My Latest Endeavor...

TeamZissou

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Awesome, thanks for the story and photos. I've always been into birds as well myself. Found a bald eagle with a broken wing in the woods on my 13th birthday. Sat with it for 6 hours until the DNR came to take it away.

How do you have time for the dog training, falconry, and all the tortoise stuff? It's always been my impression that falconry is the most time consuming hobby that requires almost total dedication.
 

Tom

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Awesome, thanks for the story and photos. I've always been into birds as well myself. Found a bald eagle with a broken wing in the woods on my 13th birthday. Sat with it for 6 hours until the DNR came to take it away.

How do you have time for the dog training, falconry, and all the tortoise stuff? It's always been my impression that falconry is the most time consuming hobby that requires almost total dedication.
Most people have a job with regular hours, and then they have to fit hobbies and fun time into the non-working hours. My job is my hobby. My career all day every day is working with, caring for, and training animals. My tortoises take more time than my hawks most days. My schedule is highly variable and erratic. Most days, I make my own hours, so its easy to get up early, go hunt with the birds, and be driving home in morning traffic to go start the rest of my day. The dogs usually come with me to the hunting fields. The tortoises are in no hurry to eat with our cool mornings. Some days I bring the birds to work with me and hunt them on the way home.

I have more of a lifestyle that gets me paid than a "job".

Falconry is very time consuming and does require tremendous dedication. I've been dedicated to caring for animals as a profession since the mid 80s, and as a hobby before that. Its nothing new for me. Having said that, there is a reason why I only have two hawks that hunt together, and not a Goshawk, Kestrel, Aplomado falcon, more Harris Hawks, and a golden eagle. Some day, when I have more time, I'd like to hunt all of the above. I'll be able to retire in a few more years, and then I can get more falconry time in.
 

Violanna

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Love seeing your pics and videos! Birds fascinate me! Parrots in particular were the first reason I wanted to specialize in exotic animal veterinary care! Now I’m curious if I’ll ever see some falcons as I live in a great area for it!
 
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Tom

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I had to take a bit of a break for work, but we are back in action and the hunting season is going great this year. They took their 10th jack for the season today:
IMG_2198.JPG

A couple of noteworthy details:
1. They seem to have figured out how to catch jacks, and the tally seems to confirm that they prefer it. Cottontails are a fast short sprint. The cottontails bolt at full speed and run to their holes. They usually make it. They are lighting fast, and the birds have just a couple of seconds to catch up and latch on. When they do, the cottontails are fairly easy for them to hold on to and they don't put up too much fight. Jacks, by contrast, do not hide. They run, dodge, jump, and fight. I think jacks are easier to catch, and they certainly make for some longer flights, but the jacks are tough to hold on to. They are able to shake the hawks off, scrape them off in a bush, or just flat out kick them off. The boys had hold of one earlier, before the unfortunate one in the above pic, and it managed to escape their talons just before I caught up to them this morning. They've captured enough of them now that they seem to be figuring out how to manage this difficult game better and better. They seem to be figuring out how the jacks are going to try to ditch them, and are now outsmarting the smart jacks.

2. Weight. Falconry is all about weight management of your birds. Too heavy and they are slow, out of shape, and unmotivated. They also don't respond well to the falconer's prompts. Too light and they can lack the strength and speed to catch prey. They also might not be able to withstand the rigors of multiple chases on a long, cold day of hunting in rough country. Like any athlete that trains and works hard for their "sport", there is an ideal working weight range. You don't see any 300 pound sprinters, and you also don't see any wafer thin guys winning the 100 yard dash. Every falconer finds the ideal weight range for their bird, and we adjust according to many factors like season, current weather, field performance on game, field response to the falconer, success rate on game, and more. We usually establish a "free feeding" weight during the molt. This is the birds weight when they've had as much as they want to eat and are fat and happy. We slowly drop that weight by reducing food intake and increasing exercise. It takes weeks or months to get them safely to where you want them. Last year, as instructed by the breeder, I dropped them down to around 600 grams to get them hunting and responding well to me in the field. After about a month of chasing but not catching, I decided to drop them another 5-10 grams. BINGO! They started catching every day. Just that little bit made all the difference in the world. Slowly, all last season, I let them get heavier and heavier as they built muscle and skill. Their best weight range was about 630-640 grams and I held them there most of last season. Some days, after a big food reward from a previous day's hunt, I'd bring them out and hunt them at 660-680. This brought mixed results. Some days they were great when too heavy, and other days I got mediocre performance out of them. This year has been different. After my time off due to work, both boys were way too heavy and fat. 800+ grams. As I slowly began the long process of bringing them down in weight, They both began responding very well. They seemed very eager and responded to my prompts immediately and with vigor. They were also happy to hop into their travel boxes every time I opened the door and let them. Though their weights were seemingly not even in the ballpark of where they should be, so I decided to take them out to the field near my ranch for some flight training. No better way to get them into shape than lots of flying. At an absurdly high weight of 720 grams Morty caught a cottontail in the practice field when we were supposed to be flying for exercise, not hunting.

The next day I took them out to a hunting field with Rick at 763 grams and Morty at 712 and they caught two cottontails. I was happy and headed home after one, and they caught the second one on the way back to the car. I was incredulous. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Two days later at 763 and 699, they caught a large jack. If my 1200 gram redtail was even 10-20 grams over weight, she'd refuse to come to me when called, and leave the field we were in to go hunt by herself elsewhere. These little 600 gram hunters, are attentive, responsive, and driven as ever while 100-170 grams over weight. I can't believe what I'm seeing this year. I thought maybe my scale was malfunctioning, so I weighed them on my other scale. Nope. It was right on.

Their fitness, endurance, and speed is as good as its ever been, so I'm leaving their weight higher this year. No reason to drop it if they are performing perfectly. Rick has always been a great follower. I've got him between 720 and 730. Morty has always had a stubborn and more independent nature, so I watch his weight even more carefully and plan accordingly. I've got him down to 670-690, and he's doing better than ever. Looks like they will be carrying some extra weight this year. I see no need to drop them any more. Performance couldn't be better. I'm not sure how this is even possible, and it defies all logic of how things are supposed to work, but I'm not going to argue with success like what I am seeing.
 

KarenSoCal

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Congrats, Tom, on your continued good results with your birds! If I'm remembering correctly, this is your 3rd season with Rick and Morty? How long is their hunting life? When they get old, do they retire and live out their days with you?
 

Calaveras

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Raptors do not retire when they get old. They get smarter and make it look easy with less effort.
A raptor in the wild will not have younger birds bring it food as it ages. It hunts and catches food until the day is dies.
In a captive bred situation a blind bird or one that breaks a Talon could be set up as a breeder or wildlife education to live out it’s remaining years.
 

Tom

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Congrats, Tom, on your continued good results with your birds! If I'm remembering correctly, this is your 3rd season with Rick and Morty? How long is their hunting life? When they get old, do they retire and live out their days with you?
This is their second season. I've heard of people hunting this species into their 20s. They will have a home with me until they die. Hopefully that won't be for many many years.
 

Sue Ann

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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 an amazing journey!
 

Ray--Opo

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I had to take a bit of a break for work, but we are back in action and the hunting season is going great this year. They took their 10th jack for the season today:
View attachment 312913

A couple of noteworthy details:
1. They seem to have figured out how to catch jacks, and the tally seems to confirm that they prefer it. Cottontails are a fast short sprint. The cottontails bolt at full speed and run to their holes. They usually make it. They are lighting fast, and the birds have just a couple of seconds to catch up and latch on. When they do, the cottontails are fairly easy for them to hold on to and they don't put up too much fight. Jacks, by contrast, do not hide. They run, dodge, jump, and fight. I think jacks are easier to catch, and they certainly make for some longer flights, but the jacks are tough to hold on to. They are able to shake the hawks off, scrape them off in a bush, or just flat out kick them off. The boys had hold of one earlier, before the unfortunate one in the above pic, and it managed to escape their talons just before I caught up to them this morning. They've captured enough of them now that they seem to be figuring out how to manage this difficult game better and better. They seem to be figuring out how the jacks are going to try to ditch them, and are now outsmarting the smart jacks.

2. Weight. Falconry is all about weight management of your birds. Too heavy and they are slow, out of shape, and unmotivated. They also don't respond well to the falconer's prompts. Too light and they can lack the strength and speed to catch prey. They also might not be able to withstand the rigors of multiple chases on a long, cold day of hunting in rough country. Like any athlete that trains and works hard for their "sport", there is an ideal working weight range. You don't see any 300 pound sprinters, and you also don't see any wafer thin guys winning the 100 yard dash. Every falconer finds the ideal weight range for their bird, and we adjust according to many factors like season, current weather, field performance on game, field response to the falconer, success rate on game, and more. We usually establish a "free feeding" weight during the molt. This is the birds weight when they've had as much as they want to eat and are fat and happy. We slowly drop that weight by reducing food intake and increasing exercise. It takes weeks or months to get them safely to where you want them. Last year, as instructed by the breeder, I dropped them down to around 600 grams to get them hunting and responding well to me in the field. After about a month of chasing but not catching, I decided to drop them another 5-10 grams. BINGO! They started catching every day. Just that little bit made all the difference in the world. Slowly, all last season, I let them get heavier and heavier as they built muscle and skill. Their best weight range was about 630-640 grams and I held them there most of last season. Some days, after a big food reward from a previous day's hunt, I'd bring them out and hunt them at 660-680. This brought mixed results. Some days they were great when too heavy, and other days I got mediocre performance out of them. This year has been different. After my time off due to work, both boys were way too heavy and fat. 800+ grams. As I slowly began the long process of bringing them down in weight, They both began responding very well. They seemed very eager and responded to my prompts immediately and with vigor. They were also happy to hop into their travel boxes every time I opened the door and let them. Though their weights were seemingly not even in the ballpark of where they should be, so I decided to take them out to the field near my ranch for some flight training. No better way to get them into shape than lots of flying. At an absurdly high weight of 720 grams Morty caught a cottontail in the practice field when we were supposed to be flying for exercise, not hunting.

The next day I took them out to a hunting field with Rick at 763 grams and Morty at 712 and they caught two cottontails. I was happy and headed home after one, and they caught the second one on the way back to the car. I was incredulous. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Two days later at 763 and 699, they caught a large jack. If my 1200 gram redtail was even 10-20 grams over weight, she'd refuse to come to me when called, and leave the field we were in to go hunt by herself elsewhere. These little 600 gram hunters, are attentive, responsive, and driven as ever while 100-170 grams over weight. I can't believe what I'm seeing this year. I thought maybe my scale was malfunctioning, so I weighed them on my other scale. Nope. It was right on.

Their fitness, endurance, and speed is as good as its ever been, so I'm leaving their weight higher this year. No reason to drop it if they are performing perfectly. Rick has always been a great follower. I've got him between 720 and 730. Morty has always had a stubborn and more independent nature, so I watch his weight even more carefully and plan accordingly. I've got him down to 670-690, and he's doing better than ever. Looks like they will be carrying some extra weight this year. I see no need to drop them any more. Performance couldn't be better. I'm not sure how this is even possible, and it defies all logic of how things are supposed to work, but I'm not going to argue with success like what I am seeing.
That is so interesting.
 

Tom

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I think I've probably said it before, but falconry is full of tremendous highs and terrible lows, as we've seen in these pages many times.

The boys are fine, but the rabbits are not. There is a terrible, highly contagious viral disease called "rabbit hemorrhagic disease" (RHD) that has been working its way through rabbit population here in the southwest. This thing puts covid to shame. It kills almost every rabbit that comes into contact with it. It is spread from field to field by bird or mammal feces, and by contact. More info here: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/vet/RHDV.htm

It was supposed to sweep across the land and kill everything, but it wasn't. Hunting has been amazing this year in all of my fields, but not anymore. It found its way to my best spots. It took longer than expected, but my hopes that it wouldn't make it out my way were not fulfilled. I've collected and sent in two carcasses from areas where it hadn't been found and its been confirmed now. I turned in the first case from Kern County. Sad distinction...

There is no cure and nothing can be done about it. It will have to run its course. I've been very careful to not spread it. I'm using anti-viral spray on my shoes, car floor mats, and bird perches. I have different shoes for infected vs. non-infected fields. I double bag and remove all found carcasses to prevent more spread by scavengers. This thing is just awful. My birds keep finding dead rabbits and its no fun getting them off these carcasses. They don't understand why they can't eat it, and why I'm stealing their "catch" with no reward.

It will be years before the rabbit population recovers. I might have to start looking for other game to hunt. Harris' hawks are generalists, so this might work. I can go for ducks or quail. Possibly pheasant if I want to drive a bit.

Here is what we found in just one field. The one that had not yet been scavenged is one of the ones I turned in to DFW for exam.
IMG_2160.JPG
Ravens had been eating the dead bodies.

I was hoping I wouldn't have to make this post. So sad about this. Even though we hunt them with a passion, I love my little lagomorph adversaries. Sad sad days ahead.
 

Ray--Opo

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I think I've probably said it before, but falconry is full of tremendous highs and terrible lows, as we've seen in these pages many times.

The boys are fine, but the rabbits are not. There is a terrible, highly contagious viral disease called "rabbit hemorrhagic disease" (RHD) that has been working its way through rabbit population here in the southwest. This thing puts covid to shame. It kills almost every rabbit that comes into contact with it. It is spread from field to field by bird or mammal feces, and by contact. More info here: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/vet/RHDV.htm

It was supposed to sweep across the land and kill everything, but it wasn't. Hunting has been amazing this year in all of my fields, but not anymore. It found its way to my best spots. It took longer than expected, but my hopes that it wouldn't make it out my way were not fulfilled. I've collected and sent in two carcasses from areas where it hadn't been found and its been confirmed now. I turned in the first case from Kern County. Sad distinction...

There is no cure and nothing can be done about it. It will have to run its course. I've been very careful to not spread it. I'm using anti-viral spray on my shoes, car floor mats, and bird perches. I have different shoes for infected vs. non-infected fields. I double bag and remove all found carcasses to prevent more spread by scavengers. This thing is just awful. My birds keep finding dead rabbits and its no fun getting them off these carcasses. They don't understand why they can't eat it, and why I'm stealing their "catch" with no reward.

It will be years before the rabbit population recovers. I might have to start looking for other game to hunt. Harris' hawks are generalists, so this might work. I can go for ducks or quail. Possibly pheasant if I want to drive a bit.

Here is what we found in just one field. The one that had not yet been scavenged is one of the ones I turned in to DFW for exam.
View attachment 313377
Ravens had been eating the dead bodies.

I was hoping I wouldn't have to make this post. So sad about this. Even though we hunt them with a passion, I love my little lagomorph adversaries. Sad sad days ahead.
Sorry to hear about this disease. I remember we didn't hunt rabbits in Michigan until we had a hard frost because of some disease the rabbits might have. Is that the same disease your talking about?
 

Tom

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Sorry to hear about this disease. I remember we didn't hunt rabbits in Michigan until we had a hard frost because of some disease the rabbits might have. Is that the same disease your talking about?
No. Totally different. Summer rabbits carry more fleas, ticks, bot flys, and stuff like that, but the disease you are probably thinking of is tularemia. It contagious and potentially dangerous to humans and can be ID'd by obvious lesions on the liver. I've not seen a case of it here, but it exists. I don't know what the frost would have to do with that though, so maybe you are thinking of yet another lagomorph disease?
 

Pastel Tortie

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I think I've probably said it before, but falconry is full of tremendous highs and terrible lows, as we've seen in these pages many times.

The boys are fine, but the rabbits are not. There is a terrible, highly contagious viral disease called "rabbit hemorrhagic disease" (RHD) that has been working its way through rabbit population here in the southwest. This thing puts covid to shame. It kills almost every rabbit that comes into contact with it. It is spread from field to field by bird or mammal feces, and by contact. More info here: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/vet/RHDV.htm

It was supposed to sweep across the land and kill everything, but it wasn't. Hunting has been amazing this year in all of my fields, but not anymore. It found its way to my best spots. It took longer than expected, but my hopes that it wouldn't make it out my way were not fulfilled. I've collected and sent in two carcasses from areas where it hadn't been found and its been confirmed now. I turned in the first case from Kern County. Sad distinction...

There is no cure and nothing can be done about it. It will have to run its course. I've been very careful to not spread it. I'm using anti-viral spray on my shoes, car floor mats, and bird perches. I have different shoes for infected vs. non-infected fields. I double bag and remove all found carcasses to prevent more spread by scavengers. This thing is just awful. My birds keep finding dead rabbits and its no fun getting them off these carcasses. They don't understand why they can't eat it, and why I'm stealing their "catch" with no reward.

It will be years before the rabbit population recovers. I might have to start looking for other game to hunt. Harris' hawks are generalists, so this might work. I can go for ducks or quail. Possibly pheasant if I want to drive a bit.

Here is what we found in just one field. The one that had not yet been scavenged is one of the ones I turned in to DFW for exam.
View attachment 313377
Ravens had been eating the dead bodies.

I was hoping I wouldn't have to make this post. So sad about this. Even though we hunt them with a passion, I love my little lagomorph adversaries. Sad sad days ahead.
I always appreciate the detail you go into, on the bad stuff as well as the good. I'm so sorry you had to make this post.

The measures you take, and the adjustments you're having to make to try to prevent additional spread of this terrible lagomorph disease, serve as a good lesson and reminder for the rest of us. It's easy to be complacent. Much more difficult to walk the walk. Thanks for taking us on this journey with you, wherever it leads.
 

Ray--Opo

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No. Totally different. Summer rabbits carry more fleas, ticks, bot flys, and stuff like that, but the disease you are probably thinking of is tularemia. It contagious and potentially dangerous to humans and can be ID'd by obvious lesions on the liver. I've not seen a case of it here, but it exists. I don't know what the frost would have to do with that though, so maybe you are thinking of yet another lagomorph disease?
It was when I was a young teenager listening to old timers. Never really got a explication.
 

Tom

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We've continued hunting and have had great success. I've seen around 18 dead rabbits in the field now, presumably from the RHD, but that is over a span of weeks and two dozen fields in many different areas. I've seen 100s of healthy and very fast rabbits in those same fields during that same time, and caught a few. Thankfully, the RHD doesn't seem to be wiping out and killing everything. The head count for the season stands at 32 cotton tails and 14 jacks with a couple of months left to hunt. We usually stop in early March as soon as we start seeing pregnant momma bunnies or little babies in the field. Don't want to catch either of those.

Many people have asked me how much hawk food a single rabbit yields. This morning we caught one cottontail and one jack. Instead of my usual butchering job, I decided to get out the scale and make daily baggies. Each baggie contains a full day's ration for two male Harris' hawks. I held back two baggies in the fridge for tomorrow and the next day, but here is what two rabbits look like when portioned out:
IMG_2391.jpg
 

Ray--Opo

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We've continued hunting and have had great success. I've seen around 18 dead rabbits in the field now, presumably from the RHD, but that is over a span of weeks and two dozen fields in many different areas. I've seen 100s of healthy and very fast rabbits in those same fields during that same time, and caught a few. Thankfully, the RHD doesn't seem to be wiping out and killing everything. The head count for the season stands at 32 cotton tails and 14 jacks with a couple of months left to hunt. We usually stop in early March as soon as we start seeing pregnant momma bunnies or little babies in the field. Don't want to catch either of those.

Many people have asked me how much hawk food a single rabbit yields. This morning we caught one cottontail and one jack. Instead of my usual butchering job, I decided to get out the scale and make daily baggies. Each baggie contains a full day's ration for two male Harris' hawks. I held back two baggies in the fridge for tomorrow and the next day, but here is what two rabbits look like when portioned out:
View attachment 314389
Tom do you ever eat the rabbits yourself?
 
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