WATCH: Meet Eclipse - the 1 in 100,000 black barn owl
PUBLISHED: 10:43 01 March 2019 | UPDATED: 11:07 01 March 2019
Black is the new white - at least it was when an extremely rare barn owl visited north Essex recently.
Eclipse is a black barn owl and part of a wildlife display show put on by Coda Falconry - a bird of prey centre in Waltham Abbey that brought some of its birds up to Hedingham Castle to show them over the half-term break.
According to business owner Sarah Jane Manarin, black barn owls occur once every 100,000 births in the barn owl population and the highly unusual birds don’t last long in their native habitat.
“You don’t see black barn owls in the wild because their mother rejects them and doesn’t feed them,” she said.
“They are a different colour and in nature, and especially with barn owls, it tends to be survival of the fittest. Black barn owls tend to be smaller [than normal barn owls] and sometimes they have problems with their vision and hearing.”
Ms Manarin says these impediments mean Eclipse would struggle to hunt in the wild and has only been able to survive because it has been raised in captivity.
She said she doesn’t know exactly how many other barn owls with this melanism there are in the country but estimates Eclipse is “one of a handful”.
She added: “People are very surprised when they first see him, as they have never seen one before - they love him and are in awe of him because he is so unique.
“You can get pure white barn owls as well and they do survive in the wild – they are also rare and tend to be larger than normal barn owls.”
Eclipse is four years old and came to Coda Falconry six months ago.
Last week Ms Manarin and her colleague - whose evening show was called NocturnOWL - demonstrated to visitors how Eclipse and other birds can fly from handler to handler. She said she has to use hand signals and whistles to compensate for Eclipse’s impairments, so he can pinpoint where to go.
The sold-out display saw Eclipse flown alongside another barn owl of typical colouring called Dusk, although Ms Manarin says there is little love lost between the two birds of prey.
She added: “They don’t get on because they are two males but we also have a female barn owl called Dizzy and her and Eclipse have been calling to each other. We have been thinking we may pair them up.”