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Meet Norfolk’s extremely rare black barn owl who’s 1 in 100,000

PUBLISHED: 07:59 08 March 2019 | UPDATED: 15:01 08 March 2019

Sandra Dalzell of Happisburgh Owls, with her rare melanistic barn owl, known as a black barn owl, called Dusk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Sandra Dalzell of Happisburgh Owls, with her rare melanistic barn owl, known as a black barn owl, called Dusk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2019

Have you ever seen a black barn owl?

Sandra Dalzell of Happisburgh Owls, with her rare melanistic barn owl, known as a black barn owl, called Dusk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYSandra Dalzell of Happisburgh Owls, with her rare melanistic barn owl, known as a black barn owl, called Dusk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Given that they hunt at night, your chances are somewhere between slim and non-existent.

But up on the north Norfolk coast there is an elegant example of this incredibly rare bird - the result of a genetic mutation that means there are just a handful thought to exist in the UK.

Falconer Sandra Dalzell, 59, is the proud owner of Dusk, who lives, along with 14 other owls, at her home in Happisburgh.

Ms Dalzell has had Dusk, who was hatched in 2014, since she was a chick and said she felt very lucky to have her as black barn owls “are like gold dust”.

Sandra Dalzell of Happisburgh Owls, with her rare melanistic barn owl, known as a black barn owl, called Dusk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYSandra Dalzell of Happisburgh Owls, with her rare melanistic barn owl, known as a black barn owl, called Dusk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

She said: “Black barn owls can only exist in captivity as their parents reject them and they are targeted in the wild. Melanism in owls is a very rare genetic mutation and there really aren’t a lot of them around.”

Ms Dalzell has kept owls for nearly 18 years, and runs Happisburgh Owls where members of the public can meet her birds - which also attend events such as fetes, country shows and school visits.

Her love for “fur and feather” started young and in the past she spent time working at rescue centres and caring for a variety of animals, before discovering a love for birds of prey.

As an experienced falconer, she incorporates her birds into working therapeutically with people with learning difficulties and dementia.

Dusk, a rare melanistic barn owl, known as a black barn owl, owned by Sandra Dalzell of the Happisburgh Owls. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYDusk, a rare melanistic barn owl, known as a black barn owl, owned by Sandra Dalzell of the Happisburgh Owls. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Ms Dalzell said: “When I got my first barn owl years ago and I took it along to work with people, I noticed the difference straight away.

“The owls help people come out of their shell and for local people with dementia, I think they really trigger memories of being in the countryside and seeing the wildlife all around them.

“I consider myself very privileged to do the work I get to do”, she added. “It’s my passion and I love it.”

In the last 15 years Ms Dalzell said she had not taken a holiday away from her birds, and every day started, without fail, at 7am - when she carried out a full cleaning of her aviaries.

Sandra Dalzell of Happisburgh Owls, with her rare melanistic barn owl, known as a black barn owl, called Dusk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYSandra Dalzell of Happisburgh Owls, with her rare melanistic barn owl, known as a black barn owl, called Dusk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

She said: “My owls live in the lap of luxury and I give them everything they need. My first owl died last year at nearly 18 years old and in the wild the average life span is only about four years.

“I hope Dusk will have an equally long and happy life with me.”

Dusk, a rare melanistic barn owl, known as a black barn owl, owned by Sandra Dalzell of the Happisburgh Owls. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYDusk, a rare melanistic barn owl, known as a black barn owl, owned by Sandra Dalzell of the Happisburgh Owls. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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