Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fun With Raptors!

And not the ones in my own yard, for a change!

Fair warning:  I love birds of prey so there is a TON of pictures incoming.
After reading a quick blurb in the local paper online today, we discovered that the California Hawking Club http://www.calhawkingclub.org/ and the North American Falconer Association http://www.n-a-f-a.com/ were having a regional meet nearby.  So we grabbed the camera, threw ourselves into the car and off we went!

The meet was being held at a local lodge/casino that had a large, grassy picnic/BBQ/playground area, perfect for fencing off for the birds.

Holy cow, the place was littered with birds of prey!
The big hawks were in one section, the smaller falcons in another, a third held medium-sized birds.  The birds each had a little stand, usually metal wrapped with heavy rope for traction.  Each bird was secured to it's stand by it's jesses, and ample water and security was provided.  Here is a Red Tailed hawk demonstrating his.

Becoming a falconer takes time--two years as an apprentice under a master, seven to become a master.  As an apprentice you can only keep a couple types of birds.  Early in the morning, a lot of the handlers and their birds were away taking part in the sky trials--a demonstration and competition among falconers of their bird's hunting abilities.  We missed seeing that, but did get a chance to view & meet some other birds and their handlers.  Sadly, many of these birds were rescues/rehabs that had become injured in the wild and were no longer able to survive in the wild or fly.  They now work as educational ambassadors, and were universally calm birds.  Other than their disability, each was clearly glowingly healthy, and the handlers were friendly people who knew their stuff and took excellent care of their birds.  We and a bunch of other people got to stand around and talk some of the handlers while they had a bird on their fist.
Explaining the visual acuity of a Harris hawk--how if a penny was placed about 75-100 feet away, the bird would be able to read the date on it.

One of the birds returning from it's sky trials gets a spray bath to it's feet and does a Ninny Dance.

A male Great Horned owl--the males are much smaller than the females--who is in captivity because he was found tangled in a barbed wire fence.  He only has 40% wing movement in one of his wings.

He was a very chill dude.
  Even when someone asked, all freaked out, 'Is that his TONGUE?!'

He was not amused.

A perfectly lovely little hybrid Gyr/Prairie.  All falconers wear the heavy leather gauntlets since they like their hands and arms and want to keep them.

Since it was still early and chilly, a lot of the birds still on the stands were spreading their wings and tails to warm them up.

Like this Red Tailed hawk, obligingly showing off his red tail.  We have tons of Red Tails around here, and they are the biggest worry for our chickens.

He even turned around so I could take a picture of him from the front!

The Peregrines and Prairie falcons got into it, too.


These birds were just unbelievably chill

I don't know what this very pretty little thing was.

A Sharpshin.

A Harris hawk.

I don't know what he was, possibly a goshawk...but he looked like he wanted to bite my face off so I didn't ask him.
When it comes to the leg bands that all of these birds wear to ID them, captive-bred birds have metal ones, wild-caught birds have plastic.  Incredibly, with the wild-caught birds any time you want to you can simply cut off the leg band and allow them to go back to the wild--even years later.  Completely legal and perfectly safe for the bird, they have no trouble reassimilating back into the wild.  Most of these birds also had bells on their legs--and not just to look cool.  The bells help their handlers find them when they are out flying them--the birds blend really well when in a tree or on the ground so they are hard to see. 

We went and had lunch at the lodge and by the time we got out the sky trials birds were back!  You know what ELSE hawks & falcons like to do?


The handlers would hold the meat in their gauntleted fist and let the bird rip out mouthfuls.

Afterwards the bird would allow the handler to gently wipe it's beak with his other hand to clean it.  The complete trust the birds had in their owners and the total love for their birds the owners had was amazing.

The birds knew it was lunchtime and there was all kinds of plaintive 'Feed me' noises going on, it was hilarious.  Spoiled babies know no species bounds.

This gentleman had three Harris hawks--two females and a male--who he'd just brought back in his truck.  He was kind enough to let me take pictures of all three birds being fed.  There is one bird behind each little door,and they are hooded while riding in the car.  The white PVC stand is where he places the bird while he clips off the radio tranmitter they wore for the trials and prepares their food.  When ready, he puts on his gauntlet,  places the food between his fingers in that hand, removes their hood and lets them eat.

The hawk is patient, she knows the routine and sits calmly--although she ALSO knows the sound of the ziploc bag of meat and tracks it.


Everything gets eaten--bones, meat, fur, feet--'everything except guts, because they can carry an infection', the handler said.  Rabbit is good meat, although jackrabbit meat can feed the bird for 3-4 days, cottontail not as long.
The first bird's beak is gently wiped and she is taken out to the enclosure to a stand.

Female #2 comes out for her feeding.

She ducked her head a bit, allowing a better look at the straps holding her hood on.  Since when it is removed, the bird is on his left fist, the handler uses his right hand and his teeth to pull the straps and pop the hood off.  Talk about ultimate trust!

She also eats with enthusiasm.  None of these birds gave a rat's ass about the crowds of people milling around, cars driving past 4 feet away, the highway noise, dogs--nothing.  She got some liver...

And a baby chick...yes, that's a leg!  Baby chicks are OK for a single day's feeding, but don't have the same stick-to-your-ribs quality for hawks as rabbit does.

Two of the ornate hoods.  The little thingy on top, as far as I know, is a handle and also traditional.

The last bird was the male.

He also got something small and furry.


I've rarely seen a more satisfied 'YUM' expression.

Afterwards he got a beak wash.

Then his owner rather sheepishly said, 'He likes to drink from the bottle...'

If he expected me to find catering to birds in ridiculously embarassing ways odd, he was mistaken.

Once in the pen, the male got a bath as well.

Which he really dug, although he still wanted drinkies from his bottle.

There was also this very cool litle kestrel...she hopped onto this photographer's lens, everybody got a picture of it but him, poor guy.

Now, I've always wanted a kestrel, so visiting with this bird only fanned the flames of that desire.

She was hyperfriendly.  No need for a gauntlet with kestrels, although this lady had plenty of tiny punctures on her hands from her bird's talons.

Once I got close she started targeting me & bobbing her head in that way birds do, she was about half a second away from jumping onto my shoulder.  I was gonna let her.

Back at the enclosure, we got a kick out of the sign.
 'Unless it's something small, furry and tasty, in which case send it right over!'

The caution tape was a hoot.  It didn't stop people from asking the eternal question though: 'Can I pet it?'  Sure, we snarked to ourselves--choose the finger you like the least and use that one.

The hawk at the base of the tree lunged for this dauchsund like he was this week's meal, flapping like mad and screaming.  Clearly that dog was firmly on the menu.

This bird was brought in from the trials hooded and remained so, obviously to keep it calm.  I suspect it was in training and still getting accustomed to events like this.

Where all the cool kids hang out.

Although this Harris hawk decided to forgo looking cool in favor of a bath.

He had a butt-splashing good time.

...and back to looking cool, especially when you are this guy and have your own custom-made wood hawk stand.

We had a great time, it was awesome to see so many of these birds in one place at one time!

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