I’ve wanted to fly birds of prey since I saw a falconer give a demonstration at a National Wild Turkey Federation JAKES event. I was twelve or thirteen at the time. Some people have these very vivid memories about events that change their life, where they can recall every detail and color and smell. I don’t. I remember he had a vulture (turkey or black I don’t know) and a great horned owl. I’m sure he probably had some hawks, probably a red tail. There’s something, some blurry, out-of-focus thought that makes me think he had something small like a kestrel or a Cooper’s hawk too, but I might also just be making that up. I don’t remember the guy’s name or what he looked like. But even though the memory isn’t distinct I’ve wanted to be a falconer ever since.
*EDIT (16 Sept 2013) Talked to my dad on the phone about falconry today. He remembered the falconer at the JAKES event was there at least two years in a row and had a golden eagle one year and a bald eagle the other year. He also had a red-tailed hawk in addition to the GH owl at least.
After that day I put the thought on the back burner. I thought “some day I’ll do it, but not today”. My first excuse was I was too young. You have to be 14 to even apply to take the apprenticeship test. After I was old enough I convinced myself that my dad wouldn’t let me build a hawk house or fly birds while I lived at home or that I didn’t have the time, being involved with stagecrew during high school. In retrospect that was stupid. He would have let me and just like anything else worth doing you can make or find time.
Then I went to college. Living in the dorms that first year I really couldn’t have practiced falconry. My sophomore through senior year though I lived in an apartment. It’s not the best situation, but I’ve since seen falconers who have builtindoor mews in the limited space they have and fly smaller species such as Cooper’s hawks and kestrels.
After that I moved to Arkansas to pursue a Masters degree and got married. Same excuses, living in an apartment and lack of time, etc etc etc. Finally my wife and I moved into a rental house with a decent sized back yard for the two dogs we got. I dug up the terrible, rocky soil (which is really mostly red clay) and put in a garden. I have some compost bins for vegetable food scraps. I don’t have much time, but now that we’ve been talking about having children and I’ve seen friends have kids I really internalized the idea of just making and finding time when you need to. You drop the things that really don’t matter and make it work.
With all of that in mind, I finally decided that now was the time. My wife knew I wanted to get into falconry, I told her within the first few weeks of us dating, so it wasn’t a surprise. She had a few concerns about school and being busy, but has otherwise been 100% supportive.
I’ve kept this on the DL from friends and family though. I’m a bit worried about taking the test to become an apprentice. It’s 100 questions about raptor identification, health and sickness, feeding, housing, hunting, equipment, history, jargon and terminology, etc. Basically anything you would expect someone who is taking care of a wild raptor to know so as not to kill it, keep it in good health, and hunt with it. I’ve been studying for a few months and I’m 95% sure I’ll pass, but it’s a difficult test even so. After I pass the test, pass the equipment inspection, and catch my first hawk I plan on telling everyone.
That, then, is a bit of my backstory and how I’ve come to this point. I plan on keeping this blog during my apprenticeship as a record of what all is involved in such an experience for others who may think they’re interested and for friends and family who are curious about what exactly I’m doing. I may decide to keep it after my apprenticeship or I may not. That’s two years from now and we’ll see what happens between now and then. It should be an interesting adventure.