Tag Archives: Kestrel

Trapping

Trapping your first hawk is arguably one of the most memorable experiences in falconry. My experience in particular is turning out to be quite memorable as I’ve had to put so much work into catching one.  One the advice on basically everyone I’ve talked to I’ve trapped a red-tail for my first bird.  They are apparently fairly scare in Northwest Arkansas this year, being more abundant in the eastern and southern portions of the state.  Even veteran falconers I’ve talked to from other parts of the state have commented how few passage birds there are here.  All told I’ve put in 20 hours driving over many days trying to find a bird in a trappable situation.  This is in start contrast to two other apprentices in the state;  one trapped his first bird within 15 minutes the first day he went trapping and the second took a bird on the first day as well.

Before I chronicle my trapping story I’d like to cover some basics about the state of affairs for an apprentice falconer, at least in Arkansas, though this will apply to many other states as well.  Most apprentices in the United States trap a red-tailed hawk for their first bird, with a smaller, but not insignificant, percent taking an American kestrel.  The federal laws recently relaxed the species permissible to apprentices; state law may me more restrictive than federal law though many states have adopted the federal species list, which, in addition to red tails and kestrels, allows red-shouldered hawks, Harris hawks, and great-horned owls to be taken (Alaskan apprentices are also allowed to take goshawks).  This list wasn’t approved because of the ease of training, but rather because those species are increasing in population and any individuals taken by apprentices won’t affect the overall population.  Great-horned owls, I’m told, are horrendous to train and generally don’t make good birds for any falconer, let alone an apprentice with little to no experience.  I’m quite curious about flying red-shouldered hawks, their reputation is more mixed.  Some people report them to be much more like Accipiters and Buteos, though there hasn’t been much work done with them.  Red shoulders are supposed to be quite vocal, so much so that it may be a negative to taking one.

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Red-shouldered hawk.
Photograph by Richard J Kinch, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Apprentices are only allowed to trap wild birds because they are easier to train.  General and Master class falconers are allowed to buy and hunt with captive bred birds, which makes getting some species significantly easier.  Captive bred birds take significantly more work in training as they need to be taught how to hunt, unlike wild passage birds which have been hunting and feeding themselves for a few weeks to a few months.  In addition, when raising an imprint bird (that is, a bird that is not raised by it’s parents and is therefore imprinted on humans, making it either think it is a human or humans are birds) it is extremely easy to screw the bird up.  One meal that is even a few minutes late, one hunger pang, one wrong impression and the bird could turn into a vicious beast that screams incessantly, begging for food and attacking you if it doesn’t get it.  On the other hand, a properly raised imprint can be the best falconry bird ever.  It’s a gamble,  one that the law (quite rightly I think) doesn’t let apprentices make.

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Harris’s hawks are considered quite easy to train. In the wild they are sociable and hunt in packs. This naturally lends them to use in falconry, where they can be hunt in casts and consider the falconer part of their pack.
Photograph by Alan Vernon, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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A Harris’s hawk being used in falconry. This bird may be the hybrid of a Harris’s hawk and Buteo species.
Photograph by Reg McKenna, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Now then, one with my own story.

Saturday, 16 November

I didn’t realize how long it would take to tie the nooses for a Bal-Chatri trap.  I started tying them Thursday night thinking I’d finish then or on Friday, but that didn’t happen.  All told it took approximately 8 hours to cut and tie to nooses.  I drove around for 3 hours that afternoon and evening.  It was quite warm and windy.  The first bird I saw was soaring over the road.  That set the tone for the rest of the day.  I saw another bird hunting over a field, but it was along a major highway and there was no good spot to pull over.  I did pull into the parking lot of a construction company near the field, hoping that the bird would pass over the lot and see my trap.  I waited for 30 minutes or so, watching as two other passage RTs and a haggard RT also started hunting the field.  One of the passage birds was a Harlan’s hawk, which would have been great to catch, but it and the other passage and haggard eventually moved off.  The first passage bird dove into the grass not 20 yards from my trap and caught something, so I picked up my trap and moved on.  I saw two more haggard RTs before it got dark.

Sunday, 17 November

Went to church and missed trapping in the morning.  Left around 2:00 pm and headed 30 minutes north towards the NWA airport.  There are a lot of fields, mostly cow pastures, and forests around the airport and I thought this would be a good place to check.  I saw two haggard birds, both in untrappable situations.  The first was in a tree in someone’s back yard and the second was on the ground next to a pond in a different family’s front yard.  The only passage bird I found was on a power pole along a busy road with a 55 mph speed limit.  I still tried for it and got the trap out, but the bird didn’t react to the bait.  After 10 minutes I got antsy because the road was so busy and picked up the trap.

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Harlan’s hawk, a very dark subspecies of the red-tailed hawk; some people consider them to be a separate species. The tail is variable and often doesn’t have any red.
Photograph by Tom Ryan, copyrighted© by photographer.

Tuesday, 19 November

I decided to go into work late and drove along the interstate.  I saw over a dozen RTs.  The speed limit is 70 mph though.  There aren’t power poles along the road either, all the birds were in trees or bushes, so by the time I saw each I didn’t have time to slow down.  I was also really apprehensive about trapping along such a busy highway, for both legal and safety reasons.

I did see a gorgeous juvenile red-shouldered hawk along the side of a country road.  I considered trapping it for a short while and decided not to.

Saturday, 23 November

In the morning I drove around for 3 hours and didn’t find any passage hawks in trappable situations.  I took my labmate Ray along in the afternoon, he’s got an eye for birds.  He found two dozen or more birds, but most were at the backs of fields and none were really trappable.  One bird we found was a gorgeous Harlan’s hawk.  We chased it around for an hour or so, trying to get it to see the trap.  It was very skiddish and flew off whenever we got within 100 yards.  We eventually gave up when it flew to the far corner of a field.  We decided later it was probably an adult anyhow.

We found another passage red-shouldered hawk and I again considered trapping it, but passed.  That bird was much less skiddish than any of the red-tails we saw; we got within 10 yards of it, and it never flew off.

Sunday, 24 November

I got out right before sunrise and went to a dead-end road we’d seen a bird before.  It was still there and I threw the trap out.  I had to drive over a slight rise in order to get far enough away from the trap.  The bird dove at the trap but didn’t commit.  I waited another 5 minutes and it dove again.  I couldn’t see the bird as it was over the rise, but waited what felt like a minute, but was probably only twenty seconds.  I didn’t see the bird, but it wasn’t long enough.  As I approached where I thought the trap was the bird exploded from behind the rise, untrapped.

In the afternoon I threw the trap out at two birds.  The first went for the trap but didn’t commit.  The second bird was scared off by a semi-truck that rumbled over the hill just as it started its dive, which was truly unfortunate timing.

Monday, 25 November

I went out in the morning before work to try and trap a small passage bird Ray and I had found near an interstate interchange.  It was sitting in a tree on a dead-end road near the interchange, which was perfect.  I threw the trap out and was promptly ignored for half an hour before the bird flew off.

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Perches

There are many different kinds of perches you can use for your hawk or falcon.  Some of them are better for longwings and some for shortwings – it mostly depends on the general way the bird stands while hunting in the wild.  Most hawks hunt from tree limbs or other round structures, while most falcons hunt from cliffs or other flat surfaces.  There are of course exceptions – kestrels, for example, are falcons but can stand on either round or flat perches.  This makes sense as they often hunt from tree branches or power lines in their native habitat.  The Modern Apprentice has an excellent section on different perches.

A bow perch is perhaps the best perch for an apprentice falconer if they only have the money for one perch.  It looks, as the name suggests, like a strung bow that has be stuck in the ground.  They are small enough to be used in the mews or moved outside when the bird is weathering, and can be used for red-tails and kestrels (though must, of course, be sized appropriately).  They are relatively simple to make with a welding machine.  If you don’t have your own welder it might be possible to find a metal shop that will make one.  That’s what I did; it cost me $78 after taxes and only needed a few modifications.  Prefabricated bow perches are also available online, but they of course cost more.

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Bow perch before modifications

The Arkansas Fish & Game Commission falconry coordinator was nice enough to send blueprints for a bow perch in the falconry packet.  The base is 1/8″ thick stainless steel 5″ x 32″.  The bow is 1/2″ stainless steel tubing 24″ wide and 12″ high.  The guy who built my perch said he formed the tube around a 55 gallon drum with a hammer.  The captive ring is 3″ in diameter.

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After grinding off the corner and widening the stake hole.

A perch still needs a covering where the bird will stand.  Many people use long blade astroturf.  I couldn’t find any around town so went with manila rope.  Each end of the rope is zip tied into place and then I wound it around the tubing.  This will have to be replaced in a while after it gets soiled too heavily.  Both the astroturf and rope serve to make an uneven surface for the bird to perch on.  An even surface will eventually cause sores than can lead to bumblefoot, a catch-all term for a bacterial infection in the foot of the bird.  While bumblefoot can be cured with antibiotics the best defense is proper equipment.  That’s always cheaper than a vet bill.

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Finished bow perch

I also made a second perch for inside of the mews.  With just the bow perch the bird is near the ground and wouldn’t be able to see out the windows if it so desired.  I have to admit that the design isn’t my own, but one I saw in my sponsor’s mews.

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Bow perch below the window. It’s not high enough to allow a bird to see out the window.

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T-perch

It’s quite simple to make, just some 2x4s and a 4×4.  The 4×4 is 6.5″ tall, the 2×4’s for the feet are each 18″.  The 2×4 for the perch is a single piece of wood 2′ long.  I measured out where it would attach to the 4×4 and cut one side into a round shape 1.5″ in diameter.  This will allow the bird to choose if it wants to stand on a round or flat surface.  I wrapped manila rope around the round and flat ends and attached the rope with staples.

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Bottom of the t-pech

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Each foot is secured with two screws to the main post and one screw to the adjoining foot.

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Top of the t-perch

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T-perch with manila rope added. Note the individually stapled strands across the middle

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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