Saturday, June 18, 2011

It Takes More Than Money to Get a Falcon

This amusing ad is now on local TV, but I am going to use it as an instruction piece too.

You see, you can't actually own a falcon just because you have a little cash in hand.  That's how falcons, hawks and eagles are different from parrots or dogs.

Owning a falcon requires a person to first pass a Federal Falconry exam, and then take at least two years of apprenticeship with a master falconer or general class falconer in order to get a state and federal license to own a bird.

Before a bird is in hand, there must be at least two mew inspections (one by the master or general class falconer, and another by state or federal officials), and enough paperwork must be filled out to make a college student wilt.

The result: falconers tend to be dedicated fanatics who put their birds first and who go to incredible lengths to keep their charges healthy, both physically and mentally.

A falconry license is dependent upon the routine free flight of the bird, which means the owner and the bird not only have to train, they have to be in such tight sync that during hunting season the owner can tell you what his bird weighs within the weight of a penny.

What about Parrots and Pit Bulls? A very different story. Anyone with cash can buy these animals, and the results show.

In the world of large parrots we find a lot of birds as vicious as Harpy Eagles, feather-plucking themselves bald, and generally driven mad with boredom. Too many (perhaps most) are dead within a year or two of purchase, despite the fact that these birds should live to 30 years or more.

As for Pit Bulls, about half are given up to "shelters" within their first year or two of life. Once in the shelter system, Pit Bulls have little chance of being adopted out, and a 90 percent chance of being killed for no other reason than young fools are led to believe that a Pit Bull is "just like any other dog," and that if they are "good people" they will be sure to raise a dog that will be no more trouble than a hamster or a Labrador Retriever.

And the result: almost a million Pit Bulls are killed in this country every year -- more dead Pit Bulls than the total number of dogs registered by the AKC and the UKC... over 40 million pounds of dead Pit Bulls being tossed in land fills and incinerators every year.

And why? Because idiots keep breeding these dogs, and ignorants keep adopting these dogs based on a theory that all dogs are the same, that all dogs are blank slates, and that a young dilettante's love can cure all and make everything right.

Falconers and hawkers know better. They know a bird of prey is not a Zebra Finch, and that a Red-tail Hawk is not a Budgie or a Cockatiel.

Yes, a falconer may grumble at the expense, paperwork, and length of apprenticeship required to own and fly a raptor, but in the end they wear the right as a badge of honor, status and commitment.

The right to fly a falcon or hawk does not come with cash. It comes with a demonstration, over time, that the person manning the bird has the discipline and knowledge to fly a happy and healthy bird. Is there anything more beautiful than that? Is there anything better than the fact that this is NOT a "cash and carry" bird?


Jacob said...

Just about anyone could in fact buy that falcon, it would cost you much more than stated though. It is a non native. The MBTA, the reason we need a license to possess hawks and falcons for falconry, only covers the birds listed and as far a raptors go all those birds are native. While you could buy the bird, you would get into trouble releasing it for any purpose, lure flying, hunting, just excersizing. I am not as familiar with the regulations governing the release of wildlife in other states, but I know in my state, MA, you cannot release wildlife without a permit to do so.

PBurns said...

Peregrine Falcons are indeed native (several subspecies) and are covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and cannot be owned or flown without a falconry or other (i.e. rehabilitation) raptor permit.

This is also true for most birds flown: Red-tails, Harris hawks, Merlins, Golden Eagles, Kestrels (a kind of falcon), Merlins (a kind of falcon), Praire Falcons, Gyrfalcons, etc.

If your argument is that this *particular* bird is a non-native or hybrid, and is not covered by the MBTA, and cannot be legally flow, but *can* be legally kept captive in an aviary, I will defer on that point, but what species do you think it is? A Saker?

One thing for sure: I would not want to go to court on it if you are making a subspecies or hybrid argument, and especially not if you are found walking around with a hooded falcon on your arm in a city full of pigeons!


Seahorse said...

I was reading Doug's blog a few weeks ago, and I think a link there (or it might have been here, sorry) led me to read about a fellow in Colorado who was relocating east (you might know who I mean). I was confused as I thought I understood that he was giving up his hawk because of the move, and was perhaps even setting it free? Maybe I do have this all wrong, but I wondered at the time if birds are returned to the wild, if a different habitat would be detrimental to the bird, necessitating release. It struck me that it must be very difficult to do something like this, and I didn't know if I read this all correctly.


PBurns said...

That was probably Isaac who let his Kestrel, Goliath, return to the wild. As I recall, Goliath was a wild-caught first year bird and got a boost in life with his time with Isaac. He was a really pretty bird! Kestrels, also called "Sparrow Hawks" are actually a kind of small falcon and are not related to the european Sparrow Hawk.

Red-tail Hawks are also generally caught in their first year and flown for a few years before being let go. Red-tails do well when released and seem to have no trouble at all going "feral" after a year or two or three of captivity.

So far as I know, most Harris Hawks are captive bred and kept captive for their entire lives. I am told Harris Hawks are the most dog-like of the hawks as they bond well to humans and work well with dogs. They are native to the far south-south west, aka Arizona.

Peregrine Falcons tend to be captivd-bred (wild caught birds are now legal but it's a long wait for a trapping permit), and it's not uncommon to find hybrid birds as falconers tend to be genetic tinkerers. If they can do it, they are likely to try.

Other falcons, hawks and eagles are less used for various reasons -- wilder tempermaments, smaller size, or less useful in common habitats. Peregrines, for example are not great birds for eastern bunnies or squirrels, though they do well flying in out cities where they nail pigeons in the cliff-like canyons of parks and highrises. If you want to see wild peregrines, Assateaugue in the later fall is a good place.

The game-changer in the world of falconry was the Harris Hawk, which really became "dicovered" by falconers in the late 70s or so. They breed pretty easily and they tame well and are large enough to take rabbits, ducks, etc. and they will also hunt in packs. Truly a gift to the novice falconer. Before Harris Hawks the most common bird was a Red-tail -- a very common bird all over the U.S. and one that winters here as well. No shortage of red-tails!


Seahorse said...

Issac! Exactly right! I imagine it's hard to let a partner go, but thinking of allowing them their freedom must be a trade off worth doing. I was sad to read that Doug lost Gonzo. I'll have to see if there are updates since I've last read his blog. Thanks for the low-down on all of the birds, all very interesting.


Isaac said...


Goliath was the third kestrel that I have released back to the wild. There are falconers who trap a new bird every season and release them at the end of the season. The first year is a critical one for young birds as the majority die for a variety of reasons ranging from just plain cold, predators, collisions with cars, etc. It is actually a great benefit for a young bird (the only kind we can take from the wild) to spend its first year in the care of a falconer where it can perfect it's hunting skills without the worry of starving to death in the process.

While exceptional birds are sometimes kept multiple seasons, with birds like American kestrels or red-tailed hawks who are found through out the U.S. and relatively easy to trap and train, I would've released Goliath at some point anyway. The move just made me do it a little earlier than expected. He was a fantastic little hunter though. I'm sure he did just fine.



Seahorse said...


Thanks so much for the explanation, I find it all fascinating. It's terrific if you can give a leg-up to a young animal, better prepare it for its mature life and engage in your passion at the same time. That's a true symbiotic relationship. I didn't realize that frequent releases were a part of falconry, but that, to me, makes it all the more admirable. Thanks, again.


Mark Churchill said...


An excellent post; thanks for writing this up. BTW, it's been good to see you back on a daily dose. : )

Elizabeth B said...

I had a red tail hawk with a broken wing living in my second bedroom while we tried to find a place that would take him. Our local police and animal shelter laughed at us when we asked what to do.
I re-hydrated him and fed him mice. I have to say watching him grab the mouse with his talon then bite its head off was THE COOLEST THING EVER!
Luckily after about three days we found a place about an hour n a half away that was happy to take him off our hands. They spent months fixing him up only to euthanize him but hey we and they gave him a chance so no regrets. Also FYI hawk scat is like cement when it dries.

Karen Carroll said...

USFWS just revised the regulations in 2008. The requirements are the same, (test, apprenticeship, inspection) but will be administered by the states instead. Other permits, (breeding, education, eagles, abatement with raptors) will still be under USFWS administration. But, non-native raptors (such as saker falcons, lanner falcons, eurasian eagle owls, etc.) are not regulated by the USFWS and are a 'loophole' that puts them in the same status as parrots. But reputable breeders do not sell them to non-falconry trained people. This is a good thing, Parrots suffer from being sold to un-prepared people who do not know what they are getting into. Parrots are as one vet told me: A two year old child with a pair of pliers on the end of their head, and they NEVER out grow the terrible twos.

PBurns said...

Forgot another falcon we have in the US along with the Peregrine (found all over), Kestrel, Prairie Falcon, Gyrfalcon, and Merlin: the Aplamado Falcon. It's only found in places like Arizona, and generally on top of a cactus!

The Peregrine Falcon is the most widespread bird of prey on earth, of course, and I think it is the bird in this video, which appears to be too small for a Saker or a Lanner, but I will defer to the experts on that, as the head is hooded. From a quick look at the boards, however, it appears others think it's a peregrine too!


Jenn said...

... led to believe that a Pit Bull is "just like any other dog,"

Seriously, this should read Pit Bull Terrier.

Because the Pit Bull IS like any other terrier. They are all in need of more exercise and stimulation that most other breeds.

The press doesn't go around dissing JRTs, but they could.

Pit Bulls are high profile because of their size and their numbers.

Preaching to the choir, I know.

Anonymous said...

Jenn, pit bulls are not "like any other terrier." Do you even know what terre, or terrier mean? Pits are not terriers. Period. The fact that they dig in your garden and underneath fences does not count. Don't be a moron.

But I digress. I'm late for the party here, but I'm writing to compliment Terrierman for this excellent post and especially for mentioning the plight of parrots in the pet bird trade.

I have Lineolated Parakeets and a Senegal parrot. I chose these species specifically for their ability to tolerate captivity and their compatibility to my lifestyle. I adore African Greys, but the awful truth is that most of them self-destruct eventually--even with the best care. The same goes for cockatoos, many macaws--just about any large parrot. They are intelligent, social animals with complex emotional needs. I do not believe that they should be kept as pets by the general public. Even smaller parrots, like conures, are simply not suitable pets for most people. They are not domesticated animals; at best, they are only tamed. I used to date an avian veterinarian. I'll never forget the stories he told me. Amazon parrots fed only sunflower seeds and put in dark closets for making noise (parrots! making noise!)!

I wish with all my heart that parrots were regulated like falcons...even if it meant that I would never get to share my life with one.

The abuse and neglect captive parrots endure is obscene. Check out the bird ads on craigslist or petfinder to get a taste. Can you imagine the boredom and anxiety a bird would have to feel in order to mutilate itself to such an extent? This behavior has never been observed in wild birds.

Thank you for this excellent post, Mr. Burns,