Owning an eagle is certainly not something to go into without a lot of careful thought and consideration of the options available to you.
I’d decided what I wanted from my eagle long before I had even managed to source a bird.
I wanted a bird that was imprinted on humans but not fully imprinted on me. I wanted a bird that was friendly to handle and who used intelligence rather than force to get what he wants in life.
I wanted a bird that understood he was a bird, didn’t think he was human but who would form a strong bond with his owner.
I decided early on that while my ego might like to fly a female, my tired abused old body is never going to be able to carry a big female around the hills and over fences without injury, a male would be much more suitable and in my opinion unless youre consistently hunting really big or dangerous quarry, its a big bird to have to carry around.
I first met Lecter in May 2013 as a 5 week old chick.
He looked like an ungainly ball of down feathers, only he was the size of those turkey serving trays used at Christmas time.
I finally collected him from Eagle George on my birthday in June. Driving out to the east riding was the most glorious summer afternoon, I returned the little harris hawk I’d had on loan since Mwagi disappeared, had a long chat about my plans for rearing and training Lecter, completed the CITES paperwork and registration document transfers, George went out to Lady’s pen, collected Lecter and by the time he came out the sky had turned black.
I’d bought the largest plastic storage tub I could find at the local QLM, laid down on his keel as young birds do when afraid, he filled the box!
One large box, one large young eagle.
Lecter and I drove home through the most horrific thunderstorm on the way home, not what I needed, particularly when he decided to try and climb out of the box (strapped in the passenger seat) just as I got onto the A64.
Got him home late and as everyone does when they finally get home with something they have waited for 6+ years to get, I took him inside, carried him his box up the stairs to our room, woke my better half up to show her the baby bird (at 11:30 at night) and was promptly told, as soon as she saw it, To, get it out of the house and never bring it inside again!!
Thwarted in my plan to spend all night with the bird I settled him into my office with food for the morning.
He spent the first two days in his new pen, staring at the walls and running to the other side of the pen if I tried to come anywhere near him. By the second day I’d noticed he had a corner of the pen that he seemed to go to when I wasn’t around, so I started sitting right there, everytime I went in his pen.
Because he was so young it was not possible to tether or secure him in any way and I knew if I tried to force him to be near me we would end up with a battle of strength which I wanted to avoid at all costs this early on.
He had been dual imprinted (raised by a human as well as a parent Eagle) so had never experienced any kind of aggression towards a human by another bird and he had no fear of humans, I was just strange and new to him.
I sat in that corner ever free minute I had and slowly, day by day we went from no longer running away as soon as I came in to careful stolen glances in my direction, turning back to the wall if he though I’d noticed him looking at me. I think it took another week maybe 10 days before he came towards me of his own accord. Another two or three days, choosing my visits at the times when he is most settled, I managed to get him to come and lay down next to me and go to sleep.
I decided the part of him that was the least scary was his beak, so one day I gently touched it, scratched the sides, which he seemed to like, let him beak at my hand and in about 5 minutes I was scratching the back of his head.
Day by day I explored his little feathered body, finding where his personal space boundries lay and pushing them little by little until I could touch and examine any part of his body.
I discovered he could be quite rough and boisterous when playing around his pen, by now he’d started flapping his wings a lot more and was jumping around the pen trying to get to stumps I’d placed at varying heights.
He’d gone for my hands a few times while we were playing about and everytime he did I would get out the way and storm out of his pen leaving him alone.
Something about the way in which he was trying to grab me told me he wasn’t trying to hurt me, its just really hard to take that leap of faith when youre talking 7 inch wide grip with 2 inch talons on the ends. I and others convinced me that he had to grab me sooner or later and it was probably best to just get it over with.
Catching his dinner.
Quick as a flash, like a man who knows a job needs to be done, I determined to let him grab me, and succeeded, 4 days later. It was a short lived moment followed by one of many no 2’s he’s managed to induce since, but he wrapped his foot around my hand, held it, quite gently, just long enough for me to notice that the underside of his feet are surprisingly cold and then let go and carried on beaking me instead.
I’d decided long before I got him that I would try and repeat things that work and avoid anything that could cause an issue. If I tried something and he didn’t like it, I’d leave him alone and do the things that worked next time before trying the thing that didn’t work. I don’t know when it was but at some point I realized that leaving him every time he did something I didn’t like he wouldn’t do that next time I went in with him.
He was progressing onto flying up onto the higher stumps (about a meter off the ground) when I decided it was time to fit his anklets and let him start getting used to the equipment he will wear when he is hunting.
I was dreading fitting the backpack which his tracking transmitter mounts on. Fitting his anklets had turned out to be quite easy, his left one went on first time I tried, right leg I managed to lift his registration ring after 4 days of aborted attempts cause it was upsetting him. (I think this may have been when I figured out he understood tantrums)
By the time I got to fit his backpack he’d progressed from flying to the stump I wanted him to stand on (which was waist high) putting him at a convenient height to be threading a pair of ribbons around his head, across his chest, around under both wing and back to the backpack mount, to a shelf which was at my shoulder height meaning I had his feet level with my face.
Like many things with Lecter that I faced with trepidation, it turned out to be quite fun. He seemed to think it was just some game we were playing, the harder I tucked and preened at feathers to get the ribbon under the feathers up against his body, the harder he beaked at my coat sleave.
Half an hour later he was proudly wearing his transmitter, he’d learned one step at a time how to step onto my gloved hand, always the right foot then the left foot, stand still while I get the jesses into safety position and then hold without gripping as I carry him around.
He took to wearing his hood without incident, his flight feathers were almost completely grown so I started turning my attention to getting him flying.
I’m fortunate in that a glacier, several thousand years ago left a chunk of rock behind on a farm I have permission to fly on, which produces lift from just about any direction the wind cares to blow from.
I drove him to the top of the hill, put him down on the grass and left him to figure out how to fly.
His first attempt he managed to run, hop, flap his wings enough to get airborn for about 5 meters. I picked him up, took him back to the car so I could get my camera, turned to face him where he was stood on the grass and he took off into the wind and kept going for about 100 meters and landed on the edge of the hill.
We spent the rest of the afternoon with him flying back and forth along this hillside, picking him up out of bracken, carrying him back up the hill. We ended the day when he got adventurous and landed about 45 ft up a tall pine tree.
After borrowing a ladder that got me to the first few branches, I asked the farmer to stand clear of the trunk and to ring an ambulance if I needed one and clambered up after my boy. When the trunk started to thin to little more than my impressive new left bicep, I started wondering if it wouldn’t be better to leave him to live wild for a few days. Fortunately he stepped onto the glove and never once so much as fidgeted as I climbed one handed back down the tree.
I knew there was never going to be a need to teach him to recall to me, he’d done that himself as a young brancher back in the pen at home so I started flying him out of his hood at a lure tied with food. He’d never been weight reduced, I’d simply skipped an afternoon and a morning feed and taken him flying that afternoon when I decided he was hard penned (feathers finished growing)
From there his weight increased day on day as I gave him longer and longer flights at the lure. Every training session ended with him being put on a rock that forms a small cliff edge that he took a liking to early on. At first he would fly off and I would go and fetch him wherever he landed, take him back and let him do it again. As he got fitter he would fly for longer and longer periods of time until he was spending 5 – 10 minutes in the air at a time.
Getting him hunting was incredibly easy, I simply put a dead rabbit down on the floor, stood a distance away from it and let him fly to it out of the hood a few times. Once he figured out that rabbits are food, I started dropping the ferret down every hole I could find. He missed quite a few and then on the 3rd day I’d been ferreting rabbits for him, a 2/3rd grown rabbit came out the burrow stopped to sniff the air and got a halux (rear) talon through her rib cage for not running when she should have.
Come back soon for more about an Eagle.