History of World of Owls

World of Owls was the premiere Owl and Bird of Prey Centre in Northern Ireland

The History

The very first Owl, Bird of Prey, Conservation & Education Centre in all of Ireland North and South

Mike & The Beginning

Following a serious motorcycle accident in 1991 Owner and founder Mike Gibb found himself unable to walk for a very long time, during his recuperation he found a couple of his old school study and project books on owls which lit a little candle within him. He found himself buying more and more books which soon turned into an obsession. In 1992 Mike decided to make a trip with his young family to the Mecca of all Owl centre’s “The World Owl Trust” based at Muncaster Castle in Cumbria. It is here Mike met the Director of the World Owl Trust, Tony Warburton, M.B.E. and that was the deciding factor. Mike was heard to say to Tony “I would love to duplicate this in Northern Ireland”, Mr Warburton was heard to sigh, “I wish I had a pound for every time I heard that”. As soon as Mike returned home he began on a quest to set up a small Owl centre in Northern Ireland. He began contacting and visiting every influential person and centre he could, this spanned England, Wales, Scotland, France, Germany and Singapore whilst keeping up regular visits to World Owl Trust in Cumbria, over a short period of time gaining Tony Warburton’s trust and admiration, to the point that Mikes family were now calling Tony Granddad. 

The little candle had now enraged an inferno“! 

Over the oncoming years World of Owls (Woo) searched for a venue, places sadly, came and went as did funding. In 1999 after meeting with Mr John Watson of the NI Forest Service and with the aid of Mr Nick Rogers a deal was struck with Alan Liddle from Antrim Borough Council and Randalstown Forest became the new home for Woo.

After selling the family home to help fund the project in around 3 years, in 2004 Mr Tony Warburton M.B.E. cut the ribbon and launched the opening to the public. During the launch Mr Warburton was quoted to say “I have never met a person with so much will, determination and enthusiasm as Mike“!

Mike was fully supported by many of the friends he had made on this journey some such as Ms Jemima Perry Jones M.B.E. from “The International Bird of Prey Centre”.

Mr Jeet Cheema manager and chief trainer at “Fugi Hawk Walk, Jurong Bird Park, Singapore.

George Thomson owner of “Rhuallan Raptors” Scotland.

Rod and Niccie Angus owners “The Scottish Owl Centre“.

and many other people Mike has met on this 30+ year journey, too many to list but we are all extremely grateful to them all.


Mike has always been a keen supporter of education and even after his own education returned to studies later on in his life striving to always better himself.

“I always regretted not doing better in school, East Belfast in the 1970’s & 1980’s was not an easy place to grow up”!

Completed 4 varied Falconry Award Certificates

Completed Lantra Falconry Assessor Award

Completed UK Raptor Award Assessor and administration point

C&G Engineering, Mechanics, Music

Completed a teaching degree in University

Completed C&G in business administration

Completed QS in Primary and Junior education

Completed 10+ years part time lecturing for  SERC in Animal Management

Continues to provide NI daily animal and wildlife education to schools and facilities province wide


Northern Irelands Premier Owl, Bird of Prey and Exotic Animal Conservation Centre.

Working to benefit education and conservation for Northern Ireland.

Only facility of its kind in Ireland.

Ireland’s Premier Owl, Bird of Prey and Exotic Animal Conservation Centre.

One of the largest owl collections in UK and Ireland – and the most diverse.

One of the rarest public Owl Collections in Europe.

Working with likeminded centres who save, and or breed rare and endangered owls.

The country’s main provider of school educational talks locally on conservation, animals and birds.

Covering more school visits than London, Edinburgh, and Blackpool zoos put together (Stats by BIAZA).

Has featured in many Television broadcasts and several silver screen productions, including many tourism TV programs promoting the country and the borough.

Raptor Education & Conservation Leaders in Northern Ireland.

Raptor Awards Training Provider and Network Member.

Provides a unique attraction within the beautiful Randalstown Forest.

Dedicated  voluntary staff some specializing in mental and physical disabilities.

Voted Trip Advisor NI Best Small visitor attraction 2019, 2020, 2021 and TripAdvisor’s Travelers Choice Winner NI 2022.

Family Staycation Top Attraction 2021 & 2022.

Tourism NI Best NI Small Visitor Attraction of the Year runner up 2019,2020 and 2021.

UK Prestige Awards – Animal Conservation Centre of the Year –Northern Ireland 2020/21.

World Host recipient and recognition for Excellence in Customer Service.


Trip Advisor has awarded World of Owls 3 Certificates of Excellence most recent Sept 2022. There are 30 Nature and Wildlife locations mentioned in TripAdvisor for Northern Ireland.

World of Owls has the highest number of reviews (399-81% excellent) in the Nature and Wildlife section. Anecdotally any offering with over 200 reviews in a specialist sector is considered as a significant asset. Clearly the Giant Causeway with 7,700 reviews (69% excellent) is the ultimate Jewel in the Crown of Northern Ireland but within its sector WoO compares favourably with for example Belfast Zoo (694 reviews 41% excellent and ranked 19th in County Antrim).

The excellence rating is considered by tourism professionals to reflect both the potential and the value of any location.

WoO is ranked 14th out of 241 in all assets in County Antrim.

WoO 81% excellent reviews from visiting public.

(Stats gathered by ASM Accountants for A&NBC pre-pandemic)

Benefits to the area

An innovative, unique, attraction bringing visitors to the forest from outside the local borough and tourists – including overseas – at no cost to Antrim & Newtownabbey Council or any local or government  authorities.

Provides people in the Borough with a family attraction on their doorstep.

An educational facility teaching children and adults throughout N Ireland about the importance of wildlife, conservation and nature in a fun an informative manner.

Unique support facility and work experience opportunity for local disadvantaged and disability groups including those with physical and mental health difficulties.

Supporting other charities i.e. Billy-Jo Foundation, Cancer Fund for Children, Cedar Foundation, Holywell Hospital, Antrim New Horizons, Belfast Health Trust.

Taking Conservation Education into adult and youth correctional centres.

Enhances the local tourism and attraction offering. One of the top 20 most popular visitor attractions in N Ireland (information from NITB)

Complementing A&NBC and Randalstown Forest with educational and recreational facilities. 

Volunteers and Directors reach out to the community through talks, social media, internet, displays and materials

www.worldofowls.com website averaging 65,000 Page Views world-wide per month

WoO have encouraged visitors to the Northern Ireland with appearing on countless television and radio shows with a high TV celebrity presence.

These include many national and international appearances  with some highly respected animal TV presenters who also showed a keen conservation interest, past & present; Sir David Attenborough, the late Terry Nutkins, Michaela Strachan, Bill Oddy, Steve Backshall, Eamon Holmes, Len Goodman, Christine Bleakley, Laurence Llewelyn Bowen, and many other household celebrities. 

WoO also continue to contribute to BBC, ITV, UTV, RTE, TG4, Sky.

WoO have also been used in TV and movie productions providing owls, birds of prey and occasionally reptiles and insects for huge productions unfortunately due to copywriting and disclaimers WoO cannot always make use of vast publicity opportunities from some of its production work. Here are just a few from over the years.

Endorsements don’t come much bigger than Sir David Attenborough

“If it wasn’t for the love from my wife and children, support from my family and close friends none of this would have happened”!