I am a woman falconer, enjoying the Great Outdoors with a hawk on my fist.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Meet the New Bird!
On the Halloween Holiday weekend I took myself for a visit to the beach, to camp, and to trap around the Corpus area. I've been watching the trees and high points around Abilene and the surrounding area, but all I have been seeing are adult (we call them haggard) red-tails. I know these birds bred this year but must have chased all their offspring out of the area already. I reasoned, any passage birds may be flying south and perhaps hit some of the cities going that direction, next to the ocean, and started to hang out there. I was right about that assertion, even though it did not result in my trapping a red-tail.
Along the road to Malaquite beach are many White Tailed Hawks. They look very stunning in their smart grey feather outfits, and bright white tails, but they are not a trappable species. I read an article a few years ago in American Falconry speculating whether or not they would make a good species for falconry. Sorry that the picture is not real clear. I don't have one of those fancy Digiscopes, and the birds would not let me get too close for a picture.
On the day I went out trapping, I just drove into Corpus Christi from my campsite (can't trap in the Federal park). I exited off the Interstate and just started to drive back roads. Almost immediately, to my surprise, I saw and identified Harris Hawks, sitting over a fairly busy suburban street. My heart leapt into my throat!! I circled around for another look.
OK . . . . to explain the excitement for those who do not know anything about hawks or falconry birds. Only some hawks are good for falconry. Many just prefer to hunt mice, or insects, and never lend themselves to any kind of sporting possibilities. However, some birds are particularly very well suited as gamehawks. These include our workhorses of the hawk world, the red-tails, and then the more exotic and neurotic accipiters, the goshawks, coopers hawks and sharp shins. That last group are some very excellent birds, but require very precise handling and training to come to their full potential. They can also be very frustrating when not handled correctly. There are many birds throughout the world that falconers are experimenting with, but which are not available to us here in the US. This discussion will not even touch on the myriad falcons, as they are a whole other class of bird that I have no experience in, and whose training and handling is different. Then . . . . we have the Harris Hawk.
Also known as the Bay Winged Hawk, it is the only hawk in the world that lives in a social unit. Unlike most hawks, the breeding adults do not chase their offspring out of the territory once they leave the nest. The offspring are allowed to stay in the territory, and hone their hunting skills by helping out the next year to raise the next batch of babies. All the birds in a family group cooperatively help in the hunt. Once the prey is caught there is a pecking order, but there is no squabbling over the food. The junior birds acquiece to the adults, then get their food when the adults are finished. It's a fairly unique set-up in the hawk world.
So, some 40 years ago, give or take, someone in the falconry world decided to try out this species of hawk. They range throughout Mexico and down into South America, coming into the US only in parts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. They turned out to be a most excellent falconry bird . . . . bonding to their falconer in a way that many of our other hawks do not. Because they live and hunt in a family unit, they can be flown with other Harris Hawks, as long as they have been introduced to each other before and have sorted out their status with each other. They can be flown at a wide range of quarry, as large as jack rabbits for a good sized female, down to quail and starlings with a quick little male. They are a very versitile gamebird much prized by many falconers. The "normal" route for most people to acquire one is to purchase from a licensed breeder. However, a few rare birds can be trapped from the wild.
OK . . . . back to my story! Upon seeing the adults, and knowing about their communal living arrangement, I circled back and started looking for their offspring. Sure enough, saw one sitting on a light pole over a fairly busy suburban road. A few more turn backs and I saw a place to place my trap and back off and wait. I did not have to wait long. Once the bird saw my trap he made his approach double-time, and was snared very quickly. I hurried back to the trap site, and soon had in hand a juvenile Harris Hawk!
I cast him (which is to secure the feet and bind him in such a way that he could not escape) and placed him on the scale. I got a weight of about 580 grams. I then made a phone call . . . . to my falconry friend Sharon. She has flown a Harris Hawk, and she knows many people who have them. I could think of no other person first to call, as she is also my friend. She confirmed that what I had in hand was a tiercel (a male) Harris Hawk. I jessed him up, and placed him in the box, not quite sure yet what to do. I then continued on my trapping mission, looking for red-tails and mulling over the situation.
Why the uncertainty . . . . you may ask! Well, I first had to confirm if he was a bird I could keep. I had been out trapping for red-tails, which I know are a species I can trap. Some states only allow the capture of Harris Hawks based upon a lottery. I needed an answer to this question, and I needed it soon. If it turns out I needed further documents other than the ones I already had (Texas Falconry Permit, Federal Permit, Hunting License) I would release him by his family area and go on looking for that red-tail. I searched my mind and wondered who to call. I stopped and tapped into WiFi and left a message with a contact I had made with the Texas Falconers Club. Surely someone there would know, but I did not have any phone numbers. I then thought of my friend, Bill Oakes, back in Wisconsin. Bill has been a falconer for more years than probably he wants to count. He has flown Harris Hawks. And I felt surely he knew someone I could call. Sure enough . . . . he did! Thanks Bill! He got me in touch with a falconer here in Texas who flies three Harris Hawks, who confirmed that in Texas a resident does not require any further documents in order to trap and keep a Harris Hawk. So . . . . . I could keep the little guy!!
I continued on my trapping exploits that day, just because it is such an enjoyable activity, and just in case I trapped the monster Red-Tail of South Texas, but none of the other birds I set the trap out for came to the trap. At least I did see other juveniles now, but no takers for my rat bait. It was like my whole trapping experience this year was aimed at this little bird already in the box. I accepted that fate with a smile.
As soon as I got home I started making calls to get the things I did not have. My friend Sharon put me in touch with someone who makes hoods, who sent me a loaner, and will make me a hood of my own. It arrived on Wednesday, the loaner. It fits good, though my bird does not like it. He'll have to get used to wearing it. My friend Dave, the Bell Man of Wisconsin, mailed to me an appropriate sized set of bells, as all that I have are way too big for this little guy. Hopefully, those will be in the mail this Thursday.
By Monday the bird would sit my fist, and started to learn to recover from a bate. That recovery was a slow lesson.
By Tuesday he accepted food from me presented with a little stick, then from the glove.
On Wednesday evening, I had him jumping to the fist.
I have not started any kind of weight control up to this point, as I have not been able to reliably weigh him. Now I have a hood, so I can get him to stand quiet on the scale for very accurate measurement. The weight control begins today!
I have decided to call him Cimarron. It was the name of one of the cross streets nearby where I trapped him. I looked it up, and along with many of the other meanings associated with the name, one of them was "wild", or "those who live on the mountain". It is a very appropriate name!!
I think he is just beautiful . . . . and I'm terribly excited to have him join my life!!
Falconry! Or more appropriately for me, Hawking! It is a passion, and a way of life. I happily pursue this sport, with the loving assistance of my husband. Come along with me for our adventures with the birds. Primarily we actively pursue it in the colder months . . . the rest of the time I try to make this blog as interesting as possible. Come let me share my stories, and feel free to contact me. I always enjoy talking about my obsession with this sport.