Friday, November 26, 2010
The Squirrel Hawk
I never intended for Gonzo to hunt squirrels. He was going to be a car hawking bird, then a rabbit bird. But that didn't work out.
I kept having to chase after Gonzo as he would wander from the field edges into the forest after squirrels. I eventually gave up trying to stop him and instead I got him a girl friend to help out.
This first female came from a varied history, but most of her time was spent with a rabbit hawker in another state. When I got her she was already eleven years old and pretty set in her ways.
She was always looking down.
You can't hunt squirrels when you are always looking down.
So I hunted her on squirrels solo for a while. She was perching too low, and never saw the squirrels as soon as they were over her head. I had to come up with something better.
I hunted hills. I would start on the side of a steep hill and throw the bird into the tops of the trees down in the valley, then I would slide down the hillside and start shaking trees and tugging vines. The hawk had good height so her vantage point was great, now I needed her to start spotting squirrels.
If you spend enough time in good squirrel habitat, it will happen.
Squirrels forage on the ground. The hawks will spot them there. The trick is to get them seeing the squirrel moving up the side of a tree. So I had to hunt in areas with little ground cover, that way the squirrel can't hide in the brush. The squirrels have to run up the tree.
There is usually no need to beat at the ground cover. Squirrels will naturally move to the tree tops when a large predator is bumbling through the underbrush. Also, we don't want to reinforce rabbits here. Pull on vines, shake saplings. I want squirrels to move in the trees. When it gets colder (below 45 or so) especially pull vines going up to squirrel nests (dreys).
When you see the squirrel, get to the tree quickly and beat on the side of it while giving the game call. Even if the bird did not see the squirrel, he should come over to investigate. With enough exposure, the hawk should start laddering up the trees and finding those greys.
This harris finally figured it out. Her first solo kill came after only three hunts. After her second, I had her hunt with Gonzo and they became a pretty good team.
We tried another trick with Andrew's red tail who reluctant to look up. After a few weeks in the field, the bird just didn't seem to be seeing the squirrels, though we were in target rich environments.
We ran a line from the brush on the ground, across open space, up a tree and onto a branch about ten feet off the ground.
Remember the key here is to get the hawk to see the squirrel go up a tree. We tied a freshly killed squirrel to the end of the line and called the hawk over to a nearby tree, so that he could observe the squirrel from a distance. Andrew gave the game call - hohoho - and I pulled on the string. I had to get the squirrel across open ground quickly, so the bird would not nail him on the ground.
It worked like a charm, the squirrel made it halfway up the trunk and the red tail moved over to the right tree. He lost the squirrel for a bit, but we kept twitching it with the string, and eventually the hawk grabbed it off the branch.
I have never had a red tail (or a harris) that did not take to squirrels. I prefer male red tails on grey squirrels ( I don't hunt fox squirrels). Yes, their feet are smaller, but they are also more acrobatic flying through the trees. They gain height more easily, they chase better. That being said - females have better feet for the job, and they can catch them, their hunting style is different. I would prefer a smaller female - though there are plenty of hawkers that would disagree
They need to get out in good habitat. They need to see squirrels, and soon - you the rabbit hawker - will be hooked.