Interview: Owl Man Frank Shelton

Photos: Shaun Gordon
Interview: Bridie Squires
Tuesday 09 December 2014
reading time: min, words

You might have seen Frank Shelton walking around town with a majestic bird and cute little hound but, like us, probably refer to him as his more sophisticated alias – Owl Man. We grabbed a cuppa with him at the Malt Cross, along with his dog Lucy and barn owl Kim…


What’s your life in Nottingham been like?
I’ve lived in Carlton since 1955. I finished up on the ambulance service, but I’ve done bus driving, worked at the Post Office, all sorts of things. My favourite job was on the ambulance service - I was on patient transport, taking outpatients to different places. I’ve got a son too, he works at Players at the moment.

What do you get up to day to day?
I go out every morning with the dog and the owl. Some days I don’t bother getting the car out so I just walk around Carlton. Whenever there’s anything happening in Derby, Leicester, Chesterfield, or anywhere, I’ll go. Since I got Kim, I’ve brought her out every day with me. I couldn’t see much point in keeping her in an aviary 24/7. I’ll normally be home for dinner time. She’ll be in the house in the afternoon, then at tea time I put her back in the aviary where she sleeps.

How did you end up with her?
In the nineties, I bought two owls for eighty pound on the Sunday and the lady owls were laying by Tuesday. I finished up with twenty, so I gave some away and took the rest to an owl sanctuary up Lancashire. I didn’t bother for a while, then in October 2009, I bought two southern white-faced owls - they originate from the Sahara. They were brother and sister so I was hoping they wun’t breed and they haven’t done. My lad saw another one on the internet but I didn’t want to start breeding. There were a thirteen-week-old barn owl on there too, so I said, “I’ll have that.” We went up to Warrington and fetched her.
(Frank and the owl snuggle, Kim squints her eyes as Frank tickles underneath her chin. Hearts shatter.)

Can you make much money breeding them?
It used to be dead easy, provided they’ve got that ring there. (Frank points out a metal ring around Kim’s leg.) They have to be put on before their foot grows – if they don’t have one, they could be wild owls. I didn’t manage to sell any anyway. I put a notice board up outside me house that read ‘Barn Owls For Sale’ and a couple of coppers come up to my house. I sez, “Do you know the law?” They didn’t, so I said, “Well, you better come in and read up on the bogger, hadn’t ya?” So they did, I took them to the aviary and they were happy, so they went. The next night, the RSPCA come up and were dead chuffed, but I thought, “Bugger this, I can’t be doing with this hassle.” That’s when I rung the owl sanctuary up in Lancashire. They released them into the wild.

What do you feed Kim?
She only gets chicks. Day old chicks.
(Kim regurgitates a slimy object resembling a cocoon)

Argh! What was that?
That’s the remains – all the bits it can’t digest. It’s normally a lot bigger than that.

What equipment do you need to train her?
Nowt. Just me arm.

You’ve entered Kim into the Post’s Pet Idol competition. Do you think she stands a good chance?
I went through the insert yesterday. A lot of them photos are very poor. To be honest, I wouldn’t have bothered sending a photo in if I couldn’t take a clear one. There are a lot of entries but a lot of people know me so I might be alright. A student from Slovakia took a picture of me, Kim and Lucy and it was in the National Gallery in London last winter – there were 540 entries for 60 places and we got in.

Does your dog Lucy ever get jealous?
She does when we’re out and about, but she’s alright.

Have you got any other pets?
I’ve got two other owls but they’re vicious. They stay in the aviary. They’re in an adjacent aviary to Kim. They see each other and they’re happy at that.

Does Kim fly?
She does fly but that’s exercise for her - I put her on a longer tether in the afternoon, she sits on the wall at the front of my house. It’s up to her then. She does sometimes have a fly around and then drop back on my shoulder.
(Kim squints her eyes as Frank strokes her)

She loves that, when she shuts her eyes. The top part of her beak, I get that in me bottom lip. (Frank demonstrates) She takes her beak out carefully. She’s had every opportunity to rip my lip out, but she don’t. I do that when I put her in the shed at night. Barn owls are known for making good pets but you can’t tame all owls. Like the eagle owl, bloody huge things. You couldn’t do that with one of them.

Do you think animals are capable of love?
Oh, yeah. Look at her.

Does she ever call for mates?
She does during the breeding season. She screeches. I can hear her at night… and the neighbours can.

How long do owls live for?
I’ve never had an owl from start to finish, so I don’t know, but she’ll probably outlive me.

Do you ever get any strange reactions?
At the most, I’ve met two people and I soon got rid of them. “They should be in the wild” and all this crap. All bloody nonsense. For a laugh, when I get talking to people, I tell them, “It’s the only bird I can pull at my time of life. She’s not bad looking, she’s cheap, she don’t want me pin number and I haven’t got a mother-in-law.”

Haha! Are places ever funny about you bringing her in?
Some people can be funny boggers. Most places don’t mind but I stay clear of supermarkets. I went in the hospice on Woodborough Road and this woman fetched two little girls - I put the glove on one of them, and this kid walked down the garden, proud as punch. I knew she was safe. We went down these steps and, lo and behold, we walk into a Nottingham… City… Councillor. She went bloody mad. “I’m not happy about you being in here with that thing!” So I took her off the kid.

A chap who lives down the road from me put me in touch with a lady who wanted me there. She was really nice, but they wanted me to be assessed for safety and all this. I said “Forgerrit.” I go to nursing homes, no problem. It can be therapeutic for people. Once I visited a nursery and they’d got the kids all lined up and a chair in the middle for me - it were brilliant. As for getting invited to a school, no way. Too much health and safety. I don’t bother any more, there are plenty of places I can go.

You sound like you’re enjoying yourself…
I just walk about and people come and say hello - I let them hold her, no problem. A lot of it depends on the weather - it’s difficult with an umbrella, the dog and the bird. I try not to get her wet but if she gets herself wet, that’s up to her. I’ve got half of the aviary covered and the other half is open to the air. I’ve put her out before when it’s absolutely teeming it down and when I look out, she’s in the open part with her wings outstretched, looking up at the stars. I like that. 
(Kim does a little shake, like she’s dancing from side to side.)
That means she’s happy.

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