Saturday, May 7, 2011

Falconry Equipment

This year will mark the first time I will have an apprentice to train for falconry.  In my humble opinion, the young man is ideally suited to join the sport.  He is already an outdoorsman, and a hunter, and possesses the drive and initiative to excel.  He does not require anyone to 'hold his hand', and only needs someone to escort him into the ranks, and give advice when it comes to the training of his first bird.  I've told him that I can only truly teach him about training and hunting a red tailed hawk, as that is primarily the bird I have worked with.  Harris hawks train pretty much like the RT, only easier.  I did work with a kestrel for a season, and have plans in the works to take and train a new one this next fall . . . or a merlin if I can possibly trap one.  After his apprenticeship, if he wants to get involved with the falcons, or accipiters, he's on his own, as I cannot offer much in the way of guidance there.  I'm sure he will be quite capable of achieving anything he sets his mind to.  He has already taken and passed his falconry exam, and is well on his way to having his mews built.

Anyway . . . I thought it might be a worthwhile exercise to list exactly the equipment that is pretty much required if getting into this sport.  So . . . here goes!

Minnesota Falconry Regulations require the following:

Indoor facilities (mews).  This can take many forms, and can range from an inexpensive protective "shed" to a palatial construction.  It sounds like Justin is making a really nice facility along the lines of "palatial".  It will have built-in electricity and maybe even some heating, as well as an attached work room where he can keep his scale and falconry equipment.  I look forward to coming and seeing it when it is built.

Outdoor facilities (weathering yard).  This can also take on many forms.  Some falconers have a small yard built onto their mews to serve the purpose.  In my case, I have always used a 10 x 10 dog kennel, which is top fenced.  Each state's regulations should be reviewed for specific requirements that each facility must meet.

Alymeri jesses (at least one pair).  I'd advise several pair be kept on hand, and it is good practice to make a few sets while getting all your equipment together.

One flexible weather-resistant leash.  Again, more than one is a good idea.  Some falconers use the parachute cord material for their tethering equipment, and learning how to work with it and braid it is another task that can be learned while waiting to take your first bird.

A strong swivel.  I think the only appropriate equipment for this is a Sampo swivel.  Some of the smaller kinds can be acquired at the sporting goods store and fishing suppliers, but the large ones needed for a red tailed hawk need to be bought from the falconry suppliers.

Drinking and bathing container.  Farm suppliers often have appropriately large enough equipment for the job.  If all else fails, a cat litter tray is big enough, and cheap!

"Weathering area perch".  This translates to me to mean "bow perch".  A staked bow perch is a semi-permanent placement of a perch that will not move once staked into the ground.  Though not a requirement in the Minnesota regulations, I also like to have a movable bow perch . . . one that is either attached to a strong metal base, or that is weighted, so you can tie your bird out just about anywhere when you take her traveling to those far flung falconry meets.  The staked bow perch is great during the warmer months, but gets really hard to push into the ground when it is frozen (which falconry season usually is up here in the North) and can be almost impossible to remove from the ground if it is frozen in.  My staked bow perch stays at home in the winter, and my movable perch goes with me when I travel with my bird.

Reliable Scale.  OK . . . this is a terribly important piece of equipment.  Don't cut corners when buying or acquiring this.  Many falconers will use a balance beam scale, which works great if it will be stored in the cold.  I like to use a digital scale, but it has to be kept warm to read accurate.  Many times this may be your only clue that something may not be right with your bird.  Accurate weight management is an absolute necessity for training, hunting, but also for health management!  My scale reads to the gram, which is pretty precise.

OK, that's it as far as Minnesota is concerned.  However, there is a lot more equipment which should be acquired.  I'll try to rank this in order between "Necessary" and "Just Plain Nice to Have".

Gauntlet.  If you are gonna work with that bird who has strong pointy toes, you'd better be wearing something to protect your hand.  For the beginner, this could be as easy as a welding glove, which you can get pretty cheap from the hardware store.  When you can afford the fancy leather glove, the falconry suppliers have lots of nice models to choose from.  Or you can make one yourself if you are handy with leather.  Just remember, whatever you train the bird with is what you should use.  She knows the difference!  If you train her to come to you with the blue welder's mitt, she may balk the first time you use the fancy (clean) leather gauntlet.  So don't embarrass yourself around your friends by taking her out on your first hunting trip and surprising her with that new leather glove.

Bells.  These are instrumental in keeping track of your bird when hunting, and can also tell you a lot about what she is up to in her mews or weathering yard.  They are also, for me, the "sound" of falconry.  I am very biased in my opinion here as well . . . and will only use Noble Bells . . . mostly because he was the man who trained me, and I know how to get a set of bells from him quick when I need to.  Dave's bells can be bought from most falconry suppliers, and can be ordered direct from here.

Hood.  OK, if you get into falconry, over your 'career' you will probably acquire a lot of different hoods.  Start with an inexpensive one to the size of what you are expecting to trap.  It is really nice to have this the first day you trap your bird.  However, with time, you can then custom fit a hood to your bird, and get more and more fancy (and expensive) the longer you have her, and the more proud you are of her and want to grace her head with a fabulous top knot.  There are lots of great hood makers out there, and I've purchased from different guys through the years.  Be warned, this could become a side hobby, as most hood makers are falconers who take up the challenge.

Leather working tools.  It really is best to learn how to make a lot of your equipment yourself, especially the anklets and jesses.  You'll need a cutter of some kind.  I just use an artist's matt knife.  You'll need a hole punch.  You then need grommets and a grommet setter.  To finish off your work, you'll need jess grease to make your leather, and keep it, nice and soft.  Neatsfoot oil can be bought from any farm store that caters to horse people.  Fancier jess grease can be had for a reasonable sum from the falconry outfitters.   

Lure.  I firmly believe in training your bird to the lure.  It is the 'insurance policy' to get your bird back in a hurry.  You can make your own with those leather working tools, with the addition of an awl and leather sewer. 

Creance.  You can make your own, but I really like my professional training leash I purchased.  Individual choice for each falconer.

Whistle.  Probably one of the cheapest items you'll have to get.  I like having mine on a lanyard.

Whacking Stick.  Another cheap item!  Sure, you can pick one up in the field if you like, but I have broken and lost more of these than I care to count.  My husband gave me a great gift a few years ago . . . a waxwood staff, as used in martial arts.  It is practically unbreakable!  I left it in the field once . . . but went back in the dark to get it.  Old ski poles work good too.

Hawk food.  You gotta have food on hand for your first bird.  If you don't raise quail or rabbits yourself, or can't borrow any from your sponsor and their friends, you can mail order this stuff (rats, mice, day old chicks).  It is fairly reasonable . . . it's the shipping that is expensive!!  

Dedicated freezer for storage of hawk food.  OK, guys . . . if you are the falconer, and your wife is not, she probably will not like having those dead things in her refrigerator.  As soon as you can purchase a freezer to store your hawk food, the better your marital harmony will be.  If you are the woman falconer, well then it is your call if you want those dead bunnies in next to your hamburger.  If you are serious . . . and only serious people should get involved with falconry, you'll get a dedicated freezer as soon as you can.

Hawk vitamins.  A nice addition to your supplies to keep your bird healthy.

Hawking clothes.  This includes a vest to hold all your equipment while in the field, as well as brush guard pants.

Giant Hood.  This is a special box to transport your bird.  Like the mews and weathering yard, it can be fancy, or utilitarian.  Making your own saves lots of money.

Your own trap(s).  An apprentice should make the first trap that catches their first (and future) hawks.  I've had several traps, and keep making new ones.

Transmitter.  This will be one of the more expensive items a falconer will need to acquire.  You can probably get away with using your sponsor's receiver at first, but you should not fly your bird without telemetry. 

Receiver & Yagi.  You'll need one of your own eventually.  Sometimes they can be purchased as a bundle bargain.   

As a final addition of things you should have (things you will be spending money on . . . or at least SHOULD be spending money on) is membership to your state falconry club, membership to NAFA (they are our legislative voice - and should be supported) as well as subscription to outstanding falconry magazines like American Falconry.

This is just a fairly basic lineup of the equipment needed.  I often jokingly retort about having to drag along 50 to 100 lbs of equipment just to fly a 2 to 3 lbs bird. 

But I wouldn't have it any other way!

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