July 31st, 2013

Falconry Files, Much Ado about Moulting

By Katherine Grand

Katherine Grand and Aurora during their first season hunting together

Many people ask me questions about what it is falconers and falconry birds do during the summer so I thought I write a little blog with answers to my most frequently asked questions. During the summer most hunting seasons are closed for both falconry and other hunting methods. Furthermore raptors are moulting during this time which means they are losing their feathers from the previous season and growing in new ones. During this time falconry birds need to be kept at a higher weight than their ideal hunting weight for the increase metabolic demand of feather production. Poor diet, disease, or starvation can result in feather deformities. In falconry a raptor’s weight is very important to its performance while hunting and responding to its falconer. Falconers weigh their birds daily while they are hunting them, often times multiple times a day. Also growing feathers are much more susceptible to being damaged, sometimes resulting in permanent damage to a feathers. For these reasons the majority of falconers do not hunt their birds during the moult.

A moulted juvenile tail feather from Aurora

All my previous red-tailed hawks I have trapped in the fall as juveniles, hunted during the winter, then released in the spring. I am keeping Aurora through the moult this summer which is called intermewing. The transition between juvenile feathers and adult feathers in red-tailed hawks is especially dramatic and exciting as typical juveniles have brown tail feathers (AKA train feathers in falconry speak) and most adults have brick red tail feathers which are the red-tails namesake.

This photo shows Aurora's adult brick red train feathers coming in. The brown feathers are her juvenile feathers which have since moulted.

Many people ask me if raptors are still able to fly while moulting. Healthy raptors do not lose all their feathers at once, in the wild they continue to hunt and fly year round. They lose their feathers gradually so they are always able to fly. There are of course exceptions to every rule. Raptors that are unable to fly would die of starvation or predation. To learn more about raptor feathers and moulting visit http://www.themodernapprentice.com/feathers.htm.
So what do falconers do with their birds during the moult? I like to continue to work with my birds handling, training, and flying them throughout the moult. Some falconers just leave their birds alone in their mews (raptor aviary http://www.themodernapprentice.com/mews.htm) while other handle them extensively. I enjoy feeding Aurora from the fist (on my falconry glove AKA gauntlet). As you have probably already guessed falconry has its own extensive vocabulary. I also enjoy flying her outside on a creance. A creance is essentially a leash that you tie your bird to so they can’t fly away.

Creance training flight with Aurora in the back yard mid-moult

It’s used during initial training before you trust the bird not to fly away and in situations like during the molt when the bird’s weight is high and they may not return to the falconer. (http://www.themodernapprentice.com/creance.htm) My favorite creance material is fly line. Furthermore I work with her do indoors doing flights in our garage and jump-ups where the bird flies from a low perch straight up to your fist while holding your hand as high as possible (http://www.themodernapprentice.com/games.htm). When doing multiple repetitions this is great exercise. To learn more about falconry you can visit http://www.themodernapprentice.com/ and http://www.n-a-f-a.com/.

A good view of Aurora's growing adult tail feathers during another creance flight.

Stay tuned for future fun filed Falconry Files from your favorite falconer, Katherine Grand!

One Response to Falconry Files, Much Ado about Moulting

  1. Jackie says:

    Hi Katherine,
    I believe I met you at the Texas Wildlife Association’s convention in San Antonio. I love raptors and am envious that you interact with them so closely. Hope to see you again sometime.

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