Article and photos by Bronwyn Clear, Certified Texas Master Naturalist
Based on wildlife research studies done in several states, 60-80% of reported raptor bird deaths are due to trauma from human activity. Death is caused by collisions with cars, phone lines, power wires, turbines, and unfortunately by guns. But young birds in particular also die from starvation, emaciation and predation due to their inexperience in finding food, preventing injuries, and avoiding the animals that kill them.
Some falconers believe people can help these magnificent birds by joining our state regulated falconry program. Texas Parks and Wildlife offers a rigorous permitting, testing and inspection process to dedicated people who want to become falconers. The purpose of falconry is to use trained raptors to capture wild quarry, and after training these birds past their first year of life, many falconers return them to the wild as mature healthy birds that will breed and propagate the species.
Listed below are only some of the tasks a first-time apprentice falconer has to accomplish. That person must expect to change their life style to handle these new and considerable responsibilities.
- Study recommended falconry books & websites, and provide critical documents for permitting.
- Find a sponsor, a qualified experienced falconer, to help answer questions and concerns, and to provide documentation to the state regarding the apprentice’s progress.
- Pass a demanding test on raptor care, terminology and state laws proctored by a Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden.
- Provide a raptor enclosure called a mews, and an outdoor weathering yard. Both must be inspected and approved by a Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden.
- Catch a non-breeding wild raptor under one year of age. The apprentice will train this bird for falconry.
- Supply a varied diet of suitable food to the raptor when it’s not hunting. Hunting licenses are required.
- Fly the bird and let it hunt wild quarry.
- Be responsible every day for the health, well-being, feeding, hygiene, and training of a wild bird of prey.
Falconers can train and fly different kinds of raptors, such as hawks, falcons, owls, and even golden eagles. But the type of bird depends on a falconer’s experience level and their licensed designation of Apprentice, General Falconer or Master Falconer. For apprentices only one young, non-breeding, raptor can be trapped and trained at a time, and a red-tailed hawk is generally an excellent option. The falconer’s choice of a bird often depends on the prey it eats, and if that quarry is readily available to the raptor and the falconer. A red-tailed hawk hunts quarry such as squirrels, mice or rabbits, while a kestrel falcon requires more frequent feedings and a smaller quarry of dragon flies, lizards and birds.
Finally, it is important to realize these raptors have been known to injure their handlers. It is their nature to be aggressive and independent. They are not pets. They will not return affection.
Learn more about the incredible nature in our area by joining a chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist organization. To find a chapter close to you, or to read about the state program, go online to www.txmn.org. Volunteer and get involved!
Apprentice Falconer, Anthea Szabo, and her first red-tailed hawk named Zelda. Being a certified veterinary technician gave Miss Szabo a background in animal health, and yoga gave her patience!
The red-tailed hawk catches and kills with its large powerful talons, hence the falconer wears heavy leather gloves. The hawk’s long leather anklets allow additional equipment to be attached.
The red-tail sits securely outside on a weathering yard perch. A weathering yard is a safe open area that allows a bird to be outdoors while under the direct supervision of its falconer.
When feeding on the ground, a hawk will display mantling, or covering its catch so no other predator can see and steal it.
A red-tail in her mews, an enclosure that meets her needs. A mews protects the bird from predators while providing good air-flow, sunlight, and room to stretch her wings. A double door entry prevents the falconer from being injured, or from losing a bird.
A falconer must be vigilant about their raptor’s health. A foot infection, such as bumblefoot, can be a major concern for captive birds. To prevent health problems the falconer must regularly clean a bird’s habitat, perches and equipment.