expert on owls but pretty much sussed out that it was a Eurasian Eagle Owl.

"Something snapped. I had to do something. We haggled and bought the owl and took it away to release in the woods.

"I’m sure the people in the restaurant thought 'these crazy westerners want a take-away owl.' They wrapped it up in sellotape, put it on a box and we took it away in a taxi.

"The taxi driver had nail scissors in the car so we unwrapped it. The owl was wild - it was angry and that gave me hope that it was OK. It flew off beautifully - it was a tremendously uplifting moment.

"My son filmed the owl release and I have been showing that film at the end of my shows. I've been quite surprised by the level of emotional response to it from the audiences.

"Then I realized that it’s no surprise when you see the birds that Jemima and her superb team of people fly - you get the same emotional experience. It’s magnificent to see these creatures fly."

He said that to make the film segment of his show including the release of the owl he consulted Jemima and visited the centre.

"I came here to see Jemima and was shown around the centre and saw the brilliant things they do.

"Since then we have been involved and I think the work they do here is essential. The more I travel the world, the more you realize the natural world is under threat. Things like seeing birds of prey flying around the sky raises the spirits.

"These birds are part of our natural heritage and we have to be vigilant so these things do not disappear.

"I’m really delighted to be part of this project and to support it."

Jemima, who helped Bill make the film, said "I think the reason he first came to see me was that he was worried whether he had done the right thing by releasing that owl into the wild in China.

"He was concerned that perhaps it was injured or that it would not be able to survive in the wild.

"But when I saw the film his son had taken I was able to re-assure him that the bird was absolutely fine. It flew away perfectly and I'm sure it is OK."

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3 comments

  • toadhall99  |  April 06 2014, 8:39PM

    evie95, what did I say " good news for the centre " whats negative about that?

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  • evie95  |  April 06 2014, 4:37PM

    toadhall99, do you ever have anything positive to say? Can't you just be happy for them? Its a small place and people knew Bill Bailey was going, just because you did not hear about it.......

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  • toadhall99  |  April 06 2014, 11:34AM

    Good news for the centre.. same the citizen did not advertise the fact before hand

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