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I'd like to make myself open to questions and comments about this sport, since it is somewhat controversial. I had some misgivings myself until I understood how it is done and how it is regulated. I have a thick skin and can take criticism, and maybe I can clear up some misconceptions if there are any. I enjoy sharing about the sport.
 

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Wow! Those are great pictures. The squirrel and rabbit may not agree though. :) Are these catches for your table? If so, how do you separate the meal from the huntress? I'd be a bit upset if I had a nice fat rabbit and some human took it away from me. Is the bird with the transmitter a Redtail? Ya got my interest. :smile:

Do you also include eagles in the falcon category? We are close to the river and have Bald Eagles around here. Great fishermen.
 

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I think it is an awesome sport. Whats the difference between that and hunting dogs? I have no problem with it. I would like to know more about it, how do you train them? Hell how do you get the hawk in the first place? What kind of expenses are involved. Where is it legal to do that? Etc Etc.
 

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Wow! Those are great pictures. The squirrel and rabbit may not agree though. :) Are these catches for your table? If so, how do you separate the meal from the huntress? I'd be a bit upset if I had a nice fat rabbit and some human took it away from me. Is the bird with the transmitter a Redtail? Ya got my interest. :smile:

Do you also include eagles in the falcon category? We are close to the river and have Bald Eagles around here. Great fishermen.
I have a freezer for her catches, to feed her during the off-season, but you're right!...separating her from the game is tricky! I don't want her to get the impression that I am stealing from her so I have to distract her with a yummy treat of something else. I toss the treat and usually she'll jump after it and I quickly stash the game in my bag.
Yes, she is a Redtail...almost 3 years old.
Falconry includes the use of eagles, owls, hawks, and falcons. Only Golden eagles are legal falconry birds, though, and only for a Master falconer.

I think it is an awesome sport. Whats the difference between that and hunting dogs? I have no problem with it. I would like to know more about it, how do you train them? Hell how do you get the hawk in the first place? What kind of expenses are involved. Where is it legal to do that? Etc Etc.
The difference is that, in falconry, it's more like I'm the dog...flushing game for her. She's learned to watch me as I whack the brush with my stick, and she will perch up high and wait for something to run out. Although with squirrels the chase usually takes place in the trees.

The training process is all about them learning that they can trust you, and that you have FOOD. That's what keeps them coming back. Usually.

I believe it's legal in all states except Hawaii, but the process of obtaining a permit is arduous. A two-year apprenticeship under a Master falconer is required, and I had to build an enclosure for her to live in ( a "mews") and have it inspected by the state, as well as pass an extensive test, before I could get a permit to trap a wild hawk. And trapping is how an apprentice gets his hawk. There are a couple of methods, which both involve using a live 'bait' animal, but the main thing is that only a juvenile (less than 1 year old) can be taken from the wild...this prevents adults being taken from the breeding population. Identifying a juvenile Redtail is easy...they don't have 'Red' tailfeathers until their first molt, which occurs in the summer following their first birthday.
Expenses...well, I spent about $1,000 building the mews, and much of the equipment can be made, but a few hundred more on equipment, fees and stuff is probably typical. Mews designs are as varied as snowflakes...with are some minimum requirements.
This is the one I built:



The biggest investment is time. It's NOT a weekend hobby. I do something every day, year-round, whether it's just feeding and watering, exercising/training, maintenance and upkeep on the mews and other equipment, and from October through March I try to hunt with her 3-4 days per week for at least an hour but sometimes half a day. It has to be a labor of love, for it to be worth it, and for me it is.
 

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My first question is what is the controversy - seriously? I've never really even heard of hunting this way.

Good pics by the way
Thanks! The controversy that comes up usually involves people who think that it's wrong to have a 'captive' raptor. They don't understand that every time the bird is released, it has the option of not returning. Which happens all the time! Some birds just don't adapt to the lifestyle and they just leave!
Then there's the people who can't stand the thought of furry little critters being killed and eaten. Okay, I'm a softie, too, but let me tell you...these animals have been evading hawks for millions of years and they're VERY good at it! A hawk is skilled and lucky to catch one. And a squirrel is a vicious little animal...hawks die all the time from infected bites, toes bitten off, etc.
 

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All of that is extremely interesting. When you first posted about the raptors I was going to respond and then I forgot. I'm glad that you did a refresh with pictures.

!. Is that a tracking device on her tail?
2. What kind of food is better than a fresh kill for diverting her attention?
3. Is there a perch, platform or box in the mews?
4. Do you use any hand or sound signals for the bird?
5. If you have been out on a hunt an want her to return (time to go home) how do you signal her?
6. Are you limited to one bird or does it depend upon your level of expertise?
7. Do you use a net to capture the young one over live bait.
8. Are the talons sufficient for a kill or does she have to do more to dispatch them?
9. What other animals are prey for them?
10. I don't think that birds depend upon smell, taste, or hearing, sight is the main tool. Is that correct?
11. Are their designated seasons established the Game Commission?

I couldn't help myself. Augie
 

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Discussion Starter #9 (Edited)
Haha! I understand, Augie, and I enjoy sharing about this stuff, so here goes;

1. It's a VHF transmitter. We had an incident last year where she got hung up in some heavy brush and I couldn't find her. After about 30 minutes she got loose and flew to me but she had injured herself badly. I made up my mind then, that I wouldn't let that happen again. If she decides to leave, then fair's fair and I wish her well but if she needs help I want to be able to find her.

2. Her favorite treats are these day-old chicks I buy from a chicken hatchery. They are soft and fuzzy...they look like the candy Easter Peeps that kids get...and they have a yolk inside that is, apparently, quite tasty. Most hatcheries euthanize the male chicks as soon as they hatch, for practical and economic reasons, and they are bought by zoos, rehab facilities, and people who keep raptors, reptiles, and such. They are very nutritious and my bird loves them.

3. There is a perch at each end of the mews, so that she can be out in the open or back in the sheltered part. I use closet rods wrapped with sisal rope to provide a rough surface which is good for her feet and talons.
She also has a large pan of water for bathing and drinking, which I empty/scrub/refill daily. If you've ever watched a little bird in a birdbath, flipping water on itself and scooching around...she does the same thing. Cute as can be.

4. The upward swinging motion as I raise the glove will catch her eye from far away. Under normal circumstances I will put a tidbit of venison on the glove and call her name. She has also learned that if she hears the 'emergency-whistle' it means there will be a bigger treat such as a chick. I only use this when I really need to get her to me immediately.

5. We hunt mostly in the afternoon/evening and she kind of knows the drill. If it's getting dark, she hasn't caught anything, and I start heading back, she switches from hunt-mode to follow-mode and will fly from from tree to tree as I walk, coming down for tidbits in between. If she has caught game she will have a full crop and just relax on the glove as I walk back.

6. An apprentice can only have one bird. A General falconer can have two wild-caught birds, and a Master can have up to five. There is not a limit on the number of captive-bred birds but an apprentice cannot use one. There are stringent regulations and specific problems with captive-bred, and imprinted, birds. I prefer wild birds, mainly because they are never 'pets'...they are always capable of going back to the life they were living before they were caught.

7. A net is one method. The 'bow-net' is spring loaded, and activated by pulling a string. A live pigeon is put into a vest, or harness, on another string and when the hawk comes down for it, the net is released. Another method is using a bal-chatri, or BC, which is a small wire cage with a live mouse or gerbil inside. The outside is covered with slipknots made of fishing line. Either way, once the hawk is caught, you've got yourself an angry raptor which must be safely immobilized and examined. Exciting stuff, that. A determination must be made as to the suitability of the bird...age, sex, health, etc...and if it is a keeper then anklets are put on and the process of 'manning' begins. Basically they need to learn that they are safe and are going to be fed. Once that is established they learn very rapidly.

8. The talons are the business end of a hawk. A big Redtail can exert 400 psi. I have personal experience with this and it is very humbling. Still, most falconers carry a sharp awl or icepick so that if a game animal is struggling and not immediately killed, it can be humanely dispatched. The philosophy that most of us adhere to is that the prey animals are as worthy of respect as the predators.

9. My bird has gobbled down mice, voles, frogs, and snakes. They will avoid large animals if there is easier prey but, if a Redtail gets hungry enough, cats, small dogs, chickens, etc., are not out of the question.

10. Sight is definitely the main tool and a hawk's sight is phenomenal. I've seen my bird launch into a tree 600 yards away because of the flick of a squirrel-tail.

11. Falconry is regulated by each state's DNR (In Virginia it's the DGIF...same thing). Until a few years ago, a federal permit was required but that has been delegated to the states. I do still have to report certain events to a federal database, such as the capture, release, loss, or death of a wild bird...but everything else is determined at the state level, including the season. In Virginia the season is from October 1st to March 31st. Interestingly, I also have to obtain a small-game hunting license like any other hunter. Even though I'm not really the hunter. But birds hate filling out paperwork.

So, a couple of other things I will share that were shocking to me;
The numbers vary a little depending on the study, but it is generally agreed that about 80% of wild hawks do not survive their first year of life. It's dangerous out there...vehicles, fences, powerlines, diseases...and there are many other variables such as the availability of game, weather, inherited or learned hunting skills, etc.
A Redtail can live to be 25 years old. The average lifespan of a Redtail in the wild is...get this...2 years.

One thing that some people don't understand about falconry is that a young hawk is being helped through that critical first year. Many falconers work with a bird for 1-3 seasons and then release a strong, healthy, experienced bird back into the wild, and into the breeding population.
 

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Thank you very much. Excellent information. I had no idea. More questions :)

1. In the off-season, if you run short on stored food and chicks, can you shred chicken or other store bought meat for them?

I have seen that the airports use falcons for bird control.

2. Is that a bit hazardous for the birds?

3. Is there a special permit for using the birds in a "For Profit" business?

4. Are these Master Falconers only involved in the airport use?

5. I have seen the hoods used by the falconers. Are they used primarily for transportation?

6. How thick is the leather on the sleeve that she perches upon while being transported?

7. Are the owls only used in low light hunting conditions, such as dusk and dawn, or even after dark.

8. Do other birds interfere with the hunts? I see a lot of harassment of birds of prey here in our area.

9. Can redtails take other birds in-flight as some of the smaller hawks?

10. Is the mews open year round, uncovered? The design looks as if it protects from wind and rain.

Comment: I had a friend in idaho who had a cat taken by an eagle out of his yard within 20 feet of where he was standing.

Comment: When I was a kid we knocked a screech owl off of a limb and caught it. I told my buddy to put his finger out for the bird to perch upon. It did and he instantly started screaming in pain. We had a heck of a time getting him to release. Lots of blood. :)

Thanks for your time. That sounds like a grand sport. Augie
 

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What an amazing animal and a fascinating thread. Like many people I'd heard about falconry but until now knew nothing about it. Simply incredible.
 

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Thanks, you guys, as you can tell, this is a big part of my life...almost a lifestyle...and there have been life-lessons through this, that weren't related to falconry, if you can dig it.

Thank you very much. Excellent information. I had no idea. More questions :)

1. In the off-season, if you run short on stored food and chicks, can you shred chicken or other store bought meat for them?

Only as a temporary last resort, but hearts and livers (beef and chicken) are fairly nutritious. A better option would be that there are stores online where you can buy frozen mice, rats, and quail.

I have seen that the airports use falcons for bird control.

2. Is that a bit hazardous for the birds?

3. Is there a special permit for using the birds in a "For Profit" business?

4. Are these Master Falconers only involved in the airport use?

So, I'll answer these together; it is illegal to use wild-caught birds for any purpose of profit. This is a good law which keeps people from trapping birds to make money. Captive-bred birds, however, can be used in abatement services such as at airports, with the required permit for doing that. I happen to work at an airport and they have brought in abatement birds at times in the past. The tower will work with the guys doing that...to reduce risk to the birds, but also to keep the birds from chasing the nuisance birds into the path of traffic. I do not think there is a requirement to be a Master to do this, but it may vary from state to state.

5. I have seen the hoods used by the falconers. Are they used primarily for transportation?

The hoods are part of the tradition and are used to keep a bird calm, whether during transportation or when in hectic environments. The smaller hawks and falcons are much more high-strung and easily stressed, but any bird will calm down significantly if visual stimulus is removed.

6. How thick is the leather on the sleeve that she perches upon while being transported?

The glove, or gauntlet, is usually a double-thickness of heavy leather. Enough to prevent injury to the handler, but a Redtail can still exert enough force to let you know she's there ;-)

7. Are the owls only used in low light hunting conditions, such as dusk and dawn, or even after dark.

Owls are not widely used, mostly because they are nocturnal hunters, but yes, that is how it is done. With varied amounts of success, from what I hear.

8. Do other birds interfere with the hunts? I see a lot of harassment of birds of prey here in our area.

The harrassment from smaller birds is mostly just an annoyance, but it can be a real problem to run into wild hawks which have established a territory. Best to just respect them and go somewhere else.

9. Can redtails take other birds in-flight as some of the smaller hawks?

Not typically...kind of like a bomber going after a fighter...but it's not out of the question. My bird once snatched a flying squirrel in mid-flight which was impressive but I was a little disappointed because I had never seen one before and she made short work of it.

10. Is the mews open year round, uncovered? The design looks as if it protects from wind and rain.

It is open year-round as it is. The wild birds are out in the cold always, so she has it better in that at least she can get out of the wind and precip. Rain is good for them, though, since it helps to slough off dead tissue from their beak and talons. Also, it's amazing...when it gets really cold they fluff their feathers outward and look all puffed up. When she's like that, it can be single-digit temps and, if I reach up under her feathers, her little body is toasty warm. As long as they have plenty of calories to burn, which is one reason I weigh her daily and feed her accordingly.

Comment: I had a friend in idaho who had a cat taken by an eagle out of his yard within 20 feet of where he was standing.

Yep. Can happen.

Comment: When I was a kid we knocked a screech owl off of a limb and caught it. I told my buddy to put his finger out for the bird to perch upon. It did and he instantly started screaming in pain. We had a heck of a time getting him to release. Lots of blood. :)

I literally laughed-out-loud. Thanks for sharing that. :grin:

Thanks for your time. That sounds like a grand sport. Augie
You're very welcome, and yes, there is nothing better than being out in the woods with my bird, whether we are catching game or not.
 

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I worked for several years designing and installing the ASOS weather stations on airports and remote weather stations. We placed over 1,000 ASOS stations across the United States including Alaska. I have found many small animal skeletons on top of electrical boxes out in the field.

1. Do the birds strip the flesh off the bones of their prey, or do they eat everything on small animals.

2. I heard of an eagle that was found in the water attached to a fish and it was presumed to have drowned. It was attached to a fish which was too large to get to land or be able to get airborne. Once the talons are set, is it difficult for the bird to release?

3. Do the raptors raid other birds nest as crows do?

4, Do the birds shed talons like a cat sheds claws?

5. Do the birds of prey need to grind up food in a craw like other birds?

6. Does your bird ever give you a friendly little nip?

Thanks again for your time and indulgence. I'm absolutely fascinated with all of this.

Augie
 

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Discussion Starter #18
I worked for several years designing and installing the ASOS weather stations on airports and remote weather stations. We placed over 1,000 ASOS stations across the United States including Alaska. I have found many small animal skeletons on top of electrical boxes out in the field.

1. Do the birds strip the flesh off the bones of their prey, or do they eat everything on small animals.

2. I heard of an eagle that was found in the water attached to a fish and it was presumed to have drowned. It was attached to a fish which was too large to get to land or be able to get airborne. Once the talons are set, is it difficult for the bird to release?

3. Do the raptors raid other birds nest as crows do?

4, Do the birds shed talons like a cat sheds claws?

5. Do the birds of prey need to grind up food in a craw like other birds?

6. Does your bird ever give you a friendly little nip?



Thanks again for your time and indulgence. I'm absolutely fascinated with all of this.

Augie
1. I would guess that those bones were from some other type of predator, either one that could climb up onto the boxes, or if it was a raptor perhaps an owl. The hawks eat everything, including the bones. The only material that is 'cast' back up is a pellet of fur or feathers but the bones are dissolved and digested, even large bones like rabbit femurs! The exception is owls; the pellets they cast up contain small bones, but that doesn't sound like what you described finding.

2. I have seen videos of eagles 'swimming' their way to land, and dragging a fish with them. I have also seen my hawk have difficulty in relaxing a clenched foot to release something. It's as if certain circumstances trigger the 'on and off butttons' of the clenching reflex, such as maybe when caught prey relaxes and stops struggling. Or something like that. At any rate, yes, it may have been that the eagle just couldn't let go and went down with the fish.

3. I've seen my bird crash into a squirrel nest because she saw a squirrel moving in there but, as far as raiding other birds' nests, I think some of the smaller hawks may do this. The Coopers' and Sharp-shinned hawks, and others that prey primarily on birds, would be the likely culprits but I'm kind of going out on a limb with this answer because I'm not really sure.

4. They don't shed their talons but they are in a continual process of sloughing off the outer layer and growing new material. That's why it is good for them to be exposed to rain, as it helps the old material to soften and be removed. Same with their beak.

5. This is another one where I'm just going on what I've learned, and I'm no biologist. Most birds have a craw, or crop, but they work in different ways. In chickens and turkeys and other birds that eat seeds, there are actually particles of gravel that are consumed and which stay in the craw to help grind up food before it goes to the stomach. In hawks it is more of a storage place which is thought to have evolved so that a predator can quickly consume much more food than it's stomach could hold, and get away from the scene before other predators arrive, and then go somewhere safe to continue digesting as it moves the food from the crop into the stomach. The crop in a hawk is located under the beak and along the front of the neck, and can bulge out very noticeably. It's my understanding, to answer your question, that the digestive juices of a hawk's stomach are strong enough that they don't have to have the type of grinding action seen in other birds before food goes to the stomach.

6. Uh, yeah, friendly and not-so-friendly. Sometimes she will get impatient and nip at me, or if she is tired of me messing with her. She has even caught me off-guard and pecked me, hard, on the side of my forehead! Luckily, hawks don't have a lot of biting force in their jaws, like a parrot or other birds that break things open with their beaks. Their beak is used for pulling and tearing, not so much for biting, but she can still make me wince if she gets ahold of a finger!
The real danger is when she 'foots' me. Usually just a fast grab-and-go, which hurts and is more of a warning and usually accompanied by a glare as if to say "You want more of that?!?!" But a couple of times she has seriously grabbed my hand and applied pressure. Oh, man, talk about pain...and all I can do is wait for her to stop because there's no pulling her off. That happened a couple of weeks ago and I couldn't close my hand for several days. It's always when she's frustrated and 'had enough'. As I've said, she's no pet...she knows me, she trusts me, and she understands how we work together, but if worst came to worst...she would eat me.
 

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Ha Ha I like the very last line of your post. :) Thanks for the excellent information. I think that there are some animals that will never be domesticated to the point that you can be totally relaxed around them. Of course people fall into that category also. The thing with animals is that, you learn all you can about them and then accept them for what they are. Animals live in the moment. They don't think and scheme about what they are going to do next time they see you. You can gain their respect but, you don't want to push them to far.

People, well, most times there's an agenda of some sort that they are planning to fulfill. :frown:

I work with horses and at 1,000 to 1,100 pounds, they can easily hurt you but, if you understand them and can read them, you can tell when to back off. Most animals will give you a warning if you are smart enough to read it.

Since this thread came to life I have been watching videos on YouTube of birds of prey. There are some amazing videos, mostly of eagles. They can be much more ferocious than I ever thought. After watching them I came to understand just how fearless they are also. I can readily understand your earlier statements about their mortality rate.

Thanks again. Are you open for more questions?
 

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Ha Ha I like the very last line of your post. :) Thanks for the excellent information. I think that there are some animals that will never be domesticated to the point that you can be totally relaxed around them. Of course people fall into that category also. The thing with animals is that, you learn all you can about them and then accept them for what they are. Animals live in the moment. They don't think and scheme about what they are going to do next time they see you. You can gain there respect but, you don't want to push them to far.

People, well, most times there's an agenda of some sort that they are planning to fulfill. :frown:

I work with horses and at 1,000 to 1,100 pounds, they can easily hurt you but, if you understand them and can read them, you can tell when to back off. Most animals will give you a warning if you are smart enough to read it.

Since this thread came to life I have been watching videos on YouTube of birds of prey. There are some amazing videos, mostly of eagles. They can be much more ferocious than I ever thought. After watching them I came to understand just how fearless they are also. I can readily understand your earlier statements about their mortality rate.

Thanks again. Are you open for more questions?
Please bring the questions! Glad you are interested!

Yeah, I can understand why some people end up living alone with their animals. It's so uncomplicated, so real. I can't even get mad at her when she whacks me. It's just her nature, and it's always because I wasn't paying close enough attention. Being out in the woods...the "real" world...with my bird and my dog, restores me.

I've spent some time around horses and can appreciate their nature. I've known a couple who, I swear, had a sense of humor.

There are some pretty good falconry videos out there, especially by some of these kids with their fancy gadgetry :wink: I like this one:


I think this young man just caught clips on his iphone or something, so the quality is not that great, but the action is pretty typical of what you see when out hunting with a Redtail. They're so reckless, crashing into trees and brush, getting hung up...I've seen my bird do everything on this video, including the misses :frown: Sometimes we can be out for hours and have plenty of chases that end with squirrels and rabbits disappearing into holes, or into briars so thick that you'd need a bulldozer to get to them...but any day that we go home together is a good one.
 
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