Saturday, December 10, 2022


One thing I've always loved about southwest Germany is that the winters are SO much milder than what one endures in Wisconsin. The temps aren't as low, the windchill not as threatening and the snowfall usually a joke compared to what one has in WI. We've gone entire winter seasons here only having to use our shovel a handful of times. Other times a broom is sufficient. Yes, we've had some significant snowstorms as well, but at least the streets get cleared well (so one doesn't have to drive on a sheet of ice for 2 months, unlike in WI) and the snow doesn't last long.

My snowbird. Or maybe snowhawk?

I didn't pay much attention to nighttime temps because I've been snug under my Federbett with the window tilted open all winter long.

Bring on December 2022, the first year we have our Harris hawk, who lives outside in her mew. FFS, I've not noticed temps this cold for this extended a period since I moved here! It's still nothing like Wisconsin - in fact I just converted the coldest upcoming temp and found it to be still double-digits-above-zero °Fahrenheit! But we can't bring her in because the temperature differential between inside and outside is now too great that it's not healthy for her to go in and out.

Unfortunately no one can convince me that "she'll be fine." It's like when a mom puts another sweater on her kid because the mom is cold - except I can't put a sweater on her. I had a brief "Ah-hah!" moment the other night when I pondered on the fact that I was warm in bed because I was covered in...feathers. But then the next night I had to add a blanket on top of my Federbett.

Kayas first snow:
I feel like she's screaming, "WTF?!?!"

M put up another perch today in the inner mew, this one with a warming cord running along the wood, covered with something like Astroturf (perching on that is good for her feet, but she also has perches that are just branches because raptors need options). And he added a layer of insulation on top the inner mew that should keep it more comfortable in there, especially when it's windy. We didn't turn on the heat yet (we'll test it tomorrow) because we want to be present when it's warmed to make sure all is well, it works but is not too hot, etc. But Kaya did accept the new perch and went to sleep there for the night.

I've read in two books about Harris hawks that the cold is not a problem for them as long as they are in a dry and draft-free mew. The ground of her mew is natural earth and grass, and the ground in Germany is never dry in winter. But her perches are high up off the ground. She does have protection from drafts, especially if she chooses to sleep in her inner mew.

These books were written by experts on Harris hawks in Germany and in the U.S. They have many, many years of experience and know what they're talking about. And still I worry about her out there in the cold because I would hate to have to sleep out there regardless of how many layers I might be wearing. Every morning when she starts squawking (sometime between 5:00 and 6:45) I jolt awake and my first thought is, "Oh thank God, she's ok!"

I've spent some time thinking fondly back to August, when she was new here and I worried about her because it was so hot. I can't believe she's only been with us for four months!

This is my "I hate winter" face.
She's looking for crows.

To date she has successfully bagged 10 crows and shows herself to be a willing and enthusiastic hunter. The ones she hasn't bagged were often because of a mistake I made, sometimes because she was too enthusiastic and flopping around and banging me in the face with her wings, thereby alerting the clever crows to the danger they were in, other times because the crows out-maneuvered her, and sometimes just dumb bad luck. We continue learning together and will keep trying until the end of the crow-hunting season in mid-February.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

A Stolperstein for Hedwig

Recently I learned that there would be a Stolperstein laid in a town not far from us, and I knew I wanted to be there. And by being present I met some wonderful people.

I have told many friends, family and students about the Stolpersteine project and the people memorialized through it. Stolpersteine are always a part of the tours I give in Esslingen, Tübingen, Ulm and Berlin.

First let me tell you a little about the project:

The German artist Gunter Demnig remembers the victims of the Nazis by installing commemorative brass plaques in the pavement usually in front of their last known address, sometimes their school. There are now about 100,000  Stolpersteine (as of 2022) in over 1800 towns and cities in 28 countries. The project began in 1992, and since 1996 the stones have been laid with official permission.

Michael Friedrichs-Friedländer is the sculptor who creates each Stolperstein by hand in his studio in Berlin-Pankow. Each letter and each date is pressed into the plague individually. Mass or machine production is out of the question.

Gunter Demnig cites the Talmud saying that "a person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten". The Stolpersteine in front of the buildings bring back to memory the people who once lived or studied there. Each “stone” begins with HERE LIVED or HERE LEARNED… One “stone”. One name. One person.


Now to Hedwig Levi. Her story is not mine to tell, but all the info I can find about her online is in German and I’d like to tell a little about her in English. Her story was told at the ceremony while the current owner of the house and her son placed her Stolperstein. Afterwards the organizers handed out pamphlets (put together by the Jewish Community in Rexingen) in German and English to those gathered.  

Hedwig was born in Rexingen (the small town not far from us) on August 7, 1879. She married Alfred Levi from Rexingen in 1909 and they lived in his parents’ house in the town, in front of which the Stolperstein was laid on October 30, 2022. Their only child, Irene, was born in 1914. After Alfred died, Irene moved in with her mother to help her for a few years. Irene became engaged to Helmut Kahn, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1939. After Kristallnacht in November 1938 Irene moved back in with her mother out of concern for her safety, and at that time she was preparing for her emigration to the U.S. to join Helmut. From there she tried to arrange her mother’s immigration but was unsuccessful, something which plagued Irene the rest of her life.

Hedwig sold her house in Spring of 1940 as her health was failing, but she was pleased to learn of Irene and Helmut’s marriage later that year. Hedwig spent time in the hospital in Horb in January 1941, but after returning home her health had not improved. Three days after sending her last postcard to her niece in Brussels and with no prospect for better health or escaping from Germany, Hedwig took her own life. She is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Rexingen.


the house in Rexingen

Hedwig’s granddaughter, Hazel K., her two daughters, Alison and Jessica, and son-in-law Brent had flown in from the U.S., and family members from the Kahn side, now living in Switzerland, attended as well. Another honored guest was Ursula R., who still lives just down the street from Hedwig’s house and was the only person present who had known Hedwig.

Hazel's family with Simon and Davorka in the middle
and Ursula just behind in the chair

My intent was to stay in the background, take in the experience and take some photos, but I did introduce myself to Hazel and Jessica, thanked them for the touching remarks they delivered to those gathered, and offered to help translate as the Americans and the locals chatted with each other.

The current owner of Hedwig’s house, Davorka P., moved to Germany from Croatia. When she and her husband were contacted and asked if they would be open to a Stolperstein for Hedwig being placed in front of their home, they not only welcomed it but said they would do the cementing of the stone themselves. It was Davorka and her son, Simon, who did this while the organizers spoke about Hedwig.

I was able to provide translation help as Davorka answered some questions about her and her family’s story as well. After doing so, Hazel’s son-in-law invited me to join their small gathering for lunch in Rexingen’s former Synagogue. I sat with Hazel’s daughters and we had a lovely chat! Horb’s Bürgermeister was at the table on one side of us and on the other was a man who said to me, “I think we’ve met. Aren’t you the one with [tapping his arm] the bird?” LOL We had met on the Marktplatz two days earlier when Kaya and I had gone for a walk in town.

Rabbi Brent and I spoke about why Stolpersteine are not welcomed in every community and about the very different ways in which Germany and the U.S. face the demons of their past.

I felt very honored and grateful to be included in the lunch and pleased to make a connection with this lovely family.

The artist Gunter Demnig cites the Talmud as an inspiration for the Stolperstein project he started, saying that "a person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten". Now Hedwig Levi’s name and story will not be forgotten.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Shop Local: Poultry Farm Shop

This blog post combines two of my favorite things: Falconry and shopping in local farm shops!

It's perhaps not a post for vegetarians, but Kaya is not one of those and neither are we.

Our mentor showed me this farm shop in Neustetten, a tiny town about 18 km / 20 minutes from home. The big grocery store is just four minutes away by car. Is the drive worth it, with gas prices so high? 

ABSOLUTELY!!  (especially with our electric car...)

This is the shop connected to a chicken farm, and our mentor told us they slaughter on Mondays, which means on Tuesdays they have fresh chicken and chicken parts for sale. So whenever we're running low on tidbits for Kaya's training, I make a drive here on Tuesday morning. I buy two packs of Hühnermägen (chicken stomachs) and today I also picked up Hühnerherzen (chicken hearts).

Gross, you think? I beg your pardon! This is Swabia, where generations ago many people were poor. Nothing - or very little - from the animal, be it cow, pig or chicken, was wasted, and Innereien (offal, giblets) were turned into delicacies that are still enjoyed today. Ok, not by me, but when I told my Schwiegermutter what I'd bought this morning, she did not know if it was for Kaya or for us. A family friend has cooked Hühnermägen and according to her, M liked them when he was younger!

In fact I plan to get there within an hour of the shop opening, because I want to make sure they're not sold out of the giblets. Because the demand is perhaps not SO high, these bits are also not expensive. From one package I can get portions for 12 training sessions, and it only costs €2,50.

Hühnermägen rinsed and ready to be cut up for tidbits.
It's just meat, really.

This shop is not just about chickens. They sell fruits, vegetables, spices, fresh herbs, plants, flour, oil, canned and jarred goods, nuts, noodles, and today I saw traditional German Christmas treats like Zimtsterne, Lebkuchen and Schoko-Vanillekipferl

Later I spent half an hour cutting one package of Hühnermägen into tidbit pieces for training, and when we trained Kaya this afternoon she had fresh (not frozen-thawed) tidbits, which she must have enjoyed even more than usual.

At the end of training; she's still manteling
to let M know she'd happily take some more.

These local farm shops are one of the many reasons I love living where we do - basically out in the countryside. We will keep doing what we can to support these shops even though they're not as convenient as the big stores where all the goods arrive on delivery trucks from who-knows-where.

I bought more today than what Kaya needs, of course. I brought home some Hähnchenkeulen (drumsticks) to make Jamie Oliver's Hit-and-Run-Chicken, along with all the vegetables that go in it. Bananas, raspberries, and shelled walnuts topped off the items I snatched up. 

Their special for this week reflects another southern German tradition:

November 1st is Allerheiligen (All Saints' Day) and November 2nd is All Souls' Day. Allerheiligen is a stiller Feiertag here in the south, which means stores, schools and businesses are closed and people visit their relatives' graves, decorate them for the season, and light candles. The shop is offering Grabschmuck, or decorations and flowers most fitting for the pre-winter planting.

On the way home I stopped at another favorite family-owned shop - the bakery in our neighboring town. Fresh bread, rolls, croissants, and a sweet treat. Those were all for us humans, though. Kaya is all about the meat.

I wish you a happy end of October!

Friday, October 21, 2022

An Unexpected Bath

Today, after a Corona-Zwangspause (forced break due to my Corona infection) we finally went out crow hawking again. The drive to the meeting point, where I met Br and a new Jungfalknerin took 90 minutes, and both birds were finished within an hour! It was a successful morning, and after a such a long break I was relieved and proud of Kaya for getting her crow.

When out hawking you never know what you'll experience, and almost every time I come home with a tale to tell M (who has mercifully been spared Corona, despite my infection including symptoms and the two of us not really isolating from each other as we should have).

Kaya just after our Zwangspause, looking wistfully at crows
and wondering if we're ever going hunting again.

I'd arrived at our meeting point about 8 minutes late, and in the mean time Br and JF (Jungfalknerin) decided to take a round with Hekate and see what they could find. I got Kaya out of her travel box, attached her telemetry sender, showed her that it was raining, and put her back into her dry box to wait. About 20 minutes later I saw Br's car approaching the parking lot, disappear around the curve, and that was it. 5-6 minutes went by and they didn't appear. I'd seen another truck over there and thought maybe they'd run into trouble, when suddenly my phone rang. It was Br. Fifty meters from where I was waiting, Hekate had her prey!

Right, so she was done for the day because it was a special kill. And a muddy one!

So Hekate got a treat in her travel box and got to nibble while the three of us took Kaya out. 

We drove about and got a good look at the usual spots, spotted a murder of crows (did you know a group of crows is called "a murder"?) on a field in a good position, turned the corner, Kaya kept her cool, I launched her at just the right time, and BAMM! She had her crow, too! That was less than 30 minutes after we'd started.

Well done, Lass!

Check out my muddy boots!

I had to pluck her and her prize out of that muddy field and bring her over to the less-muddy road where she could fill herself up while I scraped off my boots. Since she's still learning she gets to enjoy her kill before we pack her up again, which means she gets to eat until she can't anymore.

The three of us enjoyed her success on top of Hekate's, chatted about all kinds of things in the rain, and when Kaya showed signs of slowing, traded her crow for a yummy thawed chick - which wasn't easy because her right claw was cramped into the crow. I put her soaking wet into the travel box with a drumstick and we returned to the parking lot.

The drive there (near Kehl in the Rhein valley) was relaxed but crappy because it was pitch dark most of the way, rainy, foggy, serpentiny, and the headlights of on-coming cars are blinding in those conditions. The drive back was much nicer, though it still rained the whole way. I stopped at the top of the Schwarzwald to take a photo of the beautiful scenery.


The fall colors really were quite beautiful, but of course not where I could easily stop. Kaya wanted to get home anyway.

When we got home I put a wing from her crow into the mews on the perch we call "the balance beam" but put her inside on her perch in the sun room to wait for M to return for lunch and to hopefully dry off a bit.

I don't know if she looks as wet as she is, 
but she is WET!

Here you see her Kropf (crop) full of crow -
the bulge under her throat.

I had her step on the scale out of curiosity, and she was 1100 grams - 200 grams more than she was when we set out this morning! That might be the most she's packed on in one day since we've had her. Not all falconers let their raptors fill up on their first crows, and while I see the sense of maintaining a more constant weight, this is how Br does it and we're ok with it, too. Kaya had a "diet day" yesterday, which raptors in the wild often have as well, albeit unplanned, but today she got to see that a successful hunt means a full belly (and crop)!

When I brought her into her mews, she quickly spied the wing on her perch and flew to it as if she were starving. But flying with a full Kropf is a little awkward, so she missed what she was aiming at and only caught the perch on the bottom, dangling there momentarily like a bat. She regained her footing, grabbed the wing, and then thought a moment where she wanted to take it. She always opts for one of the corners of the mews, so she jumped down. Again the full crop and the crow wing in her clenched fist caused her some trouble, and her flight to the ground was more of "falling without style" and she landed in her bathtub!

Good thing she spent 20 minutes drying off...

She's now standing on her waterlogged dessert, half manteling (because she can never be sure I don't want a bite of that deliciousness for myself) and likely confused. I backed up and assured her the dessert was hers alone, but I couldn't help snap a photo as I encouraged her to get out of the tub.

Then she dragged her dessert into the corner, gave me the side-eye again, and just sat there. She was likely too stuffed to really tuck in.


But she's been quiet in her mews for several hours, forcing out a squawk only now and then for heaven knows what reason. I was happy to see (on our surveillance camera) that she was able to fly back up to a corner perch and then over to her balance beam, which is under the roof. She's still there, doing extreme preening. It's surely going to take until at least tomorrow to get those feathers back in order. But it's not cold, and if we're in doubt later we can bring her inside to sleep where it's dry.

I think Kaya is proud of herself.
And she should be!

I am SO glad to be healthy again and back in action with Kaya. It's a long drive sometimes, but it's worth it because she needs that success. Going for walks and sitting on benches is nice and all, but she was hatched to hunt! And for a young bird, she's good at it.

Until next time...


Sunday, October 2, 2022

Hawks & Babies

Today I'm going to tell you why having a young raptor in your life is quite a bit like having a new baby. You can trust me; I've had them both.

As I sit here typing during an evening rainstorm - worrying about my dear girl, who was sitting, last I saw her before it got too dark to check on her, on the one perch in her mew which is not protected by anything, not even tree branches - I can tell you I'm wondering about pneumonia. Why the heck did she not fly to the perch under the roof while it was still light out?!? Should I go get her? Ok, it's not that cold, but I wouldn't want to be sitting out there in this. 

And absolutely, when I'm cold, I worry about her being cold. If I could put a sweater or rain jacket on her, I probably would.

So there's one of the similarities of being a new parent and being a "parent" to a hawk: You worry about them all the time. You've left them in someone's capable care (Kaya is safe in her mew when I'm gone) but the entire time you're away you wonder if they're really ok. You know they are and yet you worry anyway.

When they're squawking, you wonder what's wrong. Why is she screaming/crying? She's had a good meal, some exercise, a good poo, attention, a walk... She's sitting there on one leg and all floofed up - both signs of contentment for a hawk (less so for a baby) - so why is she still squawking??

indoors, on one foot, but squawking

Worse is when they're quiet. Why is she quiet all of a sudden? What's wrong? What's she doing? Should I check on her? If I do and she sees me, she'll scream again. Better to just enjoy the quiet. But why is she still quiet? She's still alive, right? (Visions of a dead hawk dance in my head as I imagine the guilt I'll feel for not having checked earlier.)

Perhaps she's quiet because she's
got something to think about.

And then there's their growth. Are they developing normally? Has she put on enough weight? Too much weight? What's the right weight? It's almost bedtime, but she seems hungry. Should I give her a snack or wait until tomorrow? 

Too chonky??
Naw, she's just all floofed up.

When she poos, I often take a quick look to make sure it's normal. I or we often have to clean it up inside because she shot a load right at the moment when we didn't have any protection like a towel ready - like a baby squirting in mid-diaper-change. And we have a load of poo towels (like cloth diapers) to wash once a week or so. 

It's still raining.

A brief flashback to Day 10: I was on a walk with Kaya and at one point she bated (threw herself off the glove for no apparent reason) and when she settled again I ran my hand down her back to settle her and...OMG! There's a lump! Only on her left side, I didn't feel the same on the right. M felt it and we came to the same conclusion - she'd injured herself! She wasn't acting hurt, she stood normally. But that lump! It felt like a bone sticking out. OMG.

I strode home and called our mentor, "Br". I tried to explain what I could feel, but my German comes out badly when I'm trying not to panic. She grabbed her birdy first aid kit and came right over. That was such a long 30 minutes! I'm thinking our dear bird is badly hurt, how could I let this happen, wondering how we'll live without her, speaking to her in soothing tones.

Br arrived, Kaya and I were sitting on our patio, Br ran a hand down Kaya's back and said, "This?
"Yes!" I'm choking back tears.
"Yeah, that's her elbow."

That boney lump can be felt any time Kaya has her wings folded in. I'd handled Hekate, Br's Harris, for an entire season but kept my hands respectfully off her. And apparently I hadn't thoroughly touched my own bird to know what is normal. Jeez... Since that day I have fondled and begrabscht her all over repeatedly so I now know what she feels like normally and will hopefully know when something's amiss - and when something isn't!

My weather app says the rain is abating. It is not.

Wonder what a wet hawk looks like?

That time she'd been in the rain while eating a big meal and didn't care she was getting wet. It was also warmer and during the day, so when she finished eating I brought her in to dry off. It took about 4 hours.

Another similarity to having a new baby is that your nice neat daily schedule, which ran your life for the last 10+ years, is history. Oh, you ate dinner every night at 19:00? You often cooked really good meals during the week and scoffed at those who scarfed down a pizza or some other quick meal? You prepared pretty healthy and balanced meals? You can kiss all that good-bye. The bird will stop screaming for a bit if you take her for a walk when "Dad" gets home at 18:00 (that's when you used to cook) and she "goes to bed" as it starts to get dark, which has been getting ever closer to 19:30. 

Oh, and neither hawks nor babies know about daylight savings time. So go ahead and change your clocks, but don't expect them to play along.

Kaya usually sleeps outside in her mew, but she often wakes up and starts calling around 6:00 even though it's still dark! I'm a light sleeper (was with my children as well) and at the first squawk I'm out of bed like a shot, slipping on my shoes and falconer glove, grabbing the keys to the mew and a head lamp and dashing out to get her, hoping the neighbors can fall back asleep again. I put her in her box in a dark room, and that usually buys us (and the neighbors) another hour. 

Those details are different with babies, but any mother and some fathers will recognize the whole "dashing out of bed at the first sound from the baby" thing. 

What about photos? Yes, we have hundreds and have only had Kaya for 2 months. Photos of her being silly, being serious, being curious, bathing, sleeping, drying off, on a kill, just sitting, with a full crop, and of course squawking - on the perch, on my arm, in the car, on a walk, in the house, on the porch, while training... I could write a Dr. Suess-like book about all the squawking she does.

Squawky McSquawkface

And then there's the coming home from wherever and wanting to touch base with her first, perhaps cuddle a bit, ask her how she's doing despite knowing she won't answer, wanting to check that everything is ok with her. I can check my emails later; first I want to see that she is ok. Sometimes that's just a peek through a cracked door hoping she won't see me and start squawking again, other times it's straight to the mew to get her out and do something with her.

She's doing Federpflege on me - 
fixing my bangs.

And finally, we thoroughly enjoy spending time with her! We love watching her develop, being a part of her (hunting) successes, helping her learn, laughing gently at her mistakes, praising her for good work. And we love it that she knows she's safe with us. When we're walking with her, she leans into us for shelter when it gets windy. She calms down when we assure her she doesn't need to fear the approaching dog or bicycle. And when she bates we just wait calmly while she gets back up onto the glove and pulls herself together.

She wants to be with us, too, and that's pretty cool.

Life will never be the same again.

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)