by Katherine Browne
Since beginning falconry I have always been interested in flying a goshawk. They are incredibly fast, fierce, and versatile birds that can catch a variety of game. They have a long history in falconry and were known as the cook’s hawk because they were such reliable game birds and kept the cook well stocked. I really enjoyed the red-tails and kestrel I flew but I was so excited about the prospect of flying a bird that could catch ducks, grouse, quail, and pheasant in addition to rabbits. I had read a ton about goshawks and as soon as I finally received my General falconry license over a year after submitting my application I borrowed and built some Swedish goshawk traps and was out every day trapping. You must be a general falconer to hunt with a goshawk and you have to have at least two years’ experience as an apprentice falconer to become a general.
Unfortunately I got a later start trapping because of the delayed arrival of my General license. Though I caught several raptors including a red-tail, a great horned owl and cooper’s hawks, I did not manage to trap a goshawk. I trapped a nice big male red-tailed hawk (Ares) as the weather turned towards winter so I wouldn’t be birdless and resolved that I would probably not trap a goshawk as the trapping season drew to a close.
Out of the blue I received a call from one of my falconry friends saying that a banded goshawk had been trapped which was a large adult male and it had been a falconry bird but the person who had it on their permit didn’t want him and was willing to transfer him to me. He had been wild two years and as I learned more about his history I found out that the two falconers that had flown him hadn’t had much luck with him and in the meantime my red-tail was coming along nicely and I wasn’t sure I could manage two birds. However I couldn’t resist the pull of a goshawk and figured it would be worth a try to see if I could get him to come around and if I couldn’t I would just release him. Also I thought it was a unique opportunity to fly a bird that had two years of experience and had survived in the wild.
Shortly after picking up Hades (the goshawk) my red-tail escaped while hunting after my telemetry failed and he caught a cottontail and ate his fill before I was able to recover him. He was in a large track of public land with very few roads and after weeks of searching I was never able to recover him. Though I was heartbroken, I was able to devote 100% of my time to the fat wild goshawk I had in my possession. I was very encouraged when he ate from my fist on the second day I had him and I felt well prepared for the challenges of a goshawk after all the reading I had done after flying one extremely cantankerous female red-tail I flew two years ago that I am convinced was part goshawk.
As expected he was a challenging bird to train and handle and I have several scars to prove it. The first hunts were frustrating as he flew time and time again to the same tall trees and sat there as we flushed rabbit after rabbit nearby. However, from the beginning he was excellent at sticking around and I sacrificed many a pigeon to prove to him that I was a good hunting companion. I also started hunting areas without tall trees and had a much easier time with him. Though he has yet to follow me, by the end of the season he was following the rabbits we flushed and took 4 wild cottontails before the season was over. Rabbits were a challenge as goshawks love birds. However, after my first pipe bunny (a rabbit found in an irrigation pipe which provides an easy hunting scenario during early training) with Roger Tucker he developed a taste for cottontails. In falconry as in any sport I am always blow away by the differing opinions on training. I combined the advice of some of my closest and most trusted falconer friends, my own intuition, and what I had read while training Hades. Though I made mistakes that Hades eagerly reprimanded me for I had a great season with him and have already fallen in love with the fierce nature of these incredible hunters. He also really helped me develop my weight control skills as his effective flying weight window was only about a half an ounce. I definitely understand why goshawks are reserved for more experience falconers because all my husbandry, handling skills, and patience that I had developed were integral to my success with him and I would have had a VERY difficult time with him as an apprentice.
Right now Hades is fat, molting, and wild but I am looking forward to next season and taking some waterfowl and hopefully upland birds in addition to cottontails. Hades is the first bird I have ever intermewed (kept over the summer) and I have never liked the idea of keeping a bird cooped up all summer, especially a high strung goshawk. Most falconers do not hunt with their birds in the summer for a number of reasons. Hunting seasons are not open, and the birds need to be kept heavier than their hunting weight for feather production. Also there are many small animals such as mice and ground squirrels making hunting for larger game difficult. However, all the falconers I know that have incredible game birds have kept them season to season and they just get better and better. I feel like ever bird that I have flow has finally started to figure out things by the end of the season right around the time I am getting ready to release them. Luckily he seems to be doing well in my mews (hawk house), his feathers look good, and has already dropped several feathers. I can also personally attest to the sharpness of his talons. I am so excited about being able to hunt early duck season this year and not have to start from completely from scratch. Thank you so much for all the advice, help and support all my falconry friends have offered and I will let you all know how next season goes. I also couldn’t have had the success I did without the all the help of my very supportive fiancé and soon to be husband Eric.