Friday, October 30, 2009

New Box

I spent some time making a new Box for the birds. I had a triple box that fit in the back of my pick-up, but the wood I used did not handle the elements well and began to come apart. I also wanted a box that could be moved around if needed.

This one is bigger than boxes I have built in the past. I like it, but I don't know that the added weight is worth the increase in size.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Early season hunting

The weather and my health have not been cooperating, but I was able to get out this week and see if Tess was in the mood to hunt. Gonzo's weight is almost there, and his behavior is evening out tremendously. Before I get him in the field, I need to change his jesses and anklets.

I decided to take Tess to a spot where I know there are squirrels, but not tons, and the ground cover is pretty sparse. Being so early in the season means hard walking in a lot of my hunting spots.

Her weight was right where I wanted it, 945 grams, and she was ready to go. I tossed her up into the tree and started walking into the trees.

This time of year, the woods are still thick and green and lush. Visibility is poor and I really didn't anticipate seeing a whole lot of game with the amount of cover that there was. So really, all I expected today was a hawk walk. This time of year is tough. There are still bugs, and ticks, and I hate the spider webs breaking across your face.

I also cant stand the poison ivy. It is thick and prolific. Another little bonus to avoid.

I called Tess down to the fist, just to check her recall, and she slammed it hard as soon as the whistle sounded. Fantastic. I tossed her back up and kept walking. I pulled vines and beat on trees, trying to get something to move while Tess followed from branch to branch. It was hot, low seventies, and I started to sweat fairly quickly and I wasn't even trying yet.

Then Tess darted from the branch, angling down low, into the underbrush. Squirrel on the ground? maybe, I never saw it, more likely a rabbit in that undergrowth. She pulled up, landed briefly, then plummeted towards the ground again, disappearing from sight.

I ran to follow and soon found Tess sitting in a low branch, peering over my shoulder. Then she took off again, angling around a trunk and disappearing between the leaves. I bounded to follow, realizing that I had played no part in this hunt and it was all Tess. Though, in hindsight, it is nice that after an entire summer of inactivity she knew exactly what we were here for.

I found her on the ground, mantling over whatever it was. It definitely wasn't a rabbit, too small. I moved one of her wings aside and reached down into her talons.

It was a squirrel, just a baby. It couldn't have been long out of the nest. Crap.
First kill, nonetheless.

She traded off impeccably with a mouse and I put the little critter in my bag. I hung the tail next to the last season's tails.

I need to take those down and start a new board for this year, but here is to number one, small as it is.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Off Topic


If you read earlier about using excess rabbit as fuel, you will realize that this post falls right in along the same lines. Now I am no scientist, but I appreciate true genius when I read about it. How can we power the future (If we aren't using bunnies)?

Using hydrogen to power cars has become an increasingly attractive transportation fuel, as the only emission produced is water - but a major stumbling block is the lack of a cheap, renewable source of the fuel. Gerardine Botte of Ohio University may now have found the answer, using an electrolytic approach to produce hydrogen from urine—the most abundant waste on Earth—at a fraction of the cost of producing hydrogen from water.

Gotta admit - genius! (Read more!)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

New ride for the birds

I didn't mean to buy a new car. It just happened. After the getting stuck and having to be pushed out on the beach during peregrine trapping, I'm excited about the new ride.

The grand plan

Well, the grand scheme to go hunting this weekend did not come to fruition. Dagnabbit. The cold front that came through the beginning of the week didn't last, and by Wednesday the daytime temps were in the 80's again. The hawk's weight stagnated.

I did get them out this weekend, and Tess would have been ready to go. I flew her on the creance a few times and her recall was impeccable, even at a higher weight than I flew her last year. Butwith the wind blowing, and her weight a bit high still, I didn't want to take the chance yet. a few more grams of weight loss for good measure and we'll be there.

On the flip side, gonzo was still 40 grams high, and losing weight very slowly. I tried him on the creance, but he is still pretty squirrely. He would wait and look around when I blew the whistle, then he would fly to the fist, only to rake off at the last second. I would lower him to the ground with the creance, and then he would skip to me across the yard.

He needs to drop the rest of that weight, but I think, if the 25 mph wind dies down, Tess is ready to roll anytime.

Passage Red Tails

A few weeks ago I wrote about passage red tails. They are the best of birds and there are many falconers who will never be without one in their mews.

I would like to offer congratulations to Steve over at As the Falcon, Her Bells for his newly trapped bird.

Notice the lack of red on the tail and the bright white chest.
She is a beauty.

Monday, October 19, 2009


I am stealing this lock, stock, and barrel from terrierman, just because it is so stinking cool!

I don't have the video so check it out at the link.

Parahawking involves skydiving while specially-trained birds of prey swarm around you, including vultures, eagles, and falcons. Parahawking is available in Nepal courtesy of a bird rescue group called Himalayan Raptor Rescue.

"Our birds need to be rewarded for guiding us into the thermals. During the flight the passenger will place small morsels of meat onto his gloved hand, the birds will come and gently land on the hand to take the food, and then gracefully fly away to find the next thermal. A perfect symbiotic relationship."

Right. And if you are going, for God's sake take me with you!

Dropping weight

It has finally cooled off a bit here in NC. At least enough that I had to wear a jacket to work today. It is about the time that passage Red tails start their migration south in any numbers, and the trapping of them begins in earnest. It is also the time when I expect my hawks to be at a good hunting weight.

In the summer the birds are put up to molt (grow their new feathers). I feed them too much and they get fat and belligerent in their summer quarters, But now I am ready for them to be ready to hunt. This is not starvation! This is getting the birds down to fighting weight, like a runner, or a boxer.

To drop a birds weight, the obvious thing is to just stop feeding them, but that doesn't work. Raptors are built to go for long periods with little food. If a hawk stops eating, their metabolism simply slows down and they don't lose any weight. The best thing to do is to feed them a bit less every day. This keeps their system revving on the food they are getting, but at the same time you are cutting the birds caloric intake.

It is vital that you keep a close eye on their weight. In bigger birds, that means weighing them at least daily. In the smaller raptors, they may need to be weighed multiple times a day. Calories are then adjusted and the math is done to figure out the amount of weight lost over a set period of time and how much food needs to be fed.

My birds are still losing their summer weight, slowly. It will warm up this week, but I hope to have Tess where she needs to be this weekend. Gonzo may take a bit longer, but either way, I am hoping to have the birds first kill of the season under my belt by the end of October.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Are they pets?

A question I often get from people about my birds is whether or not they are a pet. Now, that is actually a more complicated question than it sounds. Yes, and no.

While the birds do live at my house, and I do care for them like I would a pet, most hawks will never reciprocate any love or appreciation. They are there for the food, pure and simple. Most raptors will stay with you as long as they see the benefit to themselves; you are feeding them, or flushing prey. Once they are fat and happy, they may fly for the horizen.

Harris hawks are a bit different though.

Harris hawks actually hunt in packs and can form social bonds similar to the way that wolves work. They are considered "social animals". So, harris hawks don't fit the traditional mold.

An article from "falconry Today" explains it further.

Emily Fisher has a past-time more specialized that most.

She is into falconry, hand raising wild birds of prey, with a close relationship typical of a domestic pet, but with none of the cuddling.

“A raptor is not a cuddly pet, or a cool exotic thing to carry around. Without proper stimulation and activity they can be dangerous,” she says. “Also keep in mind they are strict carnivores, they eat raw meat, and they are hunters. If you can’t deal with killing prey and that side of it, falconry is not for you.” Her birds typically eat rabbits, ducks, or squirrels.

If you want a bird to be cool, or you think they are pretty, those reason's are not good enough. Raptors are not pets to be kept, they are predators that need to be hunted. If you have considered keeping a bird of you own, but don't want to hunt, stay away from falconry birds. Maybe a parrot would be better.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

2 out of 3 ain't bad

I have spent the last week (plus) mostly in a blind on the dunes of the North Carolina coast. The weather fluctuated mostly from bad to worse. Not because it was miserable, but more because the winds were not conducive to birds moving on their migratory routes. The main goal, of course, were peregrines. Secondary, we were after merlins.

As you already know, Andrew got his bird early in the week, and then he was in and out of the trap site for a few days, but soon he had to go out of town on business. That left Elizabeth from Pennsylvania, and Jim.

Jim had to leave early, and never got his falcon. We are hoping that he is not done. But then all that was left was Elizabeth, up on the dunes, watching the clouds scuttle across the sky, and the larks winging their way south.

But she caught nothing, all week long. She sat in the blind, working the pigeon bait, and waited.


We had more trappers come in this last weekend to help. Arnaud came back, and my sponsor Chris. And we joined her on the dunes. We did see lots of birds. We trapped a sharp shin, and had falcons and merlins buzzing our nets, but nothing got caught.

I had to leave and do my education thing. Saturday was winding down, Elizabeth had to return to PA on Sunday. Time was running out.

Then a peregrine came into the pigeon, popped over top of the net, and slammed it from above. It worked its talons in the pigeons back, staring around balefully. What to do, what to do.

Arnaud snuck out from the blind, covering his movements behind a bush. Then he charged, crashing through the foliage, scaring the bejeepers out of the peregrine. It jumped off the pigeon and burst into the air, into the net.

And was caught.

and there were two.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What to do with extra rabbits

This is classic. It solves multiple problems at the same time. Thinking outside the box and all of that. Use the rabbits for fuel.

The Swedes, those latter-day descendants of bloodthirsty Vikings, have found a new use for rabbits: heating fuel. According to Der Spiegel, stray rabbits in Stockholm are being shot, frozen and then shipped to a heating plant to be incinerated.

In the Swedes' defense, the bunnies are a menace; a plague of wild and stray pet rabbits is devouring the city's parks. Some 3,000 have been killed thus far this year, down from 6,000 last year, Tommy Tuvunger, a professional hunter who works for the city, told the German news magazine.

Wow, read the rest here.


As outdoors men and women, one of the best things we can do is to educate the next generation about the world that they will be inheriting. It has been a ridiculously busy last couple of weeks and I have been burning my candle at both ends.

Every year I volunteer at a local festival where they ask me to come and speak about the history of falconry as well as how the sport is practiced today. I get to talk about hawks in general, and i get to hear everyone's stories about the birds that they have known.

And kids love the birds. I like the fact that they seem to intuitively understand the predator prey relationships, and they know that these birds have to kill to live.

Even though I am exhausted, this is time well spent.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Beach Trapping

We started off on Saturday afternoon. It was Andrew, Arnaud, and myself, the rest of the trappers would be in and out throughout the week. The sun was high as we motored our way across the sand to the trap site.

We wandered the dunes looking for good high spots and good background cover to hide the nets.

The area was desolate and high. Grape vines and sea grass covered the dunes and would act as a good backdrop. There were literally dozens of acceptable sites but we decided on two spots where we could set up the nets. You could see all the way across this spit of land, ocean to sound. It should be a good funnel for the birds.

Unfortunately, the weather would be working against us for the next couple of days. The wind was from the South, or the West, and migrating birds were few.

Our spot was good, the equipment all worked well, but we would be fighting the weather and that was one variable over which we had no control. I didn't have much hope until the wind changed. That wouldn't happen until later in the week.

As we chose the best spot, a peregrine cruised by, low and slow, close enough that we could hit it with a rock. We needed to hurry up.

We got set up and sat in the blinds watching the sky, pulling on the string that would make the bait flutter. Nothing.

We spent the rest of Saturday in the blind seeing nothing. Then with very little rest, we would come out before first light, and then stay until after dark. We didn't see many birds. We were becoming discouraged with the air heating up inside and Andrew's head lolling on his neck from lack of sleep.

At the end of the second day, the guys from Rocky Mount showed up.
We set up another blind, but no more nets. The day was quickly ending, and we were all discouraged.

We had seen a few merlins, and a peregrine had flown by without showing any interest. It seemed like this day was going to be another bust.

When a Peregrine took interest in one of the bait birds. She started circling Arnaud's net. We were communicating between blinds by cell phone, whispering urgently. The bird drifted back over my nets. I pulled the bait string urgently, then I got a call from Arnaud.

"It's over our blind!" I whispered urgently. " It's right here."
"No, It's in my hands."
"No, it's coming into the net right now."

And there it was. The first legally trapped peregrine in 37 years had been caught and was cradled in the hands of her new partner, Andrew. His fingers shook as he and Arnaud extracted the bird from the net and jessed her up.

She was a tad on the thin side, but otherwise feather perfect.

I admit to that envy struck me hard. But with this bird, and Andrew's young Weimaraner,
and of course Tess and Gonzo, it should be an exciting season.

She really is a gorgeous bird.

Two more peregrines to go, and maybe a merlin for myself and Arnaud.
I won't be trapping for a few more days, but I'll keep you posted on the results.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Stories to come

Long, long weekend. There will be stories.

Congratulations Andrew!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

dinosaurs and birds, closer than we think.

New evidence has been unearthed that makes the arguments that birds and dinosaurs are closely linked seem more likely.
Non-avian dinosaurs are long extinct, but paleontological thinking about them, especially the dino–bird specimens, clearly continues to evolve long after they are discovered. For instance, the Anchiornis huxleyi, a small, feathered dinosaur, was described last December and assumed to be a transitional species that existed between dinosaurs and birds. But new evidence—and a much better specimen—has revealed that this ambiguous animal actually belongs to the dinosaur clan.

Read the rest at 60 Second Science.


The first peregrines on the east coast have already been trapped so we won't be the first. We set up or site this morning, getting it all ready.

Things will be quiet around here, as we attempt to trap peregrines and merlins. It will be exciting and I'll post pictures as soon as I get back.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Interesting tidbits

I haven't posted much in the last week, but there are a few things out there that have been happening in the blogs and posts that I read. Here are just a few.

From Falconry Today, great news about their growing peregrine population.
Peregrine falcons in New Hampshire produced 29 young this year, more than in any other breeding season during the past half-century.

Terrierman has been on a roll, with posts coming fast and furious. One in particular that caught my eye was some video of birds that use tools to hunt for their dinner. Interesting to watch.

Isaac, over at Another Falconry Blog has been having a blast with his new kestrel. No big game yet, but lots of fun nonetheless. He'll be bringing down elk in no time.
Today we got our first kills!!

Yup, we took multiples our first time out. 6 or 7 in fact (I kinda lost count). Admittedly some were blatant muggings but he did take a couple right out of the air!

Then some cool environmental news from down Louisiana way. Move over fossil fuels, we have grass!

More electricity is already coming from solar and wind sources, so why not from switchgrass?

NRG Energy, a wholesale power generation company that operates in the United States, Australia and Germany, is experimenting with that possibility.

Hat tip to Cool Green Science. Read the rest of the article here.

Passage Red Tails

Trapping season is well underway for most falconers. Fall is the time to get out and look for that next best hawk. Sure, some will purchase a new bird from a breeding facility, but there are still plenty of die-hards out there who prefer to trap and train their own bird.

For many, that bird will be a passage red tailed hawk. If you are new to falconry, passage refers to a first year bird that is making its very first migration (or passage).

By law, falconers can only trap a first year bird for falconry. Often people ask why someone would want to take a bird out of the wild. Well the reasons are many, but most would agree that birds out of the wild often seem to make better, more aggressive hunters. They have been out there and they know how to use their eyes and their wings to catch prey.

The falconer works with the bird for a few years, (saving it from that 90% mortality rate over the first five years)then the bird is often released back into the wild, better off than it would have been if it had never been hunted.

Another question I often get is how do I know it is a young bird. They are full grown after all, and don't they all pretty much look alike?

Well, no. In many birds of prey, their feathers change after their first year. Sometimes it is something subtle, like increased flecking, or narrower bands on the tail, but with red tail hawks the difference is significant.

Notice the tail..... It's not red. That is how you know it is a young bird.

Also, from a distance, you can look for the bright white chest. In older birds, the chest has a creamier, rosy color to it.

So keep your eyes open. You often will see these birds sitting on power lines, or poles. You see them on prominent snags of dead trees.

See if you can tell. Is that a passage bird, or an older bird (a haggard).