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!

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