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)