My Latest Endeavor...

Quadro

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Its taken a long time to jump through all the government hoops and other obstacles, but I am finally realizing my dream of becoming a licensed Falconer. I'm only just beginning my journey, after 20 years of dabbling, but here I go...

I will post lots of pics and keep this thread ongoing, and I invite all discussion about keeping wild animals, hunting, and of course the awesomeness of raptors in general. I find that many people (myself included) are ignorant of what is really going on, and how beneficial to the species falconry is. For example, the Peregrine Falcon was saved from extinction by falconers and falconry, in spite of the dismal failure on the part of government programs to save it. Falconry is VERY different than pet keeping, and it has great benefit for the birds involved who hatch wild and are eventually returned to the wild healthier and better skilled at hunting.

I am now a licensed Apprentice Falconer. I will spend a minimum of two full years as an apprentice working closely under the direct supervision of my sponsor who is a Master Falconer and has been for 10 years. After 2 years, if all goes well, and my sponsor is willing to sign off on my abilities, I will become a General Falconer and be allowed to "fly solo" so to speak.

Enough with the boring words: Here is "Toothless" at our first formal meeting.
View attachment 163624
I almost named him "Phoenix" after I saw this picture. Its kind of a big deal to not stare them in the face at close range at first, so I did not know he was looking at me like that. I'm sure if he could have shot fire from his mouth at me, he would have. My sponsor is not 100% sure if this one is male or female. You can usually tell by the weight. This is either a big boy or a small girl as the weight is right in the middle. We will get some behavioral clues as time passes, but we are leaning male at this point. Toothless is a "passage" (meaning this years baby, or worded another way, he hatched this last spring) red-tailed hawk. Buteo jamaicensis.


Here he is on the drive home:
View attachment 163626
The hood blocks all the visual stimulation and keeps them a lot calmer and safer during this stressful time. Understand that this 9 month old bird was flying wild minutes before this picture and has never had any previous human contact.

Here he is on his weathering perch on day one, while I prepared the scale for his first weighing and got his mew (hawk house) all ready for him.
View attachment 163628


Here we are on day 2 when the old finally came off. This is what I was greeted with.
View attachment 163629


We are now on day 5. He began taking food from me on day 2 and I "man" him (handle him on my glove) for several hours a day as part of the desensitization process. I weigh him at least once a day and I am even more fascinated that I imagined I would be. My sponsor assures me he will be free flying and hunting with me in a month or so.

Lots more pics to come. Please ask any questions you might have about falconry or raptors in general. I'm no expert yet, but I know a few things, and I know lots of guys that can answer any questions I don't know the answers to.
This is awesome!!! Congratulations!! I just went out with some friends several weekends ago one being a falconer they were flying a Harris Hawk next they are getting a kestrel I believe.
 

Tom

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Goals. Mine have shifted this year as the months have passed. Initially, I just wanted to successfully train these two birds to do the falconry basics: Hunt, return to me, follow along, ride the perch, etc... That all came pretty quickly and easily. Like many young inexperienced birds, they weren't very skilled or successful at first, so my goal shifted to helping them to succeed more of the time when they tried to catch their prey. That didn't take too long either. Next I shifted to the goals I've had for most of this season: Enjoy the heck out of these birds and what they can do, and hunt them as many days as possible, so they could feed themselves instead of me feeding birds in a cage. Midway through the season, I also had a goal to get them to take jack rabbits, and that happened in time too. One more and we'll have 20 for the season.

The other day a buddy of mine asked me what my tally for the season was so far. I keep detailed notes on their weights and performance, but I hadn't been counting the catches. I didn't really care what the tally was. I cared how well my birds were performing and how much fun I was having spending time with them in the field and learning. Well, I counted. It was in the 80s. This has given me a new goal. I've been thinking about, and trying to decide, when I should stop hunting for the season. Legally we can hunt cottontails until March 31st, but by then there are babies and pregnant momma bunnies running around. We don't want to hunt or kill either of those, so we all stop hunting prior to that. Some of my fields have a noticeably reduced number of rabbits and I've stopped hunting there entirely. Other fields have a terrible over abundance, and I'm still trying to reduce those numbers before spring is upon us. My new goal is 100. I'm at 93 right now, so a few more days of hunting should get me to triple digits. Keep in mind that these were taken all over Southern CA in dozens of different fields. I've made sure to spread the love, and not hunt too much in any one place. I don't see any other falconers hitting most of my preferred fields, so once I'm done, the rabbit populations can breed and re-populate there until fall.

IMG_1229.JPG
 

Tom

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This is awesome!!! Congratulations!! I just went out with some friends several weekends ago one being a falconer they were flying a Harris Hawk next they are getting a kestrel I believe.
I want a kestrel too. They are wonderful little birds. I'm going to hunt grasshoppers and introduced English house sparrows with it.
 

Quadro

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I want a kestrel too. They are wonderful little birds. I'm going to hunt grasshoppers and introduced English house sparrows with it.
Yeah I think they were trying to get theirs on starlings lol they are going to a falconers convention somewhere in SC this weekend which I bet would be cool to see 😊
 

Moozillion

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I frequently explain that falconry is an adventure. You never know what is going to happen. Each day you turn the birds loose, it might be the last time you see them alive, or, amazing things might happen right in front of your eyes. Many tragic things can befall these awesome birds. They die in more ways than I can list. Life in a cage might, arguably, be a little safer, but that is really no life at all for a raptor. They need to FLY and they need to HUNT. Anything less is an injustice. Hunting is risky. Life is risky. What follows is our adventure on Sunday, the day I talked about at the end of my last post.

It was too windy in my usual areas, so I drove all the way up to Bakersfield. Its a little over an hour from my house. I got the birds out and started walking the field. All was good and they were having some good flights with near misses. Rick was on the perch and Morty took off in the direction behind me and to the left. I watched him dive to the earth and disappear from view. This is pretty normal. They aren't very tall and even low brush hides them pretty well. If they connect, you hear the rabbit screaming and you know to run over and help them. If they don't connect, they usually pop back up and return to me within a few seconds to rejoin the hunt. Sometimes, when a rabbit makes it to its hole, they will poke their head down the hole and see if they can find it. After 10-20 seconds, they wise up and start looking for me. So there I stood waiting... and waiting... and waiting... After about a minute, I know something is wrong and I start walking to where I last saw Morty with some urgency in my step. No screaming, and also no return to me. This isn't normal. Its always one or the other.

As I walk in that direction, I can start to see that there is a big depression in the ground. A big "bowl" if you will:
View attachment 286141

As I get closer, I can see its some sort of drainage area:
View attachment 286142

I couldn't even see that there was anything but level ground from a distance. As I get closer, I'm scanning the whole area for any sign of Morty. Nothing.
View attachment 286143

Not a sound, and no visual. I'm 100% certain of where he went down because I was looking right at him. That's when I saw it. The big culvert pipe.
View attachment 286144
"Oh sh*t!" "No f'in way........" The foul language started flowing from my otherwise angelic mouth...
I pulled out my handy dandy flashlight that I always carry in the field with me but have never needed in 6 years of falconry, and sure enough, there was Mort eating his rabbit. And not near the entrance where I could reach him, but a good 20 feet in. The pipe was about 14"-16" and I couldn't have squeezed in there when I was a little kid, but plenty of room for a hawk and a rabbit.
View attachment 286145

Since he was in there having a meal all to himself, there was no calling him out. He ignored the lure, a treat in my glove, me begging... etc... There was only one thing to do. Wait. Eventually he'd fill up and then, hopefully, go toward the light. Surprisingly, it only took him about 20 minutes and then he happily came hopping out and looked at me like, "Hey. What's up?" He nonchalantly hopped up on my glove and enjoyed a leisurely walk back to the car with the fullest crop he's ever had. That was enough "adventure" for one day, so we drove home after that.

I had no idea that pipe was even there. Couldn't see anything from the rest of the field. Luckily, there wasn't anything else down there and the day ended without tragedy. I suppose you could say it was a successful day of hunting. We did catch a rabbit, and that was the goal for the day...
OH, my GOSH!!!! That's just kind of freaky!!!
So, the rabbit ALMOST made it into the culvert, but Morty was in full dive and the force of his dive carried both him and the rabbit down into the culvert? Is that how that happened???
 

Tom

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OH, my GOSH!!!! That's just kind of freaky!!!
So, the rabbit ALMOST made it into the culvert, but Morty was in full dive and the force of his dive carried both him and the rabbit down into the culvert? Is that how that happened???
I didn't see it. I just saw the dive from a distance and then he disappeared below ground level. It was either what you proposed, or he followed it down there and grabbed it underground. Since this episode, Mr. Morty has become a regular spelunker. He now explores every "cave" and underground passage he can get to in the hopes of catching a tasty meal.

We DID manage to catch Jack #20 a couple of days ago. And above ground too!
IMG_1275.JPG
 

Tom

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We made it to 100 rabbits as of this morning. Goal attained! 🦅🐰🦅

One of the things we learn as apprentice falconers is to write down notes on everything. I've been taking notes and tracking their weights and other details all season long. Just for my own edification, and also to have them recorded somewhere other than my paper note pad, I'll relate some of those statistics here.

  • Cottontail season here in CA starts on October 1st and ends March 31st.
  • Its open season on jackrabbits all year.
  • Most of us hunt from October to mid Feb. The reason we quit early is to give the birds a break and let them molt, and also to let the rabbits start their springtime breeding season with less pressure from additional predators. We want the rabbit populations to recover and grow for the next year. We also don't want our birds to catch pregnant momma rabbits or babies. That is not sporting, and its is heavily frowned upon in the falconry community. The challenge is to hunt fit, healthy, adult rabbits in their prime. I stopped going to most of my fields mid January, and I've only been hitting the few fields that are still grossly over populated. My hope has been to knock down the population in these few over crowded fields to a more sustainable level. Not sure I did enough as there are still tons of rabbits running around in a few of them. Time will tell. Also, the birds need a chance to molt with less risk of breaking new and incoming feathers.
  • I obtained the birds on 8/8/2019, and began the long process of training them immediately.
  • Their first jump to my fist from a close distance happened on 8/13. This is a HUGE step in the training process.
  • Their first day hunting in the field was 8/26.
  • Their first day hunting together as a team was 8/29. There was some minor squabbling that stopped within minutes. As soon as rabbits started running, they stopped thinking about each other. In just these first few days, they figured out what we were doing and why we were in those fields.
  • I began free-lofting them on 8/30. This means they were allowed to fly free in their mews, instead of being tethered to a bow perch. This is a debatable subject among falconers.
  • They made their very first catch of a wild rabbit all on their own on 9/11.
  • We had a dry spell until 9/25 when they caught two in one day.
  • Vaccinated for West Nile Virus on 9/26.
  • In their first month of hunting and learning how this whole thing works, they caught a total of three rabbits.
  • They caught their first jackrabbit on 10/2.
  • In their second month of hunting, they caught a total of 13 rabbits.
  • In their third month of hunting, they caught 16 rabbits.
  • In their fourth month, 16.
  • Fifth month, only 10 rabbits, because I injured my leg and couldn't hunt for about two weeks.
  • Sixth month, 36 cute and fuzzy bunnies.
  • Today is the first day of month 7, and we caught 3.
  • If 8/26 was their first day of hunting, we've hunted 109 out of 186 days to date. The days we didn't hunt were due to weather, work, or my injuries.
  • On an average day, I walk 3.1 miles in search of prey for them to hunt, for a total of 337.9 miles for the season so far.
  • In addition to the rabbits, we've had a few incidental catches that were not intended. Each bird caught two ground squirrels. This is to be strongly discouraged, as ground squirrels are extremely tough, vicious and dangerous animals. One good bite and your bird is crippled for life. Luckily, they learned to not go after these little monsters after two instances of being stripped of their catch with no reward. Morty had a day when he decided lizards were food to be hunted. He actually caught one which I promptly took from him with no reward. He stopped trying for lizards after that. The two of them ambushed a very surprised quail on one occasion. Good thing I paid for the upland game stamp this year! We went hunting one evening a couple of months ago, and they both decided to grab a dirty oily rag that was sitting still on the ground. It was weird and I have no explanation for that one. I had to take it from them and hide it in the bushes. Early in the season they found a doll head (no body...) and it took them a few minutes to let that go and realize it wasn't edible. Luckily, we didn't see any snakes of any species in the field this year.

All in all, its been a fantastic hunting season. Better than I even imagined it could be. We've had all sorts of amazing adventures and a few mis-adventures too. Both birds turned into amazing, well-trained, efficient hunters. Both threw themselves into their new life with full force. Morty has taken a beating to his cere and eyebrows, and he's damaged a few leg scales too. The off season will allow him time to heal up. Morty has somehow avoided damaging himself for the most part. A few minor scrapes and bruises, but nothing major or noticeable. Het let Rick do all the "heavy lifting" with the jacks, and he'd come in with the assist when things had calmed a bit after the initial grab.

We'll finish out the week, and then call an end to the 2019/2020 hunting season.
 

Tom

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So you will keep Rick and Morty and hunt with them next season? Or do they get released and you catch new ones? How is that decided?
Rick and Morty are captive bred. I got them from a breeder and they were chamber raised by their parents until about 4 months old. They wear little bird bands, and they can never be released to the wild. I'll keep them as long as they live, or I would have to transfer them to another licensed falconer if I couldn't keep them for some reason.
 

Moozillion

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I didn't see it. I just saw the dive from a distance and then he disappeared below ground level. It was either what you proposed, or he followed it down there and grabbed it underground. Since this episode, Mr. Morty has become a regular spelunker. He now explores every "cave" and underground passage he can get to in the hopes of catching a tasty meal.

We DID manage to catch Jack #20 a couple of days ago. And above ground too!
View attachment 286992
That is just ASTONISHING!!!! :eek:
I NEVER DREAMED that a hunting bird would go UNDERGROUND for any reason!!!!:D:D:D:D
 

bouaboua

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WOW! ~ Learn something here everyday. :)
 

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@Tom i just found this thread yesterday and read the whole thing. It was so informing on how falconers operate. I had know ideal what any of that meant. For those of us here that are bird lovers it is fascinating how the birds and you and all other falconers work together. i find your post from start to finish so interesting. Me being a bird lover and raising toucans and parrots in the past I find that this is something i might like to try someday, I look forward to your continued post of the future on how this journey takes you. Thanks again for sharing this with us.
 

Tom

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That is just ASTONISHING!!!! :eek:
I NEVER DREAMED that a hunting bird would go UNDERGROUND for any reason!!!!:D:D:D:D
Its part of how they work together in the wild. Some birds in the hunting group will take a perch over the target area, or fly in a circle over head, and one or two others hop down to the ground and walk into the brush to flush the prey out into the open so the other can get a shot at it. Flushers and strikers. If the striker misses, the flusher will take a high perch and the striker will become the flusher.

Rick will sometimes crawl into a big bush and if he can see the rabbit, but can't quite reach it, he'll call me over to him to help him catch or flush it. Its pretty amazing to see it in person.
 

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Rick will sometimes crawl into a big bush and if he can see the rabbit, but can't quite reach it, he'll call me over to him to help him catch or flush it. Its pretty amazing to see it in person.
Wow! I am surprised Rick will call for assistance from his human. I have seen studies of dogs and wolves. Each animal is given a problem to work out for the prize. The dogs identified the problem, realized they needed help, and would bark, whimper, or cry while looking at the owner, clearly saying "I'm in trouble here...HELP me!!"

But not one of the wolves asked for assistance. Instead they would try to figure it out, or tear it apart, and when that failed, they'd lose interest and seek a good place to curl up and nap.

How does Rick call for you? I assume with vocalizations and looking at you?

Does he ever call for Morty? Or is Morty so high on a pole he wouldn't hear him?

I find this fascinating!
 

Tom

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How does Rick call for you? I assume with vocalizations and looking at you?

Does he ever call for Morty? Or is Morty so high on a pole he wouldn't hear him?

I find this fascinating!
This species is quite vocal. They make all sorts of little murmurs and small peeps that you have to be very close to hear. Babies also have a begging call they use with their parents. As adults their vocalizations change and get much deeper. They also have a "scree" alarm call to alert each other and complain about "predators". Early on they would do this anytime a new dog came around in the back yard where there mews are. Now, they've seen so many dogs, they aren't alarmed by them.

I suppose that Rick could be calling Morty to alert him to the presence of prey close by, but Morty is usually in the same bush with him, and the calling stops upon my arrival. Over all these months, both of them have learned that I am the flusher of rabbits. They watch me and stay close, waiting for the next one to jump up.

I'm fascinated too. Its amazing to watch them work in the field. I've taken many people along to see it this year and all of them have been astounded watching my "Wolves of the Sky" do their thing.
 

Moozillion

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So, Tom- If you hear the rabbit they've caught screaming, does that mean they don't always successfully kill the rabbits they catch? Or do you just hear the rabbit scream as they kill it; and you get over to them to sort out what they've caught and determine how much you let them eat?
 

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Wow this thread is so interesting. I would rather hunt rabbits with falcon's then beagles. I have had some good beagles in my day and some that I wanted to leave in the fields.
 

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