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Raptor Adventures - January Pt. 1

Beginning my adventure into falconry, I was very lucky to meet Carolyn, a local falconer who is flying a red-tailed hawk this season. She invited me to come hunting with her to get a bit more exposure to falconry in practice. It was a fantastic experience!

Meet Bailey!

So, in Minnesota you have a choice between two birds as your apprentice birds - a kestrel or a red-tailed hawk. I have been researching and coming to appreciate red-tails more and more over the last year, and plan to choose one when I am ready for a bird of my own.

This is Carolyn - she trapped Bailey last September and he's already flying like a pro. It's amazing how fast these hawks adjust to people (being totally wild birds) and figure out it's in their benefit to stick by us.

You're not going to catch anything down there, Bailey!

I was a bit put off at the beginning with the idea of having to trap a wild bird as a first step - coming from my experience with parrots and corvids, I can't imagine getting a wild caught one as a beginner and fumbling my way through it - it seems completely counter intuitive. However, raptors are a whole other ball game and the usual rules don't apply. Falconry can actually benefit wild birds (one reason it is still allowed with such strict restrictions on keeping of native birds) - there is a 70-80% mortality rate among first year red-tails. If you think about it, these birds are set off into an unforgiving world with so much to learn (and a fast metabolism + cold winters that doesn't allow for any mistakes). With a falconry bird, that young bird gets an extra year (or a few) of guaranteed food, shelter, and care. Also, the bird gets a chance to practice flight, hunting skills, and learning to use its feet correctly. When the bird is eventually released, it goes back to a wild state very readily, with a bit better chances at surviving in the long run.

Falconry also has an awesome system for permitting. It's really a model for the exotic/wild animal industry as a whole - I wish all exotics required something similar (instead of just being allowed or outright banned). For instance, if wolves and wolf-dogs required a similar permit I think it would stop a massive amount of the problems we have with them today.

Basically, you have to find a mentor - someone who is licensed at general or master level to guide you. You take a test, get your facilities inspected, pay a fee, and then you are able to trap your first bird. Your mentor works with you for a minimum of two years, guiding you through the process and showing you the ropes. After that you can get promoted to general rank, and after five years of that (minimum), to master rank. There is a great community of people sharing information and benefiting the care of the birds. Of course things aren't perfect, and some people get birds for the wrong reasons - but overall the system is amazingly well run.

Vantid sporting Bailey as a hawk hat.

Bailey sitting atop my storage shed.

One of the best things about falconry (after being around these amazing birds doing what they do best - flying and hunting) is just being outside, tromping through the snow and enjoying nature. Even though I live in the suburbs, there is wildlife here - this was a fox we saw while we were out, scampering about in the fields behind my home.

Bailey coming down to the lure after the hunt.

For my first experience out with a hunting hawk, it was a blast and left me wanting more. I've gone out a few more times since and the birds have me... hook, line, and sinker. :)


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 16th, 2011 12:31 am (UTC)
WOW, I have always wanted to get into falconry myself, and this was a wonderful post! Stunning photographs too <3
Feb. 16th, 2011 12:56 am (UTC)
A very informative and fascinating journal. I have a soft-spot for raptors so this is definitely something I would eventually like to see in person one of these days.

You have AWESOME hobbies. =P
Feb. 16th, 2011 01:36 am (UTC)
Ohmy, such a gorgeous bird!

Makes me want to rekindle (who am I kidding... it never died) my interest in the sport. However, living in an apartment makes building a mews a little difficult.
Feb. 16th, 2011 01:41 am (UTC)
Yaaay, more opportunities for me to live vicariously through you. :)

Feb. 16th, 2011 02:12 am (UTC)
Lovely! Bails looks really interesting, hes just so....tiny yet stout? Like a short lil hawk :)
Feb. 16th, 2011 05:47 pm (UTC)
Yes, even for a male he's a little guy!
Feb. 16th, 2011 02:18 am (UTC)
Really awesome hobby you are getting into!
Feb. 16th, 2011 02:48 am (UTC)
Nice lookin' bird! <3
Feb. 16th, 2011 04:28 am (UTC)
That is so awesome! Thanks for sharing! I love red tailed hawks. Lovely pictures too!
Feb. 16th, 2011 04:38 am (UTC)
Really nice.
Feb. 16th, 2011 04:45 am (UTC)
Please post more updates as you go! I've seriously been considering going into this and it will really be nice to see the process before I really get into it. Thanks!
Feb. 16th, 2011 05:47 pm (UTC)
Will do! You don't have to twist my arm to get me to babble about birds, that is for sure. :)
Feb. 16th, 2011 06:41 am (UTC)
First, I love Baily's into pic. It's very flattering. XD

Second, I love the issues and concerns you bring up about Falconry- and how the same permits and restricting would be an asset to apply in other areas. In conservation, we consistently bemoan the wild/exotic pet market as it's neither beneficial for the animal, especially if it's an endangered one. They are not in any breeding programs, and are reduced to being trophies that more often then not- are not taken care of properly.

When coming to wolf-dogs, there is another concern of mendeling the genetic pool with domestic stock... which- to no surprise- is a playing card for some government facilities to catch, cull, or even destroy animals behind the guise of them not actually BEING the endangered specie, but a non-recognized offshoot, that hold no "genetic value" to the species itself.

it's really awesome that an industry like this exists.. I hope to see it implemented on other species- but for now, It's bloody AWESOME that you are pursuing this! I can't wait to see you with your own bird! XD
Feb. 16th, 2011 08:56 am (UTC)
I was hoping to run into you at FC this year. I have a book I wanted to give you. It's on Falconry. :)

I don't mind sending it to you.

Edited at 2011-02-16 08:56 am (UTC)
Feb. 16th, 2011 05:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you, that is so kind of you! I unfortunately had to drop FC from my schedule since it's so far, it got a bit to expensive for me to drive out to anymore. I will keep doing MFF regularly and maybe AC every few years but that will be it for cons for the most part.
Feb. 16th, 2011 02:26 pm (UTC)
Wow. I am curious now. Never thought I would be about this hobby. I like the idea of that they release the birds after a time. I didn't realize they did that, or even trapped a wild one. I am also curious about what else the hobby has to offer in relation to owning other exotics. Hmmmmmmmm.
Feb. 16th, 2011 05:52 pm (UTC)
Well, delving into it in the last year, taking care of raptors is really different than working with most other exotics. They are a totally different ball game - it's actually quite hard for me to adjust because of my background with other birds! I think for general exotic experience you can't beat wildlife rehab - doing that you get a way better overview of taking care of different critters, networking with people (and vets who are willing to work with different animals) - specialized cage building, behavior, etc. The one thing that I think is a common theme with raptors and all exotics is the positive reinforcement training. You can't train a raptor with punishment - you are forced to work with the bird and not against it or you aren't going to have any reasonable results. The patience, observation, and training skills can certainly carry over!
Feb. 17th, 2011 03:14 am (UTC)
I would be starting from square one. I have some experience with exotic birds, but not much. And a lot of that is probably no good. :p And I can understand the training, I would probably just needs to help with that... I like the idea of mentoring. I wish more hobbies were like that.

I am a complete novice here. Is there a club or something for this? I'm not probably going to be getting into it any time soon (lack of funds among other things), but how do you go about getting into this sort of thing?

I think I have too many questions and don't have any clue where to even start. Sorry, if I am not making any sense!
Feb. 16th, 2011 05:27 pm (UTC)
So glad you are doing and enjoying this! My friend is a falconer and I love hearing her stories about her red-tail Gambit. I've learned so much just from listening to her. I really wish I could get into falconry (the one thing Zack would love to do with me involving animals), but I'm just not stable enough at this moment. It's on my list of things to do though!

My friend really wants an ornate hawk eagle. That is her goal bird (granted she loves working with ANY birds of prey). Do you have a "goal" bird? Or a few?
Feb. 16th, 2011 05:46 pm (UTC)
I am really happy Mbala has been enthusiastic and supportive of falconry as well - he got the chance to come with me to a big falconry meet a few weekends ago and really enjoyed it, which I was thrilled about. :) He bought me a book on falconry equipment making for x-mas too!
I plan to start with a red-tail, since I have to and then my permanent bird would be a harris hawk (or possible a pair to hunt with together). I love those guys and being more sociable, I think they would be a great fit for me.
Dreaming, as a goal bird, it would actually be a lammergeier! I know they aren't natural hunters but it would be possible to target train them to drop silly things onto a target to show audiences their skills (think water balloons or nerf balls). Since they aren't endangered (outside of localities) I think it would be a possibility, but a zillion years in the future. :)
More falconry wise, I think I really would be happy with harris hawks and keeping owls (though not for hunting) if I really got into the hunting aspect of it I would like to try a ferruginous or perhaps a tawny eagle, for a bigger game hawk. I'm not interested in golden eagles (which seem to be a lot of people's dream birds since they are such good hunters and so huge) - I'm not interested in those giant birds!
The ornate hawk eagles are gorgeous - I like some of the interesting south american falcons - but I don't see myself with a longwing. I do like peregrines, though... and have learned to never say never!
Feb. 16th, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
WAHAHAH! That would be so awesome to have a lammergeier drop a water balloon on kids in the summer XD I SUPPORT THIS DREAM GOAL as long as I got to meet your bird(s)!!

Just so excited for you!

Also I found where there are lammergeiers in zoos. The San Diego Zoo is the only zoo on the continent with lammergeiers (and it's one female according to ISIS). They are all over zoos in Europe, such as you encountered.

What a shame. And OH NO I will just have to go to San Diego....or Europe. OH DARN ;}
Feb. 16th, 2011 06:06 pm (UTC)
Wouldn't that be a hoot? :) Water balloon brigade!
That confirms my findings, too - I though SDZ had two pairs, I wonder if something happened to their other birds. It's a shame they are the only ones out here with lamms!
I wonder if I'd be able to get them from a European zoo. I'll have to contact them in the future, I guess. They are really endangered in Europe so I'm guessing that might nix that. There are some animal importers out of Ethiopia that might be a better bet. I haven't been able to find any export contacts in Asia.
It's just a pipe dream right now, but I'm putting it out there to the universe. :) We have some really steep bluffs (about 30 acres of them!) - 100-200ft tall. With enough funds we could build an amazing cliffside aviary like the one they have at the Prague zoo. :)
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )