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.

nametag

The Outdoor Blogger Network has put forth a challenge via their “Writer’s Prompt” to share with the blogosphere why we have so named our blogs.

Although the name of this blog may seem self explanatory, I thought I’d still share its humble origins.

When I learned of my husband’s interest in falconry, I thought it would be enlightening and helpful to other falconers if we created a blog about his exploits and adventures in this amazing sport.  As the moment grew closer to trapping his first bird, we realized that he was going to have to invest a significant amount of time and effort”manning” and training a new hawk, leaving him little time for laptop musings.  We then thought maybe he could use a blog to keep track of his progress (i.e. weight, amount fed, milestones reached, etc.) and many falconers use a blog for this purpose.  But then, the “day before” arrived, my H was ready for his first adventure and everything changed…

Twas the night before trapping, and all through the house
All of rodents were stirring:  4 gerbils and one sad mouse
The alarm was set, gauntlets ready and lunch made
Tomorrow was the day when the trap would be laid

I had so much fun listening (and visualizing his stories in my mind), that we made a last minute change and at the midnight hour, I became nominated as the official blogger for our family.

Voila, The Falconer’s Wife was born.

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)

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.

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!

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.