Gracie Sleeping

Our Red-tailed Hawk is evidently a very deep sleeper.  Watch this video as my husband opens the giant hood (her crate) and tries to wake her up – slowly and carefully.  He doesn’t want to startle her – there’s nothing worse than a grumpy hawk!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpdsmZwACRo&fs=1&hl=en_US

After much prodding and poking, she finally wakes up and then glares at me – I didn’t do anything, I’m just the camera person!
Walking with Hawk in Box in Hand

The scene:
27.9°
wind chill of 18°
gusts of 14 mph

As you may have heard, a cold, bitter blast of winter weather hit the south this morning. Despite the cold, it was still a beautiful day and my husband decided to head to the football field for some lure training. I tagged along to observe and snap a few photos.

According to my H, lure training is one of the final steps before free flying. As I see it, Gracie needs to view the lure as her new BFF. The way this is described in falconry terms, (which by the way, they have a different word for everything) is that she has to be “made to the lure.” Apparently, the way that you do this is to put them on a limited diet (no more Micecream Cones) and convince them that the lure (a piece of leather served with rodent tartare that gets flailed around in the air) is their next Happy Meal. Once the hawk is convinced that you are their epicurean savior, you’re ready to set sail to the high skies and roam the countryside for rascally rabbits or squirrely squirrels. Yep, right up Elmer Fudd’s alley.

There’s a little piece of chicken in the grass that she’s looking at in the foreground of the photo. I’m glad I’m not a piece of chicken.
Lure Training Gracie

The last flight to the gauntlet of the morning:
Lure Training Gracie

Hawk on a cold blustery day
Lure training on a cold blustery day

By the time the training session was over, I was an ice cube. My hands were like little stiff stalactites inside my gloves. When we got home, I took the dogs for a walk and they enjoyed the cold weather. I might have liked it better if I had a fur coat, too.

Play time's over - going home

P.S. As I write this, there’s a cold weather advisory for our town and surrounding areas. It’s snowing sideways and hot chocolate sounds really good right now.

reindeer-hat

If you have one of these hats, I apologize in advance for any offense to your sense of fun, style or Christmas spirit by this post.  This hat came into my possession recently and unexpectedly as a gift for my H to wear during the holidays. In addition to its obvious charm, it also plays, “Gramma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”  It gets even better.  While belting out this novelty Christmas song, the hat’s antlers wave back and forth in rhythm to its country roots.  It’s truly a sight to behold, especially for a hawk.

If you were a predator, would this look like a tasty snack?

Gracie (enter hawk), was sitting on her perch in the living room the other evening. A few hours went by, the lights were down low, it was getting late and my H and the hawk were having a face-off.  Neither quite trusted the other to completely let their defenses down.  However, as I mentioned, it was getting late. In the duel between man and beast, beast was about to win.

The hat was sitting quietly on the arm of the couch between husband and hawk. It just happened to be placed there at an earlier date and time, and was one of those objects that you get used to seeing and then forget that it’s even there.

My H, sitting on that very couch had his peripheral vision glued to the hawk. As time passed, the eyelids on those green lookers started to droop lower and lower and then finally closed in exhaustion. Seconds ticked by.  Seconds turned into minutes, minutes turned into… an opportunity.  Then, the strike happened. It seemed to came out of nowhere as Gracie went for the hat… or was it the husband?

Being a hunter by nature, Gracie obviously had the upper hand in the waiting game.  She knows when a good meal is at stake.  My H didn’t have a chance.  We still don’t know til this day whether she was going for the hat or for his head. If it wasn’t for the short line connecting those long legs and sharp talons to her perch…

We later wondered, “Was she offended by the garish nature of the Christmas gag or was she waiting for the right moment to commit the perfect crime and off her captor?”

I don’t think we’ll ever know.

Hawk 1, Husband 0.

Happy Holidays!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IO4PAhndFO8&fs=1&hl=en_US&color1=0x5d1719&color2=0xcd311b

Gracie Gets a Reward (The mouse is in her mouth)

She was at the 30 and…
… to the 40 to the 50 to the 40 to the 30 to 20.

I’m faking it – I really don’t know anything about football, but I do know that I was on a football field yesterday afternoon.  Ok, fine.  I wouldn’t even have known that unless my H hadn’t clearly said, “I’m taking Gracie to a football field.”

Of course, I was fascinated and repelled simultaneously.  Why a football field?  Sounds so… sporty.

Luckily, it had nothing to do with dueling squads of  human battering rams, vexatious announcers, mouth guards or sweaty tattoos.  That being the case, I willingly went along as a first time official outing photographer.

The local highschool football field was vacant.  It was a brisk 32° with a wind chill factor of about 21° – invigorating!   My H, pockets filled with mouse cadavers, set up the perch and creance (a thin line attached to the hawk) and I followed along, excited about the chance to capture a Gracie-in-action shot.  She flew about 5 times from the perch to my H’s gauntlet and reached up to 50 yards.  By the last time, she had begun to lose interest as she was getting full.  The entire exercise took about 20 minutes.

I was only able to get a few shots as my hands were freezing (and hawks fly a lot faster than you think):

Gracie in action - low flying along the 30 yard mark towards my H

Gracie flying 50 feet from creance to glove

Flying right towards us - what a sight!

PICT0411

Her reward (I really having nothing to say at this moment other than the macro feature on my camera works great)

Gracie with part of mouse in mouth

Eating her reward - you can still see the mouse before it completely disappeared in her mouth (I just vomited a little bit)

Gracie in Mews

This photo is just eye candy to make up for any visual violations in this post - I took it in the mews before we left

Well, it’s official. Until now, Gracie had been a bit of a mystery to our dogs and myself, but now it’s a whole new level of real.  Most of the time she’s been in a dimly lit room with my H, just he, she and ESPN spending some good quality bonding time together. We’ve had glimpses here and there, a few furtive photo ops and daylight sightings.  However, last night, my H set up a place in our living room just for Gracie.  It’s the next step in her training and socialization, getting familiar with new sights, situations and sounds. Her new special area is composed of a metal perch, AstroTurf, a tarp, towels, a dog gate and a sheet against the living room wall… a vision of loveliness :)

AstroTurf is used by falconers for their hawk's perches

Moving past the obvious decor issues, it was her first introduction to the entire family inside the house and it was a great success!  Our Lab and Golden obeyed perfectly as commanded and curiously lay on the carpet with eyes alert and quivering noses pointed directly towards her.  After a while, they abandoned any real hope of investigating this new visitor in our home and dozed off.

We all watched Boardwalk Empire with the volume down low and Gracie was perfectly at ease. She even rested comfortably on one leg, stretching it out every so often as if this was the norm. I think she’ll be disappointed that next week is the season finale.

My husband is teaching Gracie to fly from the perch to his gauntlet. He fed her a little mouse for breakfast, which she quickly Houdini’d and I was able to catch on film. This is the first chance I’ve had to take some candid photos of her in the daytime. The morning light was in my favor and I enjoyed the results as the hawk is so captivatingly beautiful. Here are a few of them…

Close-up Series

What a stare!

MMMouse

On the glove

Inquisitive look

Now, off to breakfast and needless to say, I won’t be having any Mickey Mouse pancakes!

Last night, Gracie flew from a perch on the floor, to my H’s gloved hand – almost 17 feet.  Great progress!  He gets up bright and early each morning to spend time with her, again at lunch and late into the evening.  It’s exciting to start to see the results of his efforts. It seems that this sport, like anything that you want to become good at, takes time, patience, commitment and consistency.

When I awoke this morning, I heard a hawk’s call loud and clear in our house.  But, as I ventured to the kitchen, it was a Youtube video playing for our two dogs.  They are becoming more accustomed to the eery, but beautiful sound.  They looked  at me for verification that everything was allright, I gave them the nod, and then they assumed their normal positions on the floor.

The hawk’s call is such a unique sound.  I read that often in movies, they mistakenly use the hawk’s cry for that of an eagle.

Here’s an informative bird site where you can listen to four types of calls that the Red-tailed hawk makes (scroll down a bit when the page opens):  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-tailed_Hawk/sounds

Received txt msg from H at 7:12 a.m.:
She got the carpet, slice.
If u have can u bring
carpet clnr? Pls LU

Since Gracie graced our home, I’ve only just peeked in the doorway of the “hawk” room, not wanting to startle her.  But this morning, my H invited me to come all the way in the room to see her.  I cautiously crept in, edging around the outside of the room, trying to make myself look as small as possible and then slid down along the wall to the floor.  Her wings and shoulders arched up hunchback-esque to make herself look badder than me… and she was.  I kept on telling myself, “Don’t look her in the eyes,”  but it was like trying to avoid Medusa.  Where’s Perseus when you need him?

After my drama moment passed and my peripheral vision began to work again, I started to relax.  It only seemed to take a moment or two for her to let down her guard as we all sat in silence together.  The rule is: she can stare, we can’t.  A silent truce had just been made.

As I began to look around the room, I noticed a few spots on the towels that covered the carpet (and the one that had missed). Could this be what I had heard so many rumors about?  Is it slice? I asked my H and he said it was, and began to educate me about the intricacies of hawk poo.  Let me convey my limited understanding to the curious reader:

To Slice (verb) is the act of pooing at an angle by a hawk.  The speed of the slice (sph) depends on the type of raptor (i.e. if it’s a Velociraptor, watch out).

Mute (noun) describes a falcon or hawks poo, particularly the more solid ones that fall down (again, watch out). 

Mute (verb) The act of pooing. (also means to be silent, which is probably what I should have been on this subject)

Chalk/Whitewash (noun) white pee-like substance. (gag)

I invite any whose knowledge and expertise surpasses mine (the bar is set really low here) to further elucidate my readers on this fascinating topic.

P.S.
My H hasn’t had to use our “safe” word yet (in case something goes terribly wrong), which is “meatloaf”
He forgot what it was yesterday and thought it was “watermelon” which would have been really bad, because I would have ran to the grocery store while he was being wing-slapped by a wild hawk.

As the next few weeks are a critical time of bonding and introducing Gracie to the world of man, my H spent almost the entire day with her.  She seems to be relaxing more and more in his presence, but she is still a wild animal.  He said it takes time and patience to create a mutual bond of trust and respect and he wants to expose her to new things in a careful and controlled manner.

P.S.
I’ve heard rumors about when they poo – it’s officially called slicing – ugh!
Ruining pie for me.
Happy to say that after day 1, the whole topic is still a mystery.
No visual violations occured.
Some things just can’t be unseen.

Husband and hawk survived their first evening together.  They sat in a darkened room with just a sliver of light to see eachother with.  She was perched on his arm for about 4 hours.  He fed her two little white mice that were at the end of a skewer and said it was a good sign that she was relaxed enough to eat near him and even better that she bent over a little to eat the other one. The mice are frozen and boiling water was added to warm them up (not my idea of a culinary delight).   Luckily, our cousin, and proud owner of the other new hawk (named Scout), came over to lend a hand with the icy denizens in our freezer.

P.S.
There are no prerequisites for being a falconer’s wife other than love, appreciation and support.
You don’t have to skewer dead mice unless you’re really into it.