The Latest

Life of a Falconer Pt. 2

February 17, 2018 - Latest, Naturalist's Notes

My how time flies…

Do you know the feeling where a moment in time seems both so long ago, but also like it was just yesterday?

Just a short three months ago, I trapped my falconry bird, but it feels like I’ve had her for years! Lady is a fast learner…and a great teacher!

When last I left off, Lady was on “fly rest” while her bruised brachial plexus healed up. Time and patience won out and she has since healed up great and no longer droops her wing! With that being said, her fly progress has been going great! After successfully getting her to fly to my glove in the house during every feeding, it was time to head outside and try creance flying. Even though she was on a long leash (creance), it was still nerve wracking to know that she could still fly up to a point where I would have to get a ladder to reach her! We started off small, flights from her perch to about 20 feet to my glove in the backyard. She glided right over nearly every time! She was a little too anxious at some points though…flying to me before I called. This was solved by taking her back to her perch without a reward. She learned pretty fast to not land on me when I wasn’t ready! Of course, she then decided that she would fly towards me and land near me instead of on me. The top of the chicken coop was her favorite place to eye me up…thankfully she would fly right down when I called. First day of creance flying would be what I call a success!

Our next foray out on the creance line was a few days later at Irvine. Setting up the perch in the amphitheater, I was a little nervous with all of the tall trees around! Thankfully, my sponsor was with me to make sure everything went smooth! First call to glove, perfect. Then came a screech. Not Lady’s, but a resident pair of Red Shouldered Hawks who were not pleased with Lady’s intrusion onto their territory. Thankfully, they screamed at her a little and then went their own way, not wanting to cause a fuss with two humans bodyguards around. Then came the next unhappy resident, a large female Red Tailed Hawk. She came in for a look, yelled at Lady, and then headed off. Always be aware of the residents…they can and will attack an intruding bird if they feel threatened enough. With two people around though, and Lady down on the ground near us, all the resident hawks departed the situation. Throughout the whole bird equivalent of “get off my lawn,” Lady calmly stayed focused on me and wasn’t bothered by the yelling. The next thing to tackle was the return to the perch after the flight to my glove. This was something I struggled with the first time creance flying…I couldn’t get Lady to go back to the perch. Indoors, she would hop/glide back down to the perch and wait for another mouse…outdoors, she clung onto my glove and wouldn’t let go until I walked her right up to the perch and sat her on it. Here’s one of the many reasons you have a sponsor: “Hold your arm straight out and throw her like a Frisbee,” Brian told me. After the initial awkwardness of figuring out how to hold my arm still while throwing a 3 pound bird, Lady successfully flew back to her perch from about 10 feet away. Yay, progress! After a few more good calls and returns, I tossed her back towards the perch again…annnnddd she flew right up into a tree. After calling her down, Brian informed me that she was looking at the tree when I tossed her. She needed to be looking towards her perch. Got it. A few more solid flights across the aviary and she was getting full. She started to loose interest and became distracted looking at her surroundings. Training was over for the day. Always end on a high note…don’t push it! If you notice your bird is getting full, end it on a solid flight before she becomes sloppy. Of course, a Blue Jay had to get his two cents in before I managed to get Lady in her transport box…if only he knew how easily he could have become dinner!

Another day, another flight. This time in the empty field behind my house. Pretty solid flights…a few returns weren’t the greatest, but for being only the third time out, Lady was excelling! After sending Brian a video of her flying, I get a text back saying “What does she weigh?” Before flying, she was 1050 grams, afterwards, 1146g. The response to that made my heart sink… “Lady might be a ‘Lord.'” I was a little shocked…her trap weight was 1060 grams, she was the same as her trapping weight, why would Brian now think she is a he? Well, like most birds of prey, females are a lot larger than males. Usually a big, healthy female weighs anywhere between 1000 grams and 1600 grams. With Lady flying at a weight towards the low end of that spectrum, there is a chance that she could actually be a large male. It was time for a DNA test!

From my previous experience getting DNA tests done on raptors, it is relatively simple, but expensive. I would take the bird into the vet, they would draw blood from the leg, and then sent it to a lab to be analyzed. Brian to save the day once again…there is a really awesome company in Florida that does avian sexing…they can do DNA sexing from blood, feathers, and even eggshells! Twenty Five dollars and 8 plucked chest feathers later, Lady’s DNA was in the mail to Florida. The next five days were the longest ever…I checked the website multiple times a day – “Pending.” Finally, right as I was about to go to bed at 11 o’clock at night, I checked one more time – “Female.” Hooray! Lady was definitely a Lady! While I would have had no issue with her being a male, I was glad I didn’t have to go through a name change!

Upon texting Brian the next day, a vigorous weight gain was in order. While you are supposed to bring your bird’s weight down in order for them to respond to you, I had, unintentionally, dropped her weight too much! Over the course of the next four days, Lady got to pig out on rats! I would weigh her, feed her a rat, weigh her again, and then repeat the process again the next day. Finally she was up to 1400 grams! That’s a healthy female! The following day, instead of a rat, I only fed her a mouse. The day after that, she weighed in at 1250 grams. Time to test it out. After packing her and her perch up in my car, we drove a short two minutes up to may family’s farm. I wanted to test fly her in an area she had never seen before to get a gauge for how attentive she would be to me. It was her best flight yet. She gracefully flew from her perch to my hand every time for her mouse tidbits. Even the returns were great!

Now that she is at a correct weight range, I have been raising her weight again and will SLOWLY be dropping it to see if her flight weight is possibly higher than the 1250 grams that she flew at. Only time will tell…and this weather has been anything but helpful! Trust me when I say that Lady doesn’t want to be out in freezing snow and ice any more than I do! This afternoon and tomorrow look to be great, until another round of rain and icky-ness follows. Any opportunity I have to get out and fly with her, I take it! I have also gotten over my initial disappointment that we probably won’t be able to hunt this year. With her initial wing injury, and the fact that she was trapped a bit later in the season, we have not worked long enough together to warrant a hunt together. While we have till the end of March to get out there, I am perfectly content knowing that as soon as hunting season opens next year, we’ll be out there catching squirrels!

Until then…