Falconry (Hands-On Research)

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Cowboy – A Young Harris’s Hawk

Knowing how fascinated I am with birds of prey (hey – I wrote them into my Svatura series), my awesome husband bought me a Falconry lesson as a Christmas present. This past weekend, I got a chance to experience these magnificent creatures first-hand.

While I try to use my own personal experiences (places I’ve been, topics I know) there are many things in my books that must be researched, most of which happens on the internet for me. There is a TON of information out there (descriptions, studies, stats, videos) that are great aids in helping me write realistic books. But I have to say, there is nothing quite like in-person, hands-on experience. After my few hours with Cowboy and Diego–a pair of Harris’s Hawks–my mind is already spinning with ideas to incorporate into future books.

DSC_0009Here are some interesting things I learned about falconry today:

  • Falconry is the sport of hunting using birds of prey (like Red-tailed Hawks, Harris’s Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, etc.) that dates back to at least 2000 BC (recorded) and possibly earlier.
  • A bird of prey resting on a high perch is hunting – one in the air isn’t (usually).
  • The trainer knows its time to train them for hunting together when the bird “velcroes” – the trainer leaves them on a perch and walks away, but before they get across the yard, the bird follows them.
  • The feet on birds of prey are made up of ratcheting tendons which grip and lock, then tighten if their prey struggles – all pure instinct. They have to consciously make their feet release the prey.
  • Me an Don Diego - a 9-yr-old Harris Hawk

    Me an Don Diego – a 9-yr-old Harris Hawk

    The bird will turn its back on the trainer with its kill. Not to protect the kill from the trainer, but because it knows the trainer will protect the bird from attack while it’s vulnerable on the ground. That’s trust! An all new take on “I got your back.”

  • A 1-2lb bird can take down an 8lb jack rabbit. No they can’t carry them back, so the trainer has to be close by to help the bird.
  • The birds don’t like to be petted.
  • The birds make all sorts of noises – from growls, to squawks, to little twitters like a baby bird.
  • The birds are very light – surprisingly so – to hold.
  • Harris Hawks are the only birds of prey who live in community. Similar to a wolf pack, they hunt with coordinated strategies.
  • In contemporary Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan they hunt on horseback with golden eagles as their birds of prey (how bad ass is that?!?!). Had to look it up after I got home just to see pics, because it sounded so cool. Just search hunting on horseback with eagles and you’ll get a bunch of interesting articles with pics. (example)

If you are in Northern California and interested in this experiences check out West Coast Falconry!

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