Bellatrix Red-tail Hawk We picked up a beautiful passage hawk 12 days ago. A falconer and his wife who live south of us had trapped her and put out an alert in the falconry community to see if anyone was looking for a Red-tailed Hawk. My husband was! He had been trapping all month (with help from my brother and I) and had a few close calls, but none would stay on the trap. So, needless to say, we were all very excited, relieved and thankful to hear that she was trapped and available as it was getting late in the season.

To capture a bit of history and chronicle the manning of a hawk, I’ll be keeping track of the daily progress that my husband makes with Bellatrix (Bell).

Day 1: Prepare room (drop cloths on the floor, plastic on the walls, dark curtains, comfy chair and table), giant hood (a crate for transporting hawks). We picked up the hawk, drove  home and he sat with her on his arm in the dark for 3 hours. He tried to feed her, but knew that she would not be comfortable enough to accept food yet.

Day 2-10: Wash, rinse, repeat – morning, afternoon and night. During this period, the hawk is not only reluctant to accept food, but will not bend down to eat it as they are vulnerable and unsure if you are trustworthy. Also, the prey is not alive, which could be different than what they’re used to. My H offered food from a stick close to her beak until she accepted it. It took a few days, but she finally ate the mice if it was placed right next to her beak.

Day 11: Today was the day – we had a breakthrough! This morning, Bell finally leaned over to eat a tiny rodent from my husband’s glove. This was a huge step in her progress and the result of 10 days of extreme patience to earn her trust.

Beautiful colors and angles

My husband recently decided to let Gracie, his first red-tailed hawk, fly free. Only 20% of most hawks in the wild make it to maturity (due to many reasons including disease and poisoning from eating tainted rodents). A hawk that has an opportunity to be with a falconer has a greater chance of surviving when it is released, as it will be stronger and healthier than if it were in the wild.  I had a chance to take a few photos before he released her:

Gracie about to eat her last easy meal.

Gracie after eating that mouse.

She has such beautiful color and angles.

Argos waiting patiently.

Gracie (her beautiful red tail) and Theo

A Profile of Gracie

Just about to be released.

Gracie sits in the tree, unsure of her new found freedom.

My husband, saying a final farewell to Gracie.

Gracie finally flies away after about 15 minutes. Can you find her flying in the trees?

My husband has a new hawk now, a male, whose name is Oz. Stay tuned for photos and news about this new addition to our family!

On a recent hunting trip in South Georgia, these falconers and their hawks hunted together for squirrels, a common prey for the Red-tailed Hawk. The photos illustrate three different hawks (Gracie, an immature female, Scout, an immature male and Heath). If you look closely at the photos, you will be able to tell a difference in the appearance  – their size and coloring (you also might see a squirrel, racoon and armadillo!).

Click on the “expand” button on the bottom right corner to view larger images, then sit back, watch, relax and imagine  you were there…

Many thanks go out to Bart, the photographer who braved the forests and took these photos.

 South Georgia Hunting Trip
I couldn’t resist adding this one by itself – my Husband (above) running after Gracie who has a squirrel in her talons…

When I hear my husband’s falconry tales, I listen in amazement and wonder how I’m going to explain the next adventure to my readers. I have to admit that his take on the story is usually a short, to the point, ex-New Yorker recap of the situation. However, knowing him as I do, there is so much color, drama and adventure between the lines that I just have to write about it!

Hailing from the Bronx and surrounding areas, he grew up with fine-tuned street smarts and survival instincts that many a hunter would envy. Maybe he’s not an expert yet at the greener sports, but he’s got that 6th sense that will serve him well in any situation.

One thing about falconry that everyone should know is that a hawk is not a pet. It’s a wild animal that can be dangerous if not handled appropriately and safety has to be number one not only for you, but for your bird. That being said, when confronted with a wild hawk on the loose, this short story should give you confidence (as long as you have fresh meat on hand – and it isn’t you).

As you can see in the image below, there are three mews connected to the barn by an inner doorway, one on the left, center and right and each one is designed to house one hawk. What you can’t see is that connecting the three (on the inside) is a third room that unites each section and acts as a safety area in case one of the hawks was to escape.

My husband’s hawk, Gracie, is in the center mews (if you look closely, you can see two perches through the mesh wall). The left mews houses Scout, our cousin’s hawk and the right mews is currently empty.

The other day, my H decided to feed Gracie from the lure in her mews. He was wearing his falconry vest and had the lure and food in his back pocket. As he was about to open the door to her mews, he sensed something behind him (yep, anti-attacker-stalker-mugger-smarts). As he turned to look back, he saw a hawk coming out of the doorway of the unoccupied mews and into the “escape” room towards him. This was one of those moments when “act first, ask questions later” was the wisest choice (and besides, hawks can’t talk). Out came the lure from his pocket along with its bounty in order to distract the hawk from attacking the food which was located near my husband’s _ _ _ (rhymes with bass). Luckily, it ended up being Scout who had just escaped from his mews. He ate the food, hopped up on my husband’s glove and was quickly returned to his perch.

Although street smarts is mostly applied to the urban setting, I think there is a place for it in the outdoors .  Perhaps it is otherwise known as common sense (as usually it’s knowledge that isn’t learned through study of theoretical material). It seems that survival in any setting would involve an understanding of how to function properly in your environment.

As my husband later said:
“You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.”

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A huge thank you to Joe and Rebecca of the Outdoor Blogger Network (OBN) for featuring my blog as one of their “Featured Outdoor Bloggers of the Week.” When I first found the OBN, I was so impressed with the quality of the content, comraderie and spirit of adventure that I submitted my blog hoping to be included among such great company.  Alas, not only was I kindly added to their blog, but shortly afterwards  (2 days to be exact) they went a step further and added a whole new falconry category which now includes 2 other falconer’s blogs (Hawk Heaven and Tink’s Falconry Journal).

For their side of this scintillating story visit the OBN’s Featured Outdoor Blogger of the Week

Don’t be timid – check out the other falconry blogs on the OBN’s hot Falconry Category

And, be sure to take a moment and congratulate the other bloggers that were featured this week – but be careful, you might get hooked!

BTW, in case you didn’t know, the Outdoor Blogger Network is known as THE place for everyone to come, find the best Outdoor blogs, and enjoy our great outdoors just a little more!”

A Miffed Hawk

I dropped my husband off at the mews yesterday. It was lunchtime, a typical day and nothing unusual was in the wind. I walked into the barn with him and then into the mews while he was deciding whether or not to fly her.  Gracie was sitting on her perch, as usual, however he noticed that one of her jesses was missing.

Jesses (singular “jess”) are thin straps, traditionally made from leather, used to tether a hawk or falcon in falconry. They allow a falconer to keep control of a bird while it is on the glove or in training, and allow a bird to be secured on a perch outside of its aviary. – Wikipedia

My H looked all over the mews and a few minutes later finally found it stuck in the top corner of the roof of the enclosure. It was a mystery as to how it got there, but one thing was for sure – she was evidently having a bad day and quite short tempered (throwing a fit and stomping)!

Jess caught in mews

A Miffed Hawk

We have no idea how the jess ended up where it did (speculation is that she flew up into the corner and it got caught as her tail feathers were a bit damaged), but at this point, I left and went home to make lunch and let the dogs out. While I was gone, more adventures ensued.  My hubs decided to take Gracie out to fly her.  Now, there are actually 5 mews attached to our family’s barn and a Red-tailed hawk in four of them.  On the way back from their outing as they approached the barn, she flew up to a tree, then to the roof of the barn and then spotted her target which unfortunately wasn’t a squirrel, but was Scout, our cousin’s hawk sitting in his mews.  She pounced down to attack him, but was stopped short by the mesh roof.  He flew up to her in defense, but neither could get at eachother. I think she was planning on taking him out of the picture all together. Luckily, she was easily distracted and responded to a lure call from my H, losing interest in her next door neighbor. 

These birds are very territorial, and defend territories that range in size from 0.85 to 3.9 square kilometers, depending on the amount of food, perches, and nest sites in the territory. The female is usually the more aggressive partner around the nest itself, whereas the male more aggressively defends the territory boundaries. The birds will soar over their territory, mostly on clear days, looking for intruders.  – (Preston and Beane, 1993)

walking

Well, yesterday was the big “if you love something set it free moment” where you quickly find out if your hawk will fly the coop or will return to you for some glove love.

My husband went hunting with friends and their hawks and took Gracie along to free fly her for the first time.  They took turns hunting and waited until the end of the day to fly Gracie.  When it starts to get dark, there’s a better chance of retrieving your hawk as they don’t typically fly at night and even if she flew away, she probably wouldn’t go very far.

So, after 7-8 weeks of training, it was time to take the plunge.  At first, when encouraged to fly off of the glove, she held on.  The second time, she flew to the ground and then back to his glove.  The third time ‘s a charm and she finally realized that she could fly to a branch and did.  As the group walked into the woods, she watched them closely and began to follow my H, flying from tree to tree.  You could tell that she had her eye on him the whole time and this was a very good sign.  She flew through the trees, sometimes right by or above you (which is an amazing thing to behold) to perch on his glove, get a snack and then fly to the next tree.

The next step will be hunting with her and I’m excited to hear about their next adventure.

Gracie keeping her eye on my husband...

Gracie is about to fly to the glove

Gracie watching everyone walk through the woods

Looking for squirrels.

The end of a successful day

A perfect landing!

For the first time in more than 100 years, our southern state saw a white Christmas. We all went out to enjoy the snow and our Lab and Golden couldn’t get enough of it! Although their play may look ferocious, they adore eachother and just had some plain old fun romping in the snow!

The old "over-hand right-paw" trick

Play-fighting

The chase is on!

I've got the prize! Is anyone following me?

Where'd that darn red-head go? Oh well, on to other things...

A final walk in the snow before the sun goes down

The day after Christmas, we woke to beautiful, white snow all around.  It was time for some lure training and my hubs brought Gracie out to work with her some more:

Gracie flying to the glove for a treat

Glove love

Flying to the perch

What a wing span!

A perfect landing!

 My H said that Gracie was “mantling” over her prey (below).  This is supposed to be a good sign as it shows she really valued her reward from the lure.

Mmmmm, cold baby chick

During Gracie’s snow training our neighbors came out to watch and we enjoyed hanging out with them for a few minutes. Afterwards, we all went to our respective houses to warm icy fingers and toes. We ended the holidays with some homemade Chicken Parmesan with fresh basil, Green Bean Casserole, warm Ciabatta rolls and some hot chocolate – a perfect ending to a perfect weekend.