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The Young and the Wild on the Streets of LA

As hawking season gets closer, a lot of falconers, especially apprentices, are chomping at the bit to fly their bird(s). I’ve heard multiple stories of people flying before it gets cold and having their red-tail catch a copperhead. It’s just not venomous snakes that can pose a threat to you bird, even large red-tails, as these photos demonstrate.

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Gopher snake schools juvenile red-tailed hawk on the streets of the city Gopher snake schools juvenile red-tailed hawk on the streets of the city

I’ve written a few posts lately about wildlife in the city.  Then, last night on Facebook, I  happened to run across this strange photo, taken on December 28 in the middle of Los Angeles, not far from Dodger Stadium.

The photographer was “David A.”  and this account seems to come from a friend:  “It’s hard to say what a hawk was doing tangled up with a snake in the middle of Scott Avenue in Echo Park on Friday afternoon. But David A., who snapped the photo above, and a few other people watched and waited as the serpent and bird of prey were locked in a strange embrace on the pavement near Elysian Park: ‘I thought I heard one person say that they thought the hawk had been run over as it just came down with the snake…

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Kestrel perch/giant hood

I found this interesting concept for a kestrel perch/giant hood, but unfortunately it’s on blogspot and I don’t think I can repost the original post on this blog.  You can find the original blog here.

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Training

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update as I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting Jebe to jump.  The first two weeks I had her she steadily dropped weight but refused to jump.  Her interest in retrospect was a parabola: not interested when she was high in weight, then very interested (rowing her wings, leaning as far as she could) but refused to jump (even for a full quail on the fist), then a decrease in interest.  She showed a similar decrease of interest in the dogs, with full-spread wings trying to intimidate them at first grading into sitting on the fist, seeming to not care if they were there over the course of weight drop.

I got worried she was getting to low when she hit 800g (she was trapped at 1200g), but she didn’t show any signs of being dangerously low (almond eyes, lethargic, etc).  She had a razor-thin keel and after talking to Howard and Cody, we decided that I’d somehow missed the jump weight and she was too low.  Cody said later he suspected she was only a few hours to a few days from being so low I’d lose her.  That happened right before I had to leave for a work conference, so I started feeding her  twice a day to bring her weight up and get her out of the low-weight danger zone.

I had my wife Sarah feed Jebe off the lure while I was gone (US federal and Arkansas state law allow non-falconers to care for a falconry bird for up to 45 days) and she was back up to 1000g when I got back a six days later.  She was also familiar with the lure, and even though she still refused the fist would hit the lure with vigor at 30′ outside on the creance.  I tried to use this familiarity to my advantage by putting a fully garnished lure in the fist, but she refused it.  As soon as the lure was swinging or on the ground she rocketed off the perch.

Jebe on lure 1

Jebe was lure trained, but refused the fist

So I started trying to get Jebe to jump again as if I hadn’t worked her at all.  She didn’t show interest at 1000g, so I started dropping her slowly, feeding her enough so she shed 10-20g per night.  At 960g I offered her a full quail.  She jumped and beat her wings, but one foot would hang on to the perch.  She’d swing towards the ground with one foot still gripping the perch and have to flap to reset.  She did that four times before finally jumping to the fist.

The following day, which was Thanksgiving, I cut the turkey giblets into tidbits (so Jebe could have a Thanksgiving too) and she jumped to the fist for them with no hesitation.  I don’t know why she had such a hard time breaking through the mental barrier to jump.

The day after the initial jump, I her moved outside and she came 5′ to the fist for a tidbit.  I gradually increased the distance, curious about where she’d balk, and got to 30′ (the end of the creance) by the end of the session.  All of the flying was upwind against a 20 mph wind.    I finished training with the body of a quail (sans wings, legs, head) on the lure and she hit it hard midair.  Overall her response was good, but not instant, though considering how long she took to jump I’m really happy with it.

Jebe on lure 2

Jebe on lure

Training proceeded quickly after that.  Within four days I took her to a baseball field on the 100′ creance.  She came instantly for the first tidbit at that distance and then consistently launched before I turned and whistled (see a  video of her second flight).

She obviously learned the game, so I decided to free fly her.  I don’t have a lot of daylight after work during the weeks, so cut her loose in our neighborhood.  She immediately flew to the top of a light pole.  Jebe refused to come for tidbits from that high perch, which isn’t surprising since I hadn’t free flown her before, but she did come down to the lure.  I’d planned on flying her this weekend, but we had a warm spell and she didn’t lose weight as quickly as I’d thought.  She’s was at 1040g this morning, which is higher than I’d be comfortable with.  Hopefully she’ll lose enough weight by this afternoon that I can take her out to the woods to chase some rabbits, but if not I’ll try again tomorrow.

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Falconry for Rehabilitation: Imping

Imping is an extremely useful skill in the falconry toolbag. This post provides a broad overview and some good photos of the process. One thing I don’t like is the use of hard metal pins in the feather shaft – they don’t bend easily and may cause a second break. Instead you can use bamboo, which has more give, or imp the new feather directly into the old one by cutting it too long and making a slit along the excess shaft so it fits into the old feather.

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Imping is something really cool I learned to do from my falconry sponsor, and now I use it on rehab birds fairly often.

Essentially, it’s the falconry practice of replacing damaged flight feathers on birds with unbroken feathers, either from a previous molt, or a donor bird.

Here’s a Before & After of a Coopers Hawk that needed new tail feathers (from rather different angles):

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In rehabilitating wild birds, it helps birds who have broken feathers so that they can be released sooner, rather than waiting around until they molt. Most raptors only molt once a year, so imping really comes in handy.

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Podcasts

This has nothing to do with falconry, but I don’t keep any other blogs or otherwise have an outlet for this information so I’ll put it here.

I spend a lot of time at work when I’m sorting insect trap catch or working on steampunk insects at home.  To fill the audio void I’ve started listening to podcasts.  I have three to recommend today:

Hardcore History – Dan Carlin is not a historian but rather a fan of history.  He takes an event or story, reads as much as he can about it from historians and primary accounts, and then boils it all down into what he thinks is the most accepted or probably account.  Podcasts can range from 1.5 to over 4 hours, and some events, such as the fall of Rome or the rise and splitting of the Mongol empire, span multiple podcasts.  I absolutely love his style of story telling, the fantastic amount of detail he puts into each podcast, and the events he thinks are worth covering.  My favorite, and from what I can tell one of the fan favorites, is his account of the Mongol empire, Wrath of the Khans.  Some of the podcasts are free and some you have to pay for.  I admittedly haven’t paid for any podcasts yet, though I’m planning on it as soon as I’m done buying supplies for the mews I’m building.  The only downside is that he only puts out a new podcast every few months.  I can’t blame him, given the amount of reading and research that goes into each episode, but now that I’ve listened to everythign that’s free it’s frustrating to sit here without new shows.  I’m seriously considering listening to Wrath of the Khans again to pick up details I missed the first time through.

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The Cromcast – I have to confess upfront that I’m biased for this podcast because I know the guys who are making it.   That being said, I’d listen to it even if I didn’t.  The Cromcast is a weird fiction podcast that is currently going through Robert E. Howard‘s Conan the Barbarian (e.g., Conan the Cimmerian) in the order the stories were published.  They typically talk their way through a story each week, discussing the plot, what they liked and didn’t like, how the story relates to the real world (such as Howard using the names of gods from real civilizations, such as the Egyptian god Set), influences they see on Howard through his writing, and how other fans have recieved the story.  They also provide a bit of background, such as when the story was published, and sometimes get off on tangents, such as comics and other nerdtastic things.  They’re only 7 episodes in, with new episodes coming out every two weeks or so.  Episodes are generally around an hour and a half, though that’s mostly because that’s about how long it takes them to cover what they want to say and not a hard line.  Did I mention they’re fueled by bourbon?

Breaking Bio – Breaking Bio is a biology podcast cohosted by Morgan Jackson, a PhD student at the University of Guelph in Canada, Steven Hamblin, a postdoc at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Hedi Smith, a postdoc at the University of Texas at Austin, BugGirl, from various undisclosed locations in the eastern US, and various other cohosts.  They typically have a guest (or two) on the podcast and interview them about their current research and interests as far as biology/ecology/systematics goes.  I know what you’re thinking, but it is really entertaining and they generally talk at a level that even nonscientists can understand.  The hosts are from very different background within science and while one may understand what the guest does there’s a good chance that the others don’t.  And even if they do they’ll often ask the guest to explain whatever they’re talking about for the listeners.  They’ve has guests on to talk about fly/flower interactions in South Africa, crowdfunding science and science projects, squid sex, zombie ants and World War Z, and that’s just what they’ve covered since June.  They have 43 episodes up currently and get a new one out every week or two.  The shows began freeform in length (usually around an hour, but often closer to two) but are now limited to 30 minutes.  If you have any interest in science in general this is great to listen to.

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New Tattoo

This isn’t related to falconry, but it might be of interest to people reading this blog so I thought I’d share.  I got my second tattoo a few days ago.  The first was a celtic knot design I had done almost a decade ago.  I turned 18 and wanted to rebel a bit.  This one had a bit more thought put into it.  I’ve been mulling over designs for a few years and decided last year to get a Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis).

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The story of the Carolina parakeet for me encompasses every failure of conservation possible.

– They were shot for their feathers for ladies’ hats and shot by farmers because they ate crops (turns out they ate cocklebur, a problematic weed for farmers, and that the cocklebur control they gave outweighed the small amounts of corn and other crops they consumed).
– Most of the skins in scientific collections are from the late 1800’s in Florida – scientists heard they were going extinct and wanted to get as many examples as possible before they were gone, and that was the last largeish population.

– The flock would return to a wounded or dead bird, so it was quite easy for one person to wipe out an entire flock with a shotgun and enough ammo.

– There was a reliable sighting of a pair in North or South Carolina around the time the last known specimen died; the president of the Audubon Society went to check out the site, which is mostly swampland.  It rained the entire week he was in the field and he reportedly had a terrible time and didn’t see the birds.  Because of that he decided not to use funds from the society to buy up the land the birds were seen on, and it was later cut down and developed.
– The parakeets bred readily and easily in captivity, but because they couldn’t mimic human voices well and were abundant in the wild a breeding program was never established.

– The last known population in Florida declined quite rapidly when it had been stable for a decade or more.  There’s some speculation that they contracted a virus or other disease from chickens in the area (the parakeets were known to root on the rafters of chicken houses) and that it tore though the population and wiped them out.

– And there was a general apathy among those who knew they were declining that there was nothing to be done.  Kind of “well, they’re going extinct, that’s too bad…”

On top of all of that they’re really pretty and cool birds!  They’re the only parrot native to the US east of the Rockies, the only parrot that is though to go into torpor at night, and the only parrot I know of that can thrive in northern climates.  There are reports of flocks flying around during white-out snow storms.  I think it would be really neat to see that, an undulating flock of bright green parrots flying in snow.  And it’s thought they may have been slightly toxic, perhaps picking up some of the compounds from cocklebur.  They weren’t eaten even though they were easy to harvest because the meat tasted bad, and snakes didn’t seem to eat them when they were in torpor at night.  But we’ll never know now.

My wife Sarah also got a tattoo, her first.  She decided on an Io moth, because “they’re the artsiest of moths”.  I think it turned out really well.

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