By Katherine Grand
I feel depressed, the days feel darker and emptier. Everyone is excited about spring arriving in the Gunnison valley but I am longing after eternal winter. What could be causing this you ask? Or maybe you didn’t ask. I often break into long winded soliloquies about falconry with little or no provocation. In fact when telling our IT person Paul not to ask me about falconry because i will go on and on for hours, he replied “but I didn’t ask.”
Last weekend I came to terms with the fact that Aurora was going into breeding mode when she was half heartily chased bunnies and flew further and further away from us and the dogs while hunting. Less than a week prior she was hunting with us like a superstar, staying close to us, and giving every rabbit we saw a run for it’s money at the same weight. This change in attitude is inevitable and but it marked the end of my time hunting until this coming fall with the best game hawk I have flown.
In the summer not only are most hunting seasons closed but falconry birds need to be kept heavier than their normal flying weight (http://www.proishunting.com/community/?p=2509) to produce new feathers while they are molting. For this reason the majority of falconers do not hunt with their birds during the summer months. Nutrition is very important during this time for birds to produce strong feathers to carry them through the next hunting season. Also when spring hormones flood a falconry bird’s system telling them to breed they tend to become much less consistent and responsive to their falconers. Furthermore when flying a bird during the molt you risk them breaking growing feathers which could permanently damage that feather’s growth, even in future molts . Since Aurora broke three feathers this year crashing through brush after bunnies that is not a risk I am willing to take not to mention the extended falconry cottontail season ends March 31st. Birds of prey drop their feathers during the molt over time so they can still fly during the duration of the molt, otherwise they would not be able to survive int the wild. Healthy birds molt their feathers in a specific order so falconers know by watching their birds and collecting molted feathers when they are finished molting and ready to hunt again. Most falconers wait until their bird’s feathers are completely finished growing in before resuming hunting.
I am planning on keeping Aurora through the summer which is called intermewing. The aviary falconers use to house their birds when they are not hunting them is called a mews and the number of seasons a birds has been flown coincides with the number of times they have been intermewed. During this time off from hunting I will continue to work with Aurora regularly to keep her from getting bored, keep her in shape, and keep her used to me. I have already been training her indoors and outdoors and exercising her with flights to the fist (my falconry glove, AKA gauntlet). Falconry has a vocabulary of it’s own, and falconers often sound like they are speaking a different language. Next year Aurora will be a once intermewed passage hen red-tailed hawk. Say that 3 times fast. In layman’s terms she is a female red-tailed hawk that was trapped as a juvenille and kept over the summer during her first molt.
I already miss hunting with Aurora and I am feebly trying to replace that joy with shed hunting, fly fishing, and other sports that bring me great joy but see dull when compared to seeing a Aurora close in on a cottontail from a high perch among the rocky cliffs of Gunnison Colorado. As my withdrawal symptoms subside and the rivers open enough to float I will happily take to the rivers and spend some much loved time riding my mare Fiona. Luckily this break gives me a chance to reset and tone my falconry obsession to a level that will frighten fewer people.
When Aurora molts this summer she will grow the beautiful brick red tail feathers that are a red-tail’s namesake. As she ages her eyes will darken from a golden hay color to a darker brown, and her plumage will change dramatically. Her flight feathers will be shorter than her juvenile feathers. I can’t wait to see how she looks as this will be the first red-tail hawk I intermew. I also can’t wait to see how she continues to develop as a hunting companion with one season under her belt. However, I won’t wish away the beautiful Colorado summer in the meantime. Thanks for reading and happy hunting!