Thursday, October 1, 2009

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).


Wayne Buckhanan said...

Hi Doug.

Stumbled across your site today after a friend in India posted a picture of a raptor in his back yard.

I have a budding interest in falconry and have some red-tails that circle our fields here in the Midwest.

From what you explained in the post and with my beginner's eyes I'd say that was a passage bird because of the brighter white chest.

Thanks for sharing, I'm looking forward to learning more!

-- Wayne

Doug said...

Glad to have you stopping by. Let me know if you have any questions.