Thursday, January 12, 2023

Crow Hawking Diaries: The 15th Crow

I‘ve been spending all my time with Kaya and therefore neglecting my blog and my household duties! It’s astonishing how much time one can devote to a raptor, though we spend more time interacting with her than we’d need to.

We’ve recently hit another milestone. On Dreikönigstag, the last holiday of the Christmas season, M and I went crow hawking with Kaya alone – that is, without a more experienced falconer with us – and Kaya got her 15th crow! The three of us have been out alone before, but we were never successful. Returning home without quarry isn’t all that unusual and happens even when we do go hawking with experienced falconers. The odds are in the crows’ favor most of the time.

This Revier is about a 20-minute drive from home and where we have been invited to hunt deer and wild boar as well. We have sat frequently in Hochsitze and have had sightings of deer, but we have as yet had no good chance to shoot and therefore no hunting success. The Jagdpächter (hunter-tenants) allow us to go crow hawking there as well.

There is a Biogasanlage and farm in the Revier and we have often seen a murder of crows hanging around near there. I’ve missed several great opportunities by not being ready, so the other day I was prepared before I was sure there were crows on that field. On the far side of the building we all saw four or five crows on the field at a perfect distance for Kaya, and all but one took off too soon. I launched Kaya because the last one stayed on the ground nonplussed by her fleeing friends, Kaya flew up above and came crashing down on the confused crow and held on while they both screamed at each other. I ran over to them, “took care of” the crow*, praised Kaya for her good work, secured her to my glove and M snapped a quick photo.

Kaya's manteling over her prize to 
prevent me from stealing some noms for myself.

*Kaya is a Grifftöter (a raptor who kills mainly with her claws). In the wild, a Grifftöter will grab the prey, hang on, start to pluck and eat while the prey dies rather slowly. Nature is harsh. We falconers get to our bird as quickly as possible and end the prey’s life quickly and more humanely than the hawk would.

Our next step is to entice Kaya off the deceased crow using smaller bits of meat she likes – that day I’d thawed a Wachtel (quail) and portioned it to be ready. She was quite happy with the quail but had a Beutekrampf (the talons of one foot were cramp-locked on the crow) and even though she wasn’t interested in it anymore, she couldn’t release her grip. We tried everything we could think of and had seen others do, but in the end we just had to wait it out while she munched on the quail still attached firmly to the crow. 15 minutes after she’d caught the crow, she finally released it when going after the last tidbits we had left.

We were a happy trio in the end, because M and I felt we’d finally accomplished this on our own, and Kaya was stuffed with quail.

By now Kaya is up to 16 crows, which is quite good for a young bird only 8 1/2 months old! But lately it's so windy with strong gusts that we're forced to take some days off. Crow season ends on February 15th, so hopefully the weather will cooperate again soon.

Here’s to more hawking adventures!

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Crow Hawking Diaries: The Fence

On our first crow hawking trip of the year Kaya and I faced something we don’t ever want to have happen again! Anyone who goes hunting or indeed, simply has an animal – working or not – knows accidents and injuries are always a possibility. But when the reality hits nothing can prepare you for it.

We were out with my mentor (B) and her Harris hawk, Hekate, in a new Revier. At one point I launched Kaya at some crows that were sitting well on a field about 20 meters from the road. The crows scurried off and Kaya gave chase even though once the crows take to flight their odds of escaping are better than Kaya’s odds of catching one. As I was getting a tidbit out to call her back, B shouted, “She’s caught in the fence! Run to her!” I took off across the muddy field as fast as I could, running the 60 meters or so to where Kaya was screaming. She looked at me and I swear somehow knew I was going to help her. She didn’t panic more, at any rate, and thank goodness. She was indeed stuck in the fence somehow, and I couldn’t tell right away how or if the fence were barbed wire (it was not). I could see that her head was stuck. I threw off my leather falconer’s glove, talked calmly to her, and felt for where the fence wire was that must be trapping her. It seemed her neck was stuck between the straight top wire and the chain link below it, so I held the top wire and pulled gently on the mesh. That allowed her to get her head out, and she reached out immediately for me, grabbing my ungloved left arm tightly in her talons.

I lowered her to the ground and kept talking gently to her, stroking her and looking and feeling for blood or signs of any wounds. I saw and felt no signs of either, but she was still hanging onto my arm and screaming. Sharp as her talons are, I didn’t mind. B had reached us by then, and eventually Kaya calmed down enough to let go of my arm. I put my glove back on, got her up, and we trudged back across the field to our car.

Kaya seemed ok, but before we headed off again we flew her between us twice to see if she were willing and if anything looked askew. She flew as usual, and we determined everything was fine.

Neither of us had seen that fence in the distance, but even if we had known it was there, I would have set her at those crows. The fence was at least 60 meters away, and usually Kaya breaks off her chase before then. There are all kinds of potential dangers Kaya could face: a car or truck when we’re close to a road, a Habicht (goshawk) when we’re close to a forest, dogs - especially the unleashed ones, and manmade hazards like fences, wires, electrical lines and so on.

It is our job as falconers to look out for these and other dangers and not let our bird go when it’s not safe. When Kaya takes off, she only sees her quarry, not potential dangers. I was reminded that day of how fragile her life is and how quickly things can turn south. We were lucky. 

Hawking can be dangerous, but the safe alternative – not hawking and staying where there are no dangers – would not be in her best interest. She is a raptor and it is in her nature to hunt. If she could choose, I don’t think she’d prefer to stay in her mews. That's safe, but pretty boring. Her body language while hawking tells me that she really wants to do this. When she sees a crow, I can hardly hold her back to wait for the right moment. She wants to GO!

But if she had her druthers, I think she’d happily avoid fences in the future. And that would be fine with me, too!