Countrymans Diary

Talons,Tears and blood.

 

 

Journey to being owned by an Eagle.

 

I can’t really remember the first bird I owned. I have very early memories of a grey cockatiel called Donald and a succession of birds over the years.

Growing up in Africa I’d seen all manner of Raptors and often asked my dad if I could have one. He always gave me the same response,

“My kid, they can look after themselves better than you can look after them!”

After moving to the UK in ’96 I started breeding parrots and found having so many birds to spend my free time around really special.

I’d trained a number of birds to free fly over the years, even figured out how to fly a cockatiel and get it back, the problem I had with free flying small birds was all the cats around the UK.
I’d spend months training a bird, fly it outside, it would land on a hedge and a cat would get it. Never had a bird survive a cat attack.

One evening my wife and I went to dinner with another couple and during the conversation it came up that the other gentleman had done an experience day hunting rabbits with Harris hawks. I was captivated by this guy (I’d actually not thought much of him until this came up)

An idea had been planted in my head which I pursued quietly for months, researching how to obtain a bird of prey, the legal requirements etc. I broached the subject with my wife (fiancé at the time) telling her how cool it would be if I got a bird that could catch rabbits. (I really didn’t have the slightest idea what I was getting into)…

I don’t remember how I talked her round but the autumn after we got married I took ownership of my first bird of Prey, a Female Harris Hawk I named Jessica.

Finding the bird was not difficult, I knew of the Independent Bird Register through reporting lost parrots, a bit of research showed the same site has a section for birds of prey for sale.

Legalities there really weren’t any apart from certain species of bird needing to be registered with Animal Health.

Jessica managed to draw blood within the first 5 minutes of meeting her. I waved my right hand in front of her and she grabbed it with her foot. No parrot had ever done anything like that to me before.

Got her home, took her into her purpose built pens, closed the door, opened the box and she promptly grabbed me by the hand.
Left her to settle overnight, went out to say hello in the morning, picked her up off her bow perch and she managed to grab me again, this time both of my hands.

She proceeded to hold onto me for nearly 40 minutes during which I tried everything I could think of (including asking really nicely) to get her to let go. Unfortunately I’d lived around birds all my life and knew them to be very delicate creatures which hawks are, but not while their killer instinct is engaged.

Once I worked out that the dangerous parts were the feet and not the beak, I found training the Harris very quick, the way a falconry bird is weight controlled made things much quicker than having to repeat small steps over and over while the bird figures it out.

Learning to hunt prey was also a lot easier for the bird than it was for me. Harris Hawks naturally hunt with partners so adapt very easily to having a human partner, the problem was the bird was hunting and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

She was catching quarry on a regular basis but I was just along for the ride having not the slightest idea if what I was doing was right or wrong. As I talked progress over towards the end of the season with the guy I bought her from it became apparent that the bird was self hunting

Around the same time I was asked to join a local falconry club.

At my first meeting I got talking to a guy who flew Golden Eagles. I don’t drink, I find pubs and more specifically drunk people some of the most annoying things on earth yet I ended up buying this guy drink’s until closing time.

From the moment I heard it was possible to own a Golden Eagle, I wanted one and I was going to have one, I just had to figure out how.

I started going out with my friend’s eagles as often as I could, simply loved to see them fly and the fact they can catch anything they choose to. I was advised that if I wanted to fly an Eagle myself I would need to fly something a lot more challenging than a Harris hawk.

I’d never even heard of a Ferruginous Hawk but through a weird series of co-incidences I ended up driving home from Doncaster three days later with a 10 day old Ferruginous chick. I had to ring my wife on the way home and warn her what to expect when she got home.

Rearing that chick would make a whole diary on its own but long story short, I ended up with the most incredibly beautiful highly evolved specialist hunter that saw humans as his equal only they weren’t born with inch long knives attached to their feet.

I discovered uses for superglue that I don’t even think many paramedics or combat trained medics would risk. Worst injury he caused was a kick to the face, right in the mouth, leaving cuts all the way through from the inside to the outside (I should own shares in the superglue factory!!) of my lower lip and a talon starting in my top lip, all the way to the base of my nose.

I was truly terrified of that bird at times, he could be absolutely fine one second and the next he would grab me, never where I expected and always causing more damage than he should have, but I was learning.

Sadly my Harris Hawk injured herself chasing a squirrel and developed fits which claimed her, leaving me with the psycho ferrug but I was learning.
Learning how to see the tiny tell tale signs that tell you about a bird’s state of mind.

A feather that’s extended from a wing, a head movement, a change in the position of the feet that happens right before you get grabbed.

I was starting to understand the bird by the tiny signs it displays to the outside world. I like to think there was some part of Mwagi who did like me but it wasn’t his feet, beak or wings. Come to think of it he even hurt me by getting a tail feather in my eye once.

The ferruginous is an incredibly specialist hunter evolved for the climate it comes from. Hunting one in the UK took my early confidence in the game I’d caught with the Harris and rammed it down my throat (with 4 talons attached)

I’d catch one rabbit in 10 trips and I’d be over the moon with all the ones he missed because there was just so little return. I had to try everything and then repeat only the things that worked, or didn’t get me injured. Part of me wonders if the guy advising me was just trying to see how much punishment I would take from that bird but when my confidence started waning he suggested I fly a parent reared Redtail Buzzard to help teach me fine weight control while boosting my confidence with better kill ratios.

The redtail was a gentle little fairy to handle compared to the ferrug but she proved to be so determined to catch things it was her undoing. She repeatedly knocked herself clean out trying to catch Canada geese sadly ending her hunting career after hitting a wire fence at high speed. She recovered but lost her left eye due to the skull injury. I retired her to a pen where she sadly died one morning in October 2009.

I was getting better at avoiding injury with the ferrug so started looking for a breeder to source an Eagle from.

Since the change in the Registraton Laws in 2007???? The only falconry birds now requiring registration are the Golden Eagle, Goshawk and Merlin require registration documents and Article 10’s (Article 10 is fine for Peregrine, Sparrowhawk)

Availability depends on what you are looking for in an Eagle. If you just want to own an Eagle for a while there are second, third and manygoround Eagles available on sites like Bird Trader and the IBR.

When you’re buying a gun, it has a specific range of functions, it can perform, it takes cartridges it can take various attachments that will make it work better or worse but all can be tested and most importantly every firearm I know of has a safety catch of some kind.

You can test everything works, take it to a specialist if you think it may have an issue, if someone has taken food away from an Eagle incorrectly you could end up needing an A&E specialist. Woe betide the person who buys a second, third or manygoround Eagle as their first bird.

Untouched birds can be sourced in the UK from specialist breeders as well as from breeding facilities on the continent. The bird I wanted had a long waiting list but finally in the summer of 2013 my Lecter was ready to be collected.

As luck would have it I collected him on my birthday, I bought the biggest plastic container I could find to transport him home (he was only 10 weeks old) the trip to the east coast was glorious weather, by the time I’d collected him it was getting dark and we drove through a horrific summer storm over the vale of York just as it was getting dark.

I got him home, took him inside to introduce to my sleeping wife who promptly jumped when she saw him and told me to get him out the house.

For some reason that’s a similar response as he gets from most people who first meet him. I enjoyed the response at first however having caused a minor concussion to someone who didn’t realize there was a forklift truck parked right behind him I’m thinking I may have to start warning people, on health and safety grounds even if it spoils my fun.

Unlike my ferrug who was a tiny baby when I got him and I kind of got used to his physical development as he grew, Lecter arrived fully grown in body with feathers to finish growing out.

He is massive, no other word describes him adequately, but terrified.

He spent two days, facing the wall of his pen, running away if I tried to approach so I just sat still and watched him.

I noticed he went to one corner a lot of the time so I started sitting in that spot. Took 5 days of spending every free moment I had sat in that corner waiting for him to come to me. At first he stopped running as far as he could when I came in, then he started moving round once I was in with him, finally on the 5th evening he came and laid down in the corner where I was sitting and went to sleep.

From there we just made friends, first with my fingers touching his beak, then stroking his head, slowly seeing how much of his body he trusted me to touch.

Due to his age, I couldn’t tether him so I had this fully developed eagle who I couldn’t restrain in any way but he started to enjoy my visits, started coming over to greet me when I came in.

 

Read more from Evan next time folks.

If you have any Questions about birds of prey please contact us and we will pass them on.

 

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