Tag Archives: Cooper’s Hawk

“The Passage Cooper’s Hawk and Those Who Fly ‘Em”

I stumbled across a thread on the NAFEX (North American Falconry Exchange) forum a few months ago advertising Bill Boni’s new book “The Passage Cooper’s Hawk and Those Who Fly ‘Em”.

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Front cover

I’m intrigued by Coops and would like to fly one some day so decided to get the book.  The book is self published and in the thread Bill gave instructions on how to get a copy (basically mail him $20).  The thread can be found here:

http://www.nafex.net/archive/index.php?t-16979.html

Overall I’m very pleased with the book.  It’s set up as a series of chapters written by different austringers who have had success manning, training, and hunting passage Cooper’s hawks.  The book is pretty professionally made for a self-published book, though the pictures are a bit grainy.  There are also some mistakes as far as basic grammar, punctuation, and spelling that should have been corrected before publication, but not so many that it’s distracting to read.

Being set up as chapters of different people’s experiences has pros and cons.  There’s no single method of training spelled out in discrete steps, which might be annoying if that’s what you’re looking for.  However, after reading more than one or two chapters you start to see the commonalities between successful training and hunting regimes.

Many of the take away messages seem pretty self-evident to me, but perhaps they’re not to everyone:
1. Treat the hawk like an individual and respond to what it wants.  Don’t force a hawk to hunt from the fist if it would rather hunt from a tree.
2. Some people have success training Coops the same way they train a RT.  Other people deviate from that in various ways, such as using a strobe light in initially manning or start hunting them before they’re fully manned and finish training in the field.
3. Birds trapped at different times of year are very different.  People have had a lot of success with birds that are just out of the nest not being fed by their parents but also haven’t left the family group/nest area yet.  They have some traits of imprints in being easier to train but not the bad qualities like screaming or attacking the falconer for food. Conversely, birds trapped later in the season are still trainable but much more difficult or impossible to make do what you want; they are much more focused on hunting how they want and will not be good falconry birds if you try to force them into hunting how you want.
4. Weight control is important.  They’re small birds with pretty tight windows, though some people have had success increasing their weight as they become better trained through the season.
5. The most important point is that Cooper’s do make good falconry birds and aren’t the hell beasts some people make them out to be.  They take a lot of work and aren’t for everyone, but can be rewarding if you have the time.

All-in-all I think it’s well worth $20 (which includes shipping!), even if you’re not interested in fly a Coops.

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Bill Boni and his Cooper’s hawk, from the last page of the book.

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Filed under Falconry, Literature

Suburban Cooper’s hawk

I had an experience yesterday which was both amazing and kind of strange.

Sarah and I went to a friend’s house for dinner.  The area they live in is really open with large yards and few trees.  As we walked up to the house I noticed some kind of raptor near the bushes next to the house.  The sun wasn’t quite right and all I saw was a silhouette of a largish bird. I decided to get closer to see what it was.  Turns out it was a huge Cooper’s hawk.  I got within 10′ or so before it decided that was close enough <i>and it ran across the yard</i> (20 feet or so).  I thought that was really weird, so I walked up to it again, and it ran a bit further.  Walked up again and it flew the last few feet to some bushes, but pulled up short in front of them.  I thought I could get close again and snuck around the bush, making sure I didn’t see it fly away.  I came around the bush and it wasn’t there anymore.  I walked up to where it had been standing and looked around.  A second later it hopped up to the top of the bush, which is maybe 5′ tall, with it’s back to me.  It was only 3′ or so away.  I saw the striped tail but noticed the the eyes were brown and the breast was streaked with brown and thought that was strange – I found out when I got home those are characteristics of an immature bird.  It looked at me for a few seconds, long enough for me to make those observations, pull my phone out and get it ready to take a photo, before lazily flying off to stand on the roof of the house across the street.

I posed this to the Arkansas Hawking Association forum to see what other people thought.  It seems to me to be really strange behavior for a Cooper’s hawk.  It might be that it’s an inexperienced juvenile and didn’t know how to handle the situation.  I thought it might also be a case of acclimatization – it was in a suburban area and so around people a lot, maybe it’s just use to humans.

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Immature Cooper’s hawk. © William Jobes. The original photo can be found here

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Immature Cooper’s hawk in flight. © Gerard R. Dewaghe. Original photo can be found here

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This is the angle I saw the hawk from when it was in the bush. © invisiblewoman. Original photo can be found here

Adult cooper's hawk

Here’s an adult Cooper’s for comparison. The eyes are red, wings and back are slate grey. ©Onafly. The original photo can be found here

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You too can fly a hawk!

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.

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Southern American black vulture (Coragyps atratus brasiliensis). This is a different subspecies than the northern American black vulture that the falconer probably had, but I took this photo so it’s what I’ll use. The differences between subspecies aren’t noticeable to anyone but expert ornithologists and bird watchers.

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.

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American kestrel (Falco sparverius). Retreived 25 Aug. 2013 from here and used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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.

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August 26, 2013 · 3:54 am