Flash forward a month and a half. Thistle has dropped two gallon ziplock bags of feathers and still has a least a million more to go before she is ready to fly again. She’s fat, sassy and in no mood to deal with me. My husband is already annoyed with me and is ready for me to start hunting again. He got used to his free Saturday’s in the wood shop and a wife nagging him to take out the trash is cramping his style. My truck is clean (well, the inside is. The pollen is preventing the outside from ever getting washed). And I am dreaming of October and bird shopping. Yes. Bird shopping.
I recently got promoted from apprentice to general level falconer. The advancement allows me to now possess additional birds, among other things. My mind, body, schedule and budget say “NO”, but my heart says, “Smallish Falcon”. I have done a little research – mostly online and have talked to just a few folks. I really want to go on some hunts this fall and spend some time learning the longwinger ways before I make the commitment.
What I have been doing these past few years is a “whole ‘nuther animal” from flying a falcon. With a redtail, we teach the birds to follow us in the woods. We walk through the forest, shaking tree limbs and trying to get squirrels and rabbits to move. As we flush game for them, they chase. Hunts can literally last for hours, as the hawk and squirrel play a deadly game of tag in the trees. If the hawk gets lucky and makes contact, the falconer makes in to where the hawk brings the quarry down and helps the hawk dispatch the game. It’s a thrilling aerial dance to watch and it’s an experience like no other to work with a wild hawk on a hunt.
If understand anything from what I have read in the books, with a falcon, you loft them up in an open field, and they circle high above you, looking for game. This is called “waiting on”. As the falcon flies above, you try to flush game from the brush. As you stir up game, the falcon will break from its soar high above and dive down in a stoop at the bird you have flushed as it flies up. The result is a high speed aerial impact that allows the falcon to take the game to the ground. The impact usually doesn’t completely kill the prey. A notch in the falcon’s beak is specially designed to quickly and perfectly be used to snip through the spinal cord of the prey taken, killing the prey instantly. A hawk prefers to use it’s talons to kill it’s prey.
Other than hunting style, another degree of difficulty (in my mind) with flying falcons is taking targeted prey. For falcon’s, the natural prey of choice are bird species. Hawks, at least the species I have flown, will eat anything they can get their big, fat feets on. We’ll want to steer away from song birds and pursue invasive species that are legal to hunt. That will be another learning curve for me. I’m pretty confident in my ability to identify and target Eastern Grey Squirrels. Being able to ID a starling or a sparrow on the fly? Yeah. I’m going to have to work on that.
As I have grown older and wiser, I have learned that patience is a virtue. Especially when dealing with something new, with a living creature than you can totally screw up and with something that you want to be successful at. It’s so very tempting to read a book and just order a bird and hope for the best. But there is so much to consider. Having a falconry bird is so much more than housing the bird, or even caring for the bird. You have to have the knowledge to train it. The land to hunt it. The game for it to hunt. There are so many species right now I am interested in learning more about…merlins, aplomados, kestrels to name a few. There’s also the consideration of trapping a bird vs. acquiring a captive bred bird. Trapping gets you a free bird that’s releasable when you are finished hunting it, but you are limited on what native species are available to trap in your area – not to mention, there’s the allure of imprinting an eyass (baby bird), which would be un-releasable. Lots and lots of choices to consider…
So, I’ll keeping researching and dreaming and annoying Thistle in her mews. And plan to go on some falcon hunts this fall if I can find some folks close enough with birds. And maybe next spring, when squirrel season ends, I’ll be ready to take the longwinger leap. Until then, I’ll be circling …just “waiting on” the time to be right…