Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Kaya's First Crow

Kaya is now five months old and we've had her for six weeks. I've wanted to write a blog post once a week, but just like with a new baby, one wonders as the day wanes where all the time has gone!

Today Kaya got her first wild crow! Everything we have done with her from Day 1 has been leading to this point. Up until now we have practiced with her on crows that her half-sister Hekate has killed, but she didn't have to do any real catching of a live one on her own. Today that changed.

This was "Teamwork pur"!! Our falconer-mentor ("Br") drove to two different Reviere (territories where we have permission to hunt) on opposite sides of Tübingen, and we had no luck at all in the first one. No crows were close enough or flew off as soon as they saw Br's car. Clever little devils. So we drove to a new Revier where the crows don't know the drill, and there Kaya had 7 or 8 good attempts/flights. All but 2 were too far away, but they were worth a try. I'm thrilled to say she has a great Faustappell (returning to the glove after a miss) and when I call her and raise my glove with a tidbit on it, she comes right back - even from where she can't see me. At one point she was on the other side of a barn being harrassed by fifty crows, but she heard me above their racket and found me again.

As we drove she stretched her neck and kept a lookout for crows, keeping mostly quiet in the car like a good girl. If she's as noisy as she often is at home in her mew, the crows will bugger off long before we can get close to them. Our previous practice had paid off, because she seemed to be able to tell the difference between small black birds (Amseln) and crows. She was alert and eager to bag a meal.

This is Kaya on a previous hawking experience
where she is screaming at her older sis, who'd just bagged a crow.
"Gimme some!!!"

I had carpal tunnel surgery last week Thursday and wear a bandage and brace on my right hand (I hold Kaya on my left), and I can't drive stick-shift or finish the job once Kaya has her crow. So Br was ready and jumped right in.

When we spied our crow, saw it was sitting well and were confident we could sneak up on it, I launched Kaya. This was after 7 or so failed attempts, and I was starting to wonder if she understood she had to catch and not just chase. This time the crow was distracted enough and Kaya slammed right into it and hung on! I dashed to her, secured one of her jesses to my glove, reached under her wings to find the crow's head and discovered it had Kaya's toe in her beak and was clamping down hard! I pried open the crow's beak and Kaya got her foot out of the way. She seemed to know I was there to help and didn't try to get away with her prize, which she had tried to do earlier with the practice crows.

By then Br had reached us and was able to finish off the crow quickly. One difference between nature and human hunters is that humans do everything they can to shorten the prey's suffering as much as possible. Wild hawks, eagles and buzzards don't care, and they hang on, gripping with their talons until the prey bleeds to death while they tuck in.

So now the crow was dead and at that point Kaya was able to pluck and eat to her heart's content while we waited, took pictures, called the Jagdpächter (hunter-tenant) and I sent M a message to say Kaya had triumphed!

Who's a good girl??

When she couldn't stuff any more crow into her Kropf (crop), Br got her onto the glove* with an extra bit of crow we had ready, we praised her for her good work and put her back into her transport box for the drive home.

*That's my job, but because of my gammy hand, that's another part I can't do yet.

When we got home I put her in her mew with the rest of the crow, and she was quiet for a while. Then she started in with her screaming again so I brought her into the Wintergarten for a bit. On this photo you can see her full Kropf - that lump above her chest. That crow will keep her full and satisfied until at least Thursday.

The German word for "stuffed to the gills" is

We are tired and happy at the end of a successful hawking day and the official start of the season for Kaya. Tomorrow she gets a day of rest and we'll be back at it on Friday. Now she's back in her mew basking in her success (and quiet).

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Hawky McHawkface

Good heavens, has it only been eight days since my last post? Our world (life with a hawk) looks so much different since then. Everything I wrote about last time that we are doing with her seems like old news and we've added new experiences every day.

Her beak's a bit messy; this was after lunch.

I don't need to sit in the mews with her anymore. She knows me and she knows my voice. M's also. She trusts us and we stay calm when she bates (throws herself off the glove and dangles upside down briefly before she gets back upright) and refrain from sudden movements. By her nature she will never fully trust that we won't take her food away, so when she's enjoying some noms she mantles, as shown here.

She knows that M's and my gloves are a safe place to be, and Br's as well (Br is our falconer-mentor). While sitting on our gloves she has been confronted with loud cars, big trucks, scary bicycles, a cat, a small dog, small crowds of walkers, admirers, and new territory, and still nothing bad has happened to her while on our gloves. She knows she's ok there.

In fact it seems she'd rather be on our glove than sitting around doing nothing. When she's in her mews and can see us either walking through the living room or sitting on the patio eating dinner, she screams at us. It's not earth-shatteringly loud (yet) but she lets us know we're not doing exactly that which she would prefer. Often while standing on one leg and floofing herself up, which indicates contentment. Silly girl.

One thing I didn't mention in my last post is that she needs to get used to our cameras and smartphones because we are pretty much constantly taking pictures of her. Some of my favorites are what I now call "hawkies" (selfies with a hawk).

It's getting harder to find new challenges every day! We've taken her walking all around our little village including across a busy road, we've gone for a ride in the car with her on my glove looking out the windshield, she's flown back and forth between us in the yard for tidbits, I tried to show her about vertical jumping (she overshot it once and landed on my head), she's had her beak filed, she's been inside our house a few times, and we've sat on the patio, the front steps and the steps at M's office so she could watch the world go by.

Today she took a drive in Br's car all the way to their training grounds (a 20-minute drive) because our yard has become too small. She flew like a pro between us 20 times, then onto the Federspiel (lure that looks like a crow) and lastly to a crow wing that she could pluck and gnaw on as a reward for her hard work. 

Only once did she get a bit confused while flying to Br and the Federspiel and had to search for a place to land. The only thing nearby other than the ground was a corn field, so she gave that a try! As she disappeared into the corn almost as gracefully as a hovercraft setting down, I tried not to laugh and Br fished her out again.

A few days ago her sister Hekate came over for a visit, and watching them interact was fascinating. From the body language you can tell that Hekate was signaling "Hey, I am the boss here, even if it is your yard!" with her posture while Kaya signaled her willingness to concede. This is nature in action because Hekate is larger and older, and therefore she is higher in the hierarchy. Kaya's lighter feathers on her chest show that she's a young bird, and Hekate instinctively knows that. Therefore she understands that Kaya isn't a threat or competition. Still, we watched them closely while they sat on their perches in our yard.

The other day it started to rain while I was chatting with my parents. I put the phone down to move her perch under the roof of the mews, and she responded by jumping into her bathtub for a full-body bath! A raptor will only bathe when it feels safe, because when it is very wet its ability to fly is compromised. So I felt quite honored that she did so with me sitting near her in her mews.

In the mean time I've gone out crow-hawking with Br and Hekate a few times, and on Thursday she got her first crow after 4 Fehlflüge (misses). So the season has officially opened for us, and soon we will go out with Kaya in the back seat watching Hekate at work so Kaya gets the idea of what her future job is.

There is so much more to write about, but it's time to go play with my hawk. We're practicing with sitting in the car and with a hood today, and we haven't been for a walk with M yet. 

Until next time...


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)

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Falconry Online

 "Falconry is a life dedication, not a hobby."
~Martin Tyner

These days it is important to take some time away from the news – for those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to, who are not in the middle of the war zone, fleeing from home, or holed up in temporary housing not knowing when a return home will be possible. My heart goes out to everyone suffering in this war.

My escape, which is also planning for the near future, is books, videos, and documentaries about falconry. I want to list some sources I’m using, both in English and in German. Perhaps this will offer some inspiration for those who are new to falconry (like I am!) or who are still considering whether or not this is a passion they want to pursue.

From the links I've provided below you can usually find additional videos from the same falconer if you like what you see. For the falconers who have Youtube channels and multiple videos, I often provide links to one they produced about Harris hawks. This is because a Harris hawk will be moving in with us later this year.

No language required

This first link is a falcon-cam featuring a Wanderfalken (peregrine) pair at their Brutplatz (breeding site) in Nürnberg. There are periods of little action, but even watching Mama Falke lying there quietly warming her brood is a soothing timeout. I have seen several changings of the guard where Papa took over lying on the eggs while Mama went off hunting and to stretch her wings, and I was watching while she lay the third egg. The 4th and last egg was laid on March 4th, and by now all four eggs have hatched and feedings happen frequently!

Peregrine falcon / Wanderfalke

This is a video compilation about crow hawking and hunting crows with falcons. There's music but no narration, and therefore you don't need to understand a particular language to see what Krähenbeizjagd (crow hawking) is all about.

English links

This documentary is about a falconer in the USA, is in English, and gives a good and realistic view into the life of a falconer, the time commitment, the stress, the joy, and working and hunting with the birds.

I follow this next master falconer on Youtube and enjoyed his book very much. Martin Tyner runs a wildlife rescue in Utah which focuses on birds of prey, but they take in other wild animals as well. He has recently done a series of videos about how to become a falconer, which I enjoyed. He includes plenty of important warnings about why one should not pursue falconry if one lacks time, money, and family support. Martin is calm, thoughtful, speaks nice and slowly and from the heart. It is clear he loves his birds and his work and in his videos he is usually with at least one bird - either sitting quietly on his glove or during training, for instance.

Here is Martin doing a falconry talk with Belle, his Harris hawk and wildlife ambassador. 

Ben Woodruff is another falconer in Utah, and I wonder if they know each other. Ben's style and personality are completely different from Martin's. He is more animated, is usually sitting in his room full of exotic Deko and doesn't normally have a bird with him. Like Martin's, his videos are full of important, helpful and sometimes fun information. In this video he gives an introduction to Harris hawks and in this one he explains many differences between Harris hawks and goshawks (Habichte).

Goshawk / Habicht

Here is a young falconer from the UK who has made many videos about hawk care, training, health, and so on. He even did one about taking an online version of the US falconry test, which I found especially fun! It’s also good for me to hear the English falconry terms, for instance:

furniture” is “Geschirr.”  The confusing part of that is that both are familiar words but have completely different meanings outside the world of falconry. “Furniture” translates to “Möbel” in German, and “Geschirr” translates to “dishes” in English*! In falconry, both words mean the equipment that the bird wears, such as jesses (Geschüh), ring, address ring or plate, leash (Langfessel), and so on.

*To be completely accurate, “Geschirr” also translates to “harness.”

You can find his videos on Youtube by searching for “Mercer Falconry.”

Furniture / Geschirr

And you had to know I’d find a falconer in Scotland! This video shows Amy hawking with her baby, two dogs and her Harris hawk. She also has an adorable little Steinkauz called Hiccup! You can find all her videos by searching Youtube for “Falconry and me.”

Steinkauz / Little owl

Last of the English links, I found a video of hawk hunting with the Ohio School of Falconry, which begins with an informative talk about several different type of birds and then follows the falconers on a hunt.

Deutsche Links

Diese Dokuserie, die Falknerei am Rennsteig, habe ich ein paar Mal im Fernsehen gesehen, und glücklicherweise sind alle ihre Folgen in der MDR Mediathek. Die Folgen zeigen eine Falknerei und Familienunternehmen und liefern viel Information über ihre Arbeit, das Abtragen (Training) von Greifvögeln und Eulen - und auch von Jungfalknern! - Haltung, Pflege und Gesundheitsvorsorge von ihren Tieren und auch Pflegevögeln und -Eulen, die zu ihnen gebracht werden weil sie krank oder verletzt sind. Sie machen auch Öffentlichkeitsarbeit, gehen auf Beizjagd mit Adler, Harris Hawks und Falken, und machen Flugvorführungen vor Ort.
Sie haben schon zwei Staffeln und ich hoffe es geht weiter.

bei einer Flugvorführung

Dieser Dokufilm zeigt einen kleinen Teil der Falkerausbildung, Training und Beizjagd bei der Bayrischen Landesjagdschule in Wunsiedel.

Zuletzt ist eine Reportage über zwei Falkner, ihre Beizvögel und ihre Jobs, z.B. Krähenvergrämen auf einem Flughafen und auf einem Campingplatz eine Kaninchenplage zu bekämpfen. Einen verstoßenen Falken mit Telemetrie zu suchen ist auch dabei!

Ich brauche offensichtlich mehr Links von deutschen Falknern, also wenn du Youtube Channels oder Dokufilme über Falknerei zu empfehlen hast, teile sie bitte in den Kommentaren unten oder schicke mir eine E-Mail!

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Book Talk: All the Frequent Troubles of our Days


I’ve just finished All the Frequent Troubles of our Days, by Rebecca Donner. For me 2022 has so far been a year of extremely good books, but this one left me in awe. I’m not one for idle praise or liking a book only because I have a connection to it or its author. Donner is a brilliant storyteller, and I was pulled in from the first chapter. She ended the story with touching and poetic words, and, not knowing it was over (there were 74 more pages!), when I turned the page and saw “Acknowledgements” I actually shouted “No!” Although she ended the story beautifully, I was not ready to stop reading. So for the first time in my life I read every one of her acknowledgments and am now going through her end notes.

When I taught high school German in Wisconsin, I alternated the curriculum each year in my combined level 3 & 4 class. One topic was the resistance: one year I taught “die Weiße Rose” (the short novel followed by the 1982 movie), and the next year I taught a unit focusing on the 2000 film “Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace.” Since I was teaching at a Catholic school and we were expected to begin class with a prayer or reflection, I was able to teach my students one of Bonhoeffer’s prayers: “Gott, in mir ist es finster, aber bei dir ist das Licht.” In the film Bonhoeffer prays this prayer through the wall with the prisoner in the cell next to his.

Many of the names in Donner’s book are familiar to me. In fact, when my mom first told me in autumn 2021 that there was a book out about Mildred Harnack, I knew her name right away. Admittedly I was more familiar with her husband and brother-in-law than with Mildred, as she only gets a brief mention – if that – in general sources about the resistance.

Indeed, while reading Donner’s biography about Mildred I found myself wondering many times how it is that I’d never realized her importance in the story of the Circle (known by many as “die Rote Kapelle”). How greatly this would have enhanced my teaching of both stories – die Weiße Rose and Bonhoeffer!

Mildred was from Milwaukee, Wisconsin – 68 miles from the school where I was teaching.
Mildred was the only female U.S. citizen to be executed by the Nazis.
Mildred was the only U.S. citizen to be executed on direct orders of Hitler.

Those points alone would have brought the stories closer to my students.

Now to the book. Rebecca Donner used primary sources where she still could, having found Don Heath Jr., Mildred Harnack’s young courier in Berlin, and speaking with her own grandmother, Jane Donner Sweeny (nee Esch), Mildred’s niece. Additionally, as she tells us in the Author’s Note, she used letters, postcards, memoirs, diaries, and handwritten notes, along with secondary sources such as newspaper articles, archived documents, and the first biography of Mildred Harnack.

The twelve sections of the book follow the people and their stories chronologically, though there are now and then helpful flashbacks or jumps forward that helped me keep track of who everyone was and how they influenced or told about the events. The people involved in the resistance came alive for me on the pages, as Donner described their personalities so vividly. I can only imagine daring what they did under the watchful eye of such a brutally sadistic regime.

We think such a thing as Hitler and his Nazis could never be in power again, and if so we (the western world) would handle things differently. But then I read about how many Germans were unconcerned in the early days of Hitler because he was just eccentric and claimed Germany wanted peace, and later how the western world tried to deal with him first with diplomacy and appeasement. If he gets the Sudetenland, maybe he’ll be satisfied and quit. That rings too many bells at this point, considering Crimea, Ukraine and Putin.

I can recommend this book to anyone interested in WWII history, especially in the resistance movements. Also to anyone wanting to read about women who faced great risks to fight for a better world. I believe those who know the stories of the two most well-known resistance groups better than I do will be intrigued by the connections between them and the names they’ll recognize:

  • Mildred and Arvid Harnack
  • Falk Harnack
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer*
  • Klaus Bonhoeffer
  • Hans von Dohnányi** (married to Bonhoeffer’s sister)
  • Admiral Wilhelm Canaris
  • Hans and Sophie Scholl (siblings involved with die Weiße Rose)

*Well-known German actor Ulrich Tukur acted in both "die Weiße Rose" as Willi Graf, friend of the Scholls and resistance fighter, and 18 years later as Dietrich Bonhoeffer in "Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace." 
**Justus von Dohn
nyi, the grandson of Hans, is an actor and directer who acted in the film “Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace.”

…as well as details from the resistance story Donner also tells about in her book:

  • Falk Harnack meets with Hans Scholl in November 1942 about distributing leaflets and connecting the resistance groups (depicted in “die Weiße Rose”)
  • Bonhoeffer secretly sent messages to his fiancé and family by marking one letter every 10 pages in books (backwards) that prison guards allowed visitors to bring to him
  • Bonhoeffer and von Dohnányi were involved in the “Valkyrie plot” to kill Hitler, which failed and led to their arrests
  • Bonhoeffer, as a Lutheran minister, had conflicting thoughts about being involved in the plot to murder a person even as despicable as Hitler
  • Prisoners held in brick cells and carefully watched still found ways to communicate with each other
  • forms of active and passive resistance

…and the places that Donner mentions:

  • University of Wisconsin, Madison and State Street
  • Wannsee, near Berlin
  • the KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens, largest department store in Europe)
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Alexanderplatz, Berlin
  • the Black Forest, where Mildred and Arvid take a hiking vacation to rejuvenate
  • UW-Madison, Sterling and Bascom Halls: Arvid and Mildred met because Arvid mixed up the two neighboring lecture halls

Bascom Hall? Or Sterling Hall?
Madison, Wisconsin

The familiarity of these names, events and places drew me in, but it was the details I did not previously know that made this book special for me. A book only gets a top rating from me when it makes me think more deeply about something or when I learn something valuable from it. And I certainly learned a lot from this book about Mildred’s life, the lives of those close to her and the resistance movement. It's also pretty impossible to read a book like this and not ask yourself what you would have done under those same circumstances.


Plötzensee Memorial, Berlin

When I was on the student exchange in 1986, the coordinator of the exchange in Esslingen (now my Schwiegermutter/mother-in-law) took us to Berlin for 5 days. While there, we visited the site of the Berlin prison, Plötzensee. I took a few pictures of the site, as well as the large memorial urn that contains dirt from each of the concentration camps, but didn’t know much about the significance of it then. That is where Mildred and Arvid Harnack were executed.

Memorial urn at Plötzensee
"Die Urne enthält Erde
aus deutschen Konzentrationslagern"

Lastly I will mention, though it is not important to Mildred’s story or Donner’s book, I share a family connection to Mildred and Rebecca if you dig through the family tree thoroughly enough to explore the Esch and Jung lines. Apparently Rebecca and I are 4th cousins, meaning we share an ancestor. 

The book will be available in Germany in August 2022, and Rebecca Donner herself told me the German translation will be released in September 2022!

Gott, zu dir rufe ich!
In mir ist es finster,
aber bei dir ist das Licht;
ich bin einsam,
aber du verlässt mich nicht;
ich bin kleinmütig,
aber bei dir ist die Hilfe;
ich bin unruhig,
aber bei dir ist der Friede;
in mir ist Bitterkeit,
aber bei dir ist die Geduld;
ich verstehe deine Wege nicht,
aber du weißt den Weg für mich.

     ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer