Friday, August 12, 2022

Gotta Hawk

I know it has been a while, and that's mainly because we have been intensively preparing for our new young hawk, whom we brought home on Sunday. At some point I am going to start a new blog devoted only to falconry and hawking, but for now I wanted to at least give a proof of life.

My dad asked me yesterday some questions about our goals and the steps we're taking to reach them. As I was answering I realized I had my content for my next blog post. So here we go.

First of all, since this is what most non-falconers have been asking already starting months ago, is it a boy or girl, and what is the hawk's name??

Our hawk is a Harrisweib, or a female Harris hawk (or Harris's hawk).

Her name is only officially earned after her first successful hunt/kill, but since I didn't want to call her Hawky McHawkface until then, we've named her Kaya.

Ultimately the next question at hand is: What are our goals and what are we doing with Kaya from day to day? Are we taking certain steps to train her?

Kaya's main goal is probably still to stay alive. She was bred in Germany and has never been free, but she is still a wild animal with thousands of years of evolutionary influence. Raptors hatched in the wild don't need people and would probably be better off without them, although they do live longer in captivity than in the wild. Harris hawks usually live 20 or so years with a falconer, but can live up to 30.

Our goal is for her to be a crow hunter. We'll also go for magpies (Elster) and wild pigeons (Wildtauben), and she is capable of also hunting ducks, pheasants, rabbits, hares and geese. I personally only have experience hawking crows, magpies and pigeons, and frankly, I'd rather not take on a goose.

Everything we do with her is a learning experience - for her and also for us!

She needs to get used to me and also my voice, so I spend time sitting in the mews (the proper term for her enclosure, Voliere in German) with her and talking to her.

She has to learn to trust me, so I have to stay calm, make no sudden movements, never do anything that causes her pain, and never take food away from her.

She has to learn that my glove (and M's) is a safe and happy place to be, so I have to see that she spends a lot of time sitting on it in non-stressful situations.

She has to be challenged every day or she will get bored and develop bad habits (like screaming), so I need to introduce at least one new thing every day. Most days it's more than one new thing!

When we drive to a hunting territory or to the vet, she has to sit in her transport box and feel safe in there, so that's where she sleeps now. [She started out in a box we borrowed from our mentor (B) which didn't have a perch in it because she first had to learn how to sit on a perch in her new surroundings.] By Tuesday she was sitting all day happily on her bow perch, so on Wednesday night we switched to her box, which M built for her.

Hawk in a box

She has to learn that I am a hunting companion and not just a deliverer of food, so I have to spend a lot of time doing things with her that do not involve food.

She has to learn to be comfortable with Hekate (our mentor's Harris hawk and Kaya's half-sister) and other hunting raptors, so yesterday afternoon B brought Hekate over for a few hours. We sat gradually closer together, and the birds started getting familiar. Hekate tried to chat her up, but Kaya was silent, perhaps a raptor sign of respect for one's elders. 

She has to learn to not freak out over unfamiliar things when she's sitting on the safe glove, so we need to go for walks with her around the neighborhood where she'll see cars, cyclists, dogs, people, and unfamiliar places.

She has to learn to tolerate me feeling her legs, feet, talons, breast bone, muscles, beak, feathers, etc., all of which is entirely distasteful to a raptor (who among us enjoys being pawed and groped by others??), because I need to be able to frequently check her health condition and for wounds, etc. So yesterday I started petting her, caressing her toes and talons, feeling her breast bone, cleaning off her beak after her meal...

She has to learn to come back to me when I've set her free in training or launched her at a crow that she misses, so yesterday I started enticing her to jump to my glove for her meals rather than just handing them to her while she sits on her perch.

Success! She hopped onto my glove for her tasty bedtime snack.

Ultimately she needs to learn that she has a better and easier life with us than without us, because as soon as she thinks she'd be better off without us, she'll bugger off when I've launched her at a crow or flown her free during training and that's the end of it. Or the beginning of a potentially very long day standing under the tree she's chosen, waiting for her to decide when she wants to return.

This is only Day 6, counting the day of pick-up and transport. On that day a human (her breeder) touched her for the first time, removing her from the only place she'd ever been (in her breeding mews with her parents), put on her anklets, jesses and bell with the help of our mentor as M and I stood trembling nearby, and put her in a soft pet carrier for our 4.5-hour drive home. 

It has been a wonder to be a part of the progress she (and we!) have made in that time.

We will have bad days, scary moments, setbacks and disappointments. But for now, wow. Just...WOW!!!

Sitting on her Sprenkel (bow perch)


  1. Anonymous12/8/22 15:37

    Wow indeed! I’m so in awe of ALL you have done and gone through to get her!

  2. Thanks! We're going to have a hard time keeping up with her! Since Friday she flies right to the glove for her food with no hesitation. Today we definitely lengthen the distance and start other training tasks.

  3. Anonymous18/8/22 11:54

    This whole process takes so much dedication, patience, perseverance and commitment. I'm in awe, I truly am. And I am so happy for you that this brought tears to my eyes! -CK

    1. Aww, thanks! It just keeps getting better, and I am in awe of HER!