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.

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.

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.

Big Eared Bat

Ahh, the joys of country life…

Nature
Fresh mountain air
Starry nights
Old barns
and… bats?

My H was telling me of his progress with Gracie tonight in the barn. As a passing comment, he mentioned that there may have been a bat in the attic with them. It sounds like a simple, straight forward statement, but why did it seem like there should be more to it? How could it be that uncomplicated? Where’s the bat drama? Do I have to tell it like I see it? Ok.

Big Eared Bat

Big Eared Bat (public domain image)

Imagine a pitch black, Blair Witch-type foggy night with the creepy sound of coyotes yipping in the distance. You and your hawk are alone in the attic of an old barn. Training is the main purpose for your evening activities, but all of a sudden, you hear a whirling sound around your head and it’s getting closer and closer with each pass. WTF? Although the hawk on your glove is a force to be reckoned with, I still think I’d still be a little trepeditious (yes, it is a word, see The Grammarphobia Blog) about your collective efforts to slay the winged rat (sorry bat lovers). One: even though you and your Red-tail have basically been hand-in-claw for the last two weeks, it’s not like she’s your BFF. Two: an exit strategy seems like a better use of the potentially short time you have left.

What’s wrong with an innocent little bat just trying to make a decent living? Well, rabies, histoplasmosis, mites, ticks, fleas, sharp little teeth and guano, to name seven. However, as I write this, I feel that I’m being a little unfair to the flying mammal classified in the order of Chiroptera. Shouldn’t they have qualities worthy of redemption just like everyone else? Is it really their fault that Bram Stoker sold them out and capitalized on their unfortunate creep-factor?

Obviously, not being an expert, I can’t answer those questions. However, I’ll leave my dear readers with a few batcrumbs and you can form your own opinions:

And, lastly

  • Bat Word origin & history (which will be of particular interest to falconers): “to move the eyelids,” 1847, Amer.Eng., from earlier sense of “flutter as a hawk” (1610s), a variant of bate (2) on the notion of fluttering wings. Dictionary.com
  • Chiroptophobia is the fear of bats

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!

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.