By Katherine Grand
Aurora is the fourth red-tailed hawk I have trapped, trained, and flown in pursuit of game as a falconer and she is quickly becoming the best falconry bird I have ever worked with. My coworker and friend Joni Viles asked me why I thought that was this morning. Was I becoming a more experienced falconer or was it because she is just a great bird? I really believe it’s a combination of the two.
A good red-tailed hawk will follow you from tree to tree or rock to rock as you try to flush game. Red-tails rely on gravity for acceleration so it is best to let them chase from a high perch. Yesterday Aurora followed Eric, Lucky dog, and I for over 3 hours as we flushed game and chased every rabbit she could see from her vantage point. Aurora not only follows us when we are flushing rabbits, she flies past us in the direction we are moving. This is ideal as we can push game towards her perch and the rabbits often are running towards her. Flushing involves letting Lucky dog look for rabbits as well as hitting the sage brush and rabbit cover with sticks or my favorite flushing stick, an old ski pole. Aurora really seems to understand that game appears around us. This is a result of us hunting her hard and almost daily since show season and in bringing her to areas where we can reliably flush game. When she isn’t successful I toss out a lure with food tied to it that she has been trained to recognize as something akin to game. She knows when she “catches” the lure she is guaranteed a good meal.
Weight control is the key factor in falconry. I weigh Aurora daily and with the help of my falconry friend Roger Tucker, I found her ideal weight where she flies really well, chases game hard, and comes to me readily in the field. I had been flying her an ounce higher than her current hunting weight when Roger came hunting with us, felt her keel (breast bone) and told me she could come down an ounce after watching her fly. With a red-tail, an ounce can make a vital difference in performance and attitude. I had been thinking her weight could come down but you have to be very careful not to cut a bird’s weight so much that it makes them weak. Performance is a combination of training and weight. One is not effective without the other.
Even though I have been a falconer for 5 years now, I often ask advice from my falconry peers who have been falconers much longer than I. Roger is an excellent falconer and has an amazing goshawk named Nova. I have often turned to him for advice. Raptors used in falconry have a very specific window of weight where they perform at their very best. This weight can increase the longer you have a bird and the more consistent you are as a falconer. Though Aurora does not come to my fist (gloved hand) as well as other birds have in the past, she comes easily to the lure, and follows us so well that coming in for a piece of meat on my gauntlet (glove) is not important. Our main goal is to chase and catch game which she is doing very well.
Each and every bird I have worked with has had a different personality and has taught me many new lessons. Aurora is a big, stocky, powerful female red-tail hawk and seems to really enjoy hunting with myself, my husband, and even our dogs. Her personality lends itself well to falconry and I feel very fortunate to have found her. Even so falconry requires and incredible amount of time, devotion, and patience. Furthermore, it is the most highly regulated form of hunting out there.
I trapped Aurora in November and she has just recently started to regularly catch rabbits. My first falconry bird only caught two cottontails the entire season though I was inexperienced as a falconer and as a hunter at the point. Falconry is like an advanced form of bird watching. Rabbits and other game have been running from birds of prey for thousands of years so more often than not your prey escapes especially in the rugged terrain where we hunt. I enjoy the flights on game that escape nearly as much as I enjoy when we are successful. If you want a sport with more immediate results and a higher success rate take up a shotgun, but if you love birds of prey, hunting, and are passionate, patient, and have the time to devote to the sport there is nothing that compares to the thrill of falconry. To learn more about the ancient art of stay tuned for more Falconry Files! You can also visit http://www.n-a-f-a.com/ to learn more about falconry and becoming a falconer.