Tag Archives: Falconry

Summer Update

It’s been a long, slow summer without a bird.  After fattening her up for a month, I released Jebe at the end of March.  While I didn’t catch nearly as much game as I would have liked, I think the season was a success.  Through the ordeal of getting her to jump to the fist, to tending a mysterious wing injury, to figuring out her ideal hunting weight, to finally putting a squirrel and rabbit in the bag I learned a lot.  For her part, Jebe survived the winter and was fat enough upon release to survive for at least a few days or a week without having to worry about catching a meal.

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Released from the giant hood. This is the same locality I released Ogedei the previous year.

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The last time I saw Jebe.

The Arkansas Hawking Association held their annual summer picnic in June.  Sarah and I took Vaun this year.  The four hour drive turned into a five hour drive after we fed Vaun and had to stop to calm him down once.  It was great to see everyone again, but it was swelteringly hot and humid.  It rained hard for a few minutes, which cut the heat while it came down, but ended up just making the humidity worse.  Vaun did not have a good time and Sarah had to sit with him in the car with the A/C blowing while I ran the raffle.  The raffle went off well, though I didn’t realize I was in charge of bringing bags and tickets as well as all of the donated items.  Luckily for me, we made due with some plastic solo cups and someone else brought the extra raffle tickets from last year.  I ended up making out like a bandit and won, among other things, a Merlin telemetry transmitter and two red-tail sized hoods.  I felt kind of bad because I organized the raffle and won so much, but sometimes you just get lucky.

I also upgraded to general class this summer.  It’s a bit of a relief because I don’t know when I’ll get a job and move from Arkansas and I didn’t want to have to deal with finding a new sponsor in a new state.  It also means I can fly any bird except eagles.  I’d like to move toward accipiters, especially sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks.  First, though, I’d like to trap and train a kestrel to get practice with such tight weight management before I have to deal with the weight and behavioral difficulties of an accipiter.  I’d like to build a small indoor enclosure for a kestrel, but it’s been in the mid to upper 90’s here for the last month, which means the garage is over 100°F, even at night or in the morning, and simply unbearable to work in.  Hopefully it will cool off soon.  I still have a few months before I really get into trapping, so I’ve got a bit of time left to get everything together.

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2015 AHA Winter Meet

It’s February again, which can only mean one thing – it’s time for the Arkansas Hawking Association winter field meet.  It was a blast last year and  I expected as much again.

A bit of an update before the meet though.  I’ve taken Jebe hunting each weekend and had a handful of rabbit flushes.  Working by myself without dogs I manage a flush every one or two hours.  It’s not enough to keep her interested while we’re out and she’s missed every rabbit I’ve produced.  It led to her being extremely frustrated I think.  At first it manifested as being skiddish in the mews.  I’d pick her up and she’d hop off the fist or fly to the tall perch.  After a week of this, I changed the routine a bit – I had to reweight her ration so put her back in the chamber instead of taking her out to fly to the lure.  When I opened the door she hit me full in the face.  I dropped her ration – not a great idea as it rewarded very bad behavior.  I was lucky as I got away with a few talon punctures and she missed my eyes.  I didn’t hunt her the weekend after the attack as it was raining.  I changed the routine and she didn’t come at me again, but I started wearing safety glasses and cracking the door so she could see me before walking into the chamber just in case.  After flying hard and hunting during the meet she’s calmed down significantly.

I left at 6 am Friday morning and drove 5 hours to Ethel, Arkansas for the field meet.  The drive was uneventful except for the fact that I couldn’t remember if I closed the garage door, which added half an hour to the drive after I turned around to double check.  No falconers were around when I arrived, so I hung out with Ms. Ida until they started to show up.  I didn’t have to wait long as it was nearly lunch and no one wants to miss Ida’s cooking.

After lunch Ron and Brenda offered to take me behind Ida’s house to hunt squirrels.  Francie and some others came along to help shake vines and get the squirrels moving.  Jebe climbed nice and high, but was a bit flighty and kept flying ahead of the group.  She reached the edge of the small bit of forest and I thought she was going to fly off.  Just then Ron flushed a squirrel.  Jebe came around as soon as he shouted ho-ho-ho and landed on a branch next to the tree the squirrel was in.  The squirrel bailed from thirty feet up and Jebe drove into it as soon as it hit the ground.  It was a nice flight even though I never saw the squirrel.  Everyone enjoyed the hunt and I couldn’t have been happier.

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Jebe on her first squirrel

After I finished cleaning the squirrel, most of the other falconers had left to hunt their birds.  I was lucky that Heath hadn’t, but was gearing up to take out his first year imprint goshawk Gretel.  Everyone that had hunted Jebe loaded up and went out with Heath and Gretel. We managed to flush eight or nine squirrels and she made hard attempts at all of them.  She nearly had two or three, but never quite managed to connect.  It was a great show – goshawks are amazingly fast and Gretel is no exception.  She flew up and down and around the trees after the squirrels, feet pumping and clawing like lightning the whole time.  We (except maybe Heath) were just as happy with the performance at the end of the hunt as if she’d have caught something.  She and the squirrels gave it one hundred percent and the squirrels managed to come out on top.  There’s no shame in that.

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Gretel on the fist

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Heath and Gretel

The longwingers all fly their birds in the evening and we had just enough time to watch flights from all three of their birds.  Greg was up first with his 1x intermewed peregrine.  She flew up to 700 feet or so and ranged around the area.  After a few false stoops at nearby ducks on large flat water, the falconers flushed the targeted ducks from a ditch.  Greg’s bird came down in a beautiful stoop and bound to a duck, riding it to within 20 feet of the ground before releasing it and pulling up.  She winged back over and killed the duck by the time everyone ran the few hundred yards to her.

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Greg’s peregrine on her duck

Chris’s 1x intermewed male peregrine Little Guy (I think that’s his name, at least that’s what Chris called him) was up next.  Being smaller than Greg’s bird, Chris set him up after some snipe.  Little Guy flew up to 500-700 feet and also made a great stoop.  The snipe survived the first hit and made into some tall grass.  Chris reflushed it and Little Guy sealed the deal on the second stoop.  Little Guy landed in marshy ground so carried the snipe a hundred yards to some dry ground.  A red-tail was sitting a few telephone poles away, so Little Guy cached the snipe under a clump of grass.

Heath’s 4x intermewed male gyr x barbary was the last falcon of the day.  He made an impressive stoop at a duck, but couldn’t take it down and the duck managed to escape.

Saturday started with breakfast at 7 am.  Most of us were out hawking by 8:30.  I spent the morning hunting with Ashley and her red tail Tess.  The rabbits were pretty scarce and she didn’t put any in the bag, though not for lack of trying.  I flew Jebe at rabbits after lunch but had similar luck – half a dozen slips, but no bunnies in the bag.  It was quite windy all day and as evening came on the longwingers were unsure if they would fly their birds.  A huge caravan set up with Greg to watch his bird, so I went with Heath instead.  We drove around for a while looking for doves and waiting for the wind to calm down.  We found a dozen birds and eventually the weather settled enough to fly.  Heath set his bird up and he flew thirty feet over the doves as he gained altitude.  Most of the doves flushed, but a few stayed put so we waited until he had a pitch of 500 or so feet.  Heath, Billy, and I walked to field and flushed a handful of doves.  Heath’s bird was in front of most of them, but saw the last dove in the field.  He made a gorgeous stoop, but the dove had a 20 mph tailwind and the stoop was a bit behind.  The stoop turned into a tail chase; the falcon gained ground and raked the dove, but the dove managed to put into some bushed before he could finish it.

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Chad and Ashley’s jagdterrier Baya, who helped flush bunnies

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Rusty and Vulcan, who I didn’t get a chance to hunt with

We had the AHA business meeting Saturday night after dinner.  I’ll spare the details here as they won’t interest anyone outside of the club.  A few of us stayed us and bs’ed after the business meeting.  I tried to keep up with them as we were having a great time, but had a ripping headache after driving around at sunset looking for doves.

Sunday morning started by hunting Tyler’s red-tail Mable.  We hit two promising fields, but only managed to flush two rabbits.  After a couple hours we hunted Jebe.  she was obviously sore from the workout on Saturday, but made a nice crashing stoop through thick cover.  She came up empty and wouldn’t get very high in the trees.  I brought her in and Bob put up his red-tail Sega and dogs.  The dogs quickly scented a rabbit and after a few minutes of trailing flushed it.  Sega crashed into it and came up with a small cottontail.

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Tyler and Mable

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Bob and Sega with her rabbit

All in all the meet was a great success.  Thirty six people attended with 16 birds and took 17 heads of game.  I really enjoyed seeing all of the Arkansas falconers and can’t wait until the summer picnic.

 

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First game

The closest fields and forests I can hunt are a 30-45 minute drive, so I usually can only hunt on the weekends.  This was the second weekend I had Jebe free flying.  She seemed to act much better this week flying between 770-785 g.  Saturday she followed along the edge of a field as I beat the grass, then moved between the little islands of brush as I started whacking them.  She made two attempts at a woodrat, but missed both.

After hunting for around an hour I finally flushed a rabbit and she made a short chase but came up short.  The rabbit ducked through some thick, close-set samplings she obviously didn’t think she could crash through.  A squirrel hunter had heard my whistles and came to investigate.  He saw Jebe’s flight at the rabbit and I invited him to help me beat the brush and reflush it.  He thought that was great and jumped in.  As we walked around I kicked a honeysuckle bush and heard a jingle of bells.  I knew I didn’t flush a rabbit and got confirmation when Jebe slammed into the honeysuckle.  Her back was to me, but when I got around the bush I could see she was strung out, dangling beneath outstretched wings with a dead woodrat.

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Jebe with her wood rat

 

I extracted her from the bush and she was not happy about it.  I imaging she thought I was going to rob her of her kill.  I clipped her jesses to my glove and laid her and the rat out in some shorter grass.  She came around in a minute and started working the rat.  After she broke in I let her feed up a bit, then covered the rat up and traded her off for some quail legs.  The trade-off went smoothly and I called it a day.

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Jebe not happy I picked up her out of the bush.

 

Sunday I went back to the same field but after more than an hour failed to flush anything, rabbit or woodrat, though did find about a dozen woodrat nests.  I think I’ll have to find a different spot.  The field originally looked promising, but didn’t deliver.

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Jebe on a low perch just after I released her for the morning’s hunt.

 

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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.

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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.

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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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Dropping Weight

Jebe weighed 1195.5g the day I trapped her.  Since then it’s been a waiting game as she drops weight.  The second day I found a 22g casting that was made of fur and grasshopper legs.  She weighed 1145g, so had dropped 30g after taking the casting into account.  She had healthy looking slices, with brown fecal material and no specks of blood.  Over the next few days she continued to drop around 30 grams every night and had multiple slices per day.  On the fifth day she started dropping 16 to 25 grams per night and her slices became smaller and green as she ran out of food to process and unused bile started coming through.

That trend kept up until today.  I weighed Jebe tonight, expecting her to be around 950g as she’s been at 976g yesterday.  She was unexpectedly heavier and weighed 1026g.  Her response to tidbits, even though she hasn’t jumped to the fist yet, is markedly lower than yesterday – while yesterday she could barely stop herself from jumping today she barely gave the tidbit a second glance.  In retrospect, the bow perch was in the middle of the mews while it was closer to the wall this morning and the falconer’s knot that secured her to the perch was really tight.  The only thing I can figure is that a mouse or some other small animal got into the mews and she drug the bow perch to get at it.  I guess tomorrow’s mutes and any casting will tell the tale.

I’ve been told by a few experienced falconers, my sponsor included, not to weigh a wild-trapped bird until it first jumps to the fist.  While this is probably an anomaly (eg, catching something in the mews), it seems like a good reason to at least take note of daily weight prior to jumping to the fist.

Also, it goes to show that the mews should be well secured no matter where you live.  I assumed that since I live in the middle of suburbia and have two dogs that nearly always outside in the fenced yard I wouldn’t have problems with small mammals or venomous snakes.  Obviously I was wrong, though I still don’t think I have to worry about copperheads or rattlesnakes.

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Introducing Jebe

Allen and I drove down to Little Rock for the telemetry scrimmage today.  On the way we passed an enormous red tail; Cody and/or Bob said they thought it was a balloon caught on the wire before they realized it was a hawk.  I thought about trapping it but decided not to as I didn’t want to sock a bird for 3 hours during the scrimmage or drive straight back to Fayetteville.

After the telemetry scrimmage while driving to lunch Allen and I (following behind Cody and Bob) passed a red tail hanging out on a power pole next to an industrial park.  I thought it looked like a juvenile and after a bit of hem-hawing for twenty or thirty seconds decided to turn around.  As I was turning Cody called, confirmed it was a RT, and asked if I was going to trap it.  I told him I would and would let him know how it went.

After passing the bird and turning around again, Allen tossed the BC trap with Russian hamster 5′ off the highway on a side road to the industrial park.  We turned around and waited.  The bird was obviously interested, bobbing it’s head and looking at the trap.  It swooped down onto the trap after a minute or two.  I eased the car up because the trap was on the far side of a small rise in the road.  The bird was oblivious to us, the cars on the highway, and the truck that rumbled past it on the  side road.  The bird footed the trap for a minute and Bam! was caught.  She immediately tried to fly off and drug the trap into the highway.  I was out of the car and running as fast as I could because I could just picture the hawk splattered on the highway.  I got to the bird and a truck was slowing down at the spectacle we were making.  In retrospect I need to add more weight and a drag line.  I got lucky, but it could have ended in disaster.

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I trapped a bird!

Allen and I socked and hooded the bird and drove to lunch.  Everyone thought it was a relatively large bird and worth keeping.  After lunch I cuffed, jessed, and leashed the bird so it could stand on the fist and slice.  Which it did while bating.  All over my arm.

Instead of socking the bird again, Allen was kind enough to drive my car back to Fayetteville while I held the hooded bird on the fist in the back seat.  She sliced onto the seat cover and Allen’s shoulder twice while we traveled.  The feces were brown, so she’d eaten relatively recently and there weren’t any bloody specks or other oddities about it.

After three hours of driving and five minutes from home the bird started making a hacking noise.  I smelled something rank and, worried she couldn’t get whatever she was throwing up through the hood, I struck the braces and unhooded her in the backseat.  The bird cast up some more rancid-smelling meat and, realizing where she was, promptly bated toward the window.  She hung from the fist, thankfully, and I laid her on her back where she stayed for the rest of the trip with that freshly-trapped hawk stare.

After we got home the bird I stood her up on the fist.  She bated a few times, but then stood on the fist without bating for two or three minutes.  She’s chilling out in the mews with cardboard over the window to keep it dark while she mans.  She weighed in at 1195.5g.

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She’s not sure about this situation at all.

I asked Cody and Heath about the smelly meat.  They suggested she probably gorged on Thursday and didn’t put all of it over yesterday.  There was less than half a tidbit’s worth of meat that came up, and she’s a healthy (if a bit stressed right now) bird, so should be alright.  I’m going to keep an eye on her to make sure it doesn’t develop into sour crop, but I think she’ll be alright.  I have pedialyte and apple cider vinegar on hand just in case though.

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Sitting on the bow perch

Over dinner I decided to name the new hawk Jebe (pronounced Jeh-beh) after one of Genghis Khan’s generals. It translates to “The Arrow” in Mongolian because he shot the Khan in the neck during a battle.  He voluntarily confessed to the shot, saying “if Genghis Khan desired to kill him, it was his choice, but if he would let him live, he would serve Genghis Khan loyally”. Jebe went on to become one of the best (top 3) generals in history.

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Look at those feet!

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Mews modifications

The untreated plywood I used for the mews roof developed some black mold on the underside this summer.  I thought it would last at least two years, but I guess with the spring rains it got wet and didn’t dry fast enough.  On the suggestion of some other falconers I switched to a tin roof.  It’s $25 or more a sheet new, but after posting an add on Craistlist I found some used sheets for $10 a piece.  Three of the sheets were quite rusty on one side, so  I spent a few hours with the angle grinder knocking the rust off.  I also painted the sheets to stop further rust development.

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Removing the rust. You can see the section at the top that I’ve already worked on and the still rusty section at the bottom.

I had to add additional roof beams to the mews as the sheets are only 2′ wide, not 4′ like the plywood was.  I used two L-brackets, one per side, on each end of each 2×4 to secure the beams.  The roof tin went up relatively quickly and without hassle.

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New metal roof. I wonder if the next bird will like the sound of rain on a tin roof as much as I do.

I also added some vents to the high side of the walls right under the roof.  Changing from wood to metal should take care of all the mold problems, but the extra ventilation can’t hurt.

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Vent

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