Falconry Equipment

Besides passing a 100 point written exam any perspective falconer must also possess certain equipment and pass a facilities inspection.  In Arkansas the required facilities and equipment consists of the following (laws in your state may vary):

  • “Indoor” facilities (mews)  – Indoor is a bit of a misnomer and confused me for a while.  Mews can be outside – most are – and not necessarily indoors.  What they mean by indoor is really enclosed.  The mews, sometimes refereed to as a hawk house, is where a bird will spend most of it’s time when it is not hunting, training, or leashed within a weathering area.  The only requirements for a mews (mews is both singular and plural) is that it contain adequate perches, an easily closed and secured door, at least one vertically barred window (it does not need to have glass, and actually shouldn’t, as an open window(s) promotes good airflow and ventilation), and a well drained floor which can be cleaned easily.  Not required, but a good idea, is that a mews be big enough for a bird to spread it’s wings without touching the walls; if a bird is free lofted a mews should be big enough for it to take a wing flap or two along the longest side.  A mews 8’x8′ is about the minimum for a red-tailed hawk and will suffice for smaller birds.
  • “Outdoor” (weathering) area – A weathering area is a fenced in facility where a bird is leashed to a perch during the day.  The idea is that a bird can get sun, which is good for health and feather growth, but be protected from other raptors, stray dogs and cats, and nosy neighbors and children.  It is also good to have an enclosed area even if the falconer is present to ward off danger as equipment such as leashes and jesses sometimes break.  When a hawk is in an enclosed area is cannot escape if equipment breaks.  The only requirement for a weathering area is that a bird should not be able to strike the wiring if it flies to the end of it’s leash. *EDIT* (19 Sept 2013) A weathering area isn’t required by Arkansas law.
  • Jesses – Alymeri jesses consist of a strip of leather that is folded into a “button” at one end and a slit or small hole at the other end.  The jesses are threaded through a grommet hole on the leg cuffs of a raptor and used as an attachment point for a swivel or French clip, which are attached to a leather or rope leash.  Only one pair of jesses is required by law, though you should have at least two pairs – field jesses with only a small hole and training jesses with a slit.  Field jesses are used, as would be expected, in the field as a small hole is less likely to get hung on on a branch than a slit.  A french clip is used with field jesses.  This is not a secure enough system for weathering or training, but works well in the field.  Training jesses have a slit  through with a swivel is passed.  This is nearly fool-proof and used when the bird is outside of the mews but not in the field.  Ideally a falconer should have multiple sets of field and training jesses as the leather wears out, especially during hunting season.  Jesses should be switched out at the first sign of wear to prevent loss of a bird.
Training jesses.  Note the slit.  These jesses are made of kangaroo leather and have been dyed brown.

Training jesses. Note the slit. These jesses are made of kangaroo leather and have been dyed brown.

Field jesses.  These jesses are made of kangaroo leather and are undyed.  Note the small hole instead of a long slit.

Field jesses. These jesses are made of kangaroo leather and are undyed. Note the small hole instead of a long slit.

Harris's hawk with jesses, indicated by arrow.

Harris’s hawk with jesses, indicated by arrow. © Dr. Mike Jones, via lafebervet.com

  • Leash – One flexible, weather resistant leash.  Leather was historically used but most falconers have switched to synthetic material.  One of the best leash materials is braided nylon construction line.  Three pieces of line are braided together with a loop in one end, resulting in an incredible strong, sun- and weather-resistant leash.
My braided nylon leash.  I picked bright colors so I can find it if it's dropped in the field.  It's rather short and I should probably make a second leash for the weathering area.

My braided nylon leash. I picked bright colors so I can find it if it’s dropped in the field. It’s rather short and I should probably make a second leash for the weathering area.

  • Swivels – The best swivels available now are heavy saltwater fishing swivels, such as is available from Sampo.  These are also available through various falconry supply dealers [1] [2] [3] [4].  While it is possible to make your own swivels it really is worth the peace of mind to buy commercial swivels as they are relatively cheap.
  • Bath Container –  “A suitable container for each raptor two to six ( 2″- 6″ ) inches deep and wider than the length of the raptor”.  I’m planning on using an unused oil pan – it’s the right size, easy to clean, and doesn’t have any sharp edges that might damage weathers.  Other containers are of course available and work depending on your situation.
  • Outdoor perch – Apprentices are limited to red-tailed hawks and kestrels (red-shouldered hawks and great horned owls are also allowed, but I won’t be considering them as there is little information on them as concerns falconry, especially for apprentices) and so should stick with the bow perch.  A bow perch looks like an archery bow planted in the ground string down.  A ring is welded onto the bow onto which a leash can be tied.  The diameter of the bow is dependent upon the size of the bird – too large and it will be uncomfortable, too small and the talons with wrap around and dig into the foot.  The bow should be wrapped in natural fiber rope or astroturf.  The angle of the bow is important as  too steep or shallow of an angle can prevent the ring from sliding unhindered, thus increasing the chance a bird will become hungup.  A bow perch can have spikes on the bottom so it can be solidly planted into the ground, though I find that welding a solid plate to the bottom to be a better idea.  This allows the perch to be used indoors, inside the mews, or on ground that is frozen solid.  The bottom plate should be heavy enough to keep a bating bird from tipping the perch over.
Harris hawk on bow perch

Harris hawk on bow perch. © Western Sporting.

Gyrfalcon on a block perch.  Block perches are suitable for falcons and some broadwings.

Gyrfalcon on a block perch. Block perches are suitable for falcons and some broadwings. © Western Sporting.

  • Weighing device – Many people prefer digital scales.  These can be highly accurate and easy to use.  I prefer a triple beam balance.  It doesn’t have any batteries that can run out and shouldn’t go bad after continual daily use.  Apprentices flying a kestrel should have a scale that measures accurately to one tenth of an ounce.  Apprentices flying a red-tail would be wise to use such a scale and they won’t have to buy a second scale for smaller birds if they switch species later, but can get away with a scale that only measures to one forth of an ounce.
Ohaus triple beam balance, accurate to 1/10 gram

Ohaus triple beam balance, accurate to 1/10 gram. I still need to add a piece of PVC wrapped in astroturf to the pan for the hawk to perch on while being weighed.

That’s it for required equipment.  There is some other equipment that, while not required by law, is a good idea to have.

  • Glove – Unless you want your bird to continually punch holes in your hand, use a glove.  Even with a kestrel a glove should be used as it is easier for them to perch on a glove than your skin which will keep moving under their feet.
  • Hood – I can’t personally comment on the use of a hood.  Some falconers who fly red-tails don’t use them but others suggest hood training is the only way to go.  I am going to try it and would suggest other apprentices at least give it a go.  Falcons must be trained to the hood, though falcons aren’t available to apprentices.
Peregrine falcon in a Dutch hood.

Peregrine falcon in a Dutch hood. © Western Sporting.

  • Lure – A lure is an essential piece of falconry equipment.  Though a lure can be elaborate and realistically mimic prey it can be as simple as a piece of thick leather.  The lure is attached to a string so it can be drug along the ground or swung around the body.  Meat is tied to the lure and a falconry bird is taught that any time it sees the lure it will get a full meal.  This ensures that the lure becomes the best safety device for recalling a bird from dangerous situations or calling the bird from a tree at the end of a day of unsuccessful hunting.  A bird should respond to the lure every time it is shown.
A cheap, yet effective lure

A cheap, yet effective lure

All photos by Michael Skvarla and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license unless otherwise noted.

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