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The bird people of Nocelle

28.06.2015. Best of the Coast

In 2014, two young Italian naturalists moved from Turin to the tiny village of Nocelle, above Positano, with their extended family. But this wasn’t the usual Italian ménage: Ludovica and Andrea’s clan had feathers. The young couple are both specialists in birds of prey: falconers, to use a reductive term. And their nine winged ‘children’ had been with them, in most cases, since birth.

“For Soren and Chobin, Ludovica and I are simply other, larger owls”, says Andrea of the two barn owls that the couple have raised since they were chicks. “Soren always flies to Ludovica rather than me, because he’s a male – he sees me as a bit of a rival”.

The company set up by the young couple is called Ali nel Vento – ‘Wings in the Wind’. However, the birds of prey demonstrations organised by Andrea and Ludovica, both at fixed times of day and for private groups, are only part of their remit. They work with schools that have conservation and nature programmes in place, and are also bird control experts, helping public and private firms to limit damage by pigeons, starlings and other potentially invasive avian species.

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Barn owls have something soothingly wise about their appearance; the next member of the Ali nel Vento extended family, Hannibal the European eagle owl, has a more rapacious appearance, with his alert ears and striking, watchful orange eyes. Perched on Ludovica’s gloved hand, he suddenly stretches his wings and takes flight, his tense, terse form set off by the deep blue of sea and sky.

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Then it’s the turn of the couples’ Harris’ hawks, used especially for bird control (this is the species that helps to keep pigeon numbers down in London’s Trafalgar Square) thanks to their keen intelligence and social nature, which makes them relatively easy to train. Next up is turkey vulture Feo, with his keen sense of smell and scavenging instinct – exercised not only on carrion but on Ludovica’s shoes, which she has learned not to leave around when he’s in the vicinity. Then we meet great grey owl Napoleon, with his piercing yellow eyes.

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Finally come the peregrine falcons, with their leather hoods, used as calming devices – pergerines are jittery birds and easily take fright.

A visit to Ludovica and Andrea’s avian sanctuary far above Positano is not one you easily forget. I can still feel the poise of barn owl Soren as he perched on my leather falconer’s glove: so majestic, and yet almost weightless.

Ali nel vento, www.lealinelvento.com. Guests of Le Sirenuse should ask the concierge for more information: both private and group visits can be arranged.

Pictures: © Roberto Salomone

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