I’m going to take a break from all the winter holiday stuff to tell you about an adventure we had earlier this month. As a gift to my elf-fantasy-archery-sword-loving son I bought an online coupon for West Coast Falconry’s basic falconry lesson way back in May. I bought three coupons—our younger son is too young—and we finally were able to redeem them on December 7. OH MY GOODNESS, I am so very glad that this deal caught my eye because it was everything we could have hoped for!
West Coast Falconry is in Marysville, a bit more than an hour’s drive from where we live. We drove up with our friends Tate and Lady K, who also bought the same coupon. We all learned so much and had a blast.
We worked with Shvak, a Harris hawk. Jana is a master falconer and she has been working with Shvak for nine years. She and two other women taught us about the history of falconry (the earliest mention of falconry is from 10,000 years ago, in the Epic of Gilgamesh!). (One woman, Shawna, frequently teaches at Effie Yeaw Nature Center and both of my sons have been in her classes before. It was neat to see her in her element here.)
We got to see Shvak fly for treats (quail heads). Hawks are very careful about not expending energy without a reward. This makes them discerning hunters.
And we all got to call Shvak and she flew to our glove. Then flew to the next glove. She is amazingly light—only 2 pounds!
Whenever I held Shvak, I got that glorious heart-in-throat feeling. Being so close to a creature so wild, so exquisitely specialized, so alien and fierce filled me with exultation.
Here Ian is holding Don Diego, whose full name is Don Diego Alejandro Santiago Saragossa Inigo Montoya Del Gato. He is two-thirds the size of Shvak, weighing only 1.5 pounds.
Just look at this proud boy with Diego!
Harris hawks (Parabuteo unicinctus) are native to the Southwest US. They live in the desert and hunt cooperatively, somewhat like wolves, we learned. This is unique among birds of prey. Our teachers told us that the Harris hawk has revolutionized the sport of falconry around the world, making it a sport you can do with companions. Other birds of prey are territorial and will fight.
We learned also that Shvak has a crushing strength of 500 psi in her talons. Learning falconry and becoming licensed is a very intensive process that includes a long apprenticeship, exams, and inspections. And a trained falconer must capture a juvenile bird from the wild in order to raise it and train it to hunt. Birds raised in captivity aren’t allowed to hunt.
Hawks fly low to the ground to take advantage of thermals before rising to land on a person’s hand.
This is a lure; it’s how the falconer calls the bird back. When the hawk sees this she comes immediately back and attacks it. This is the posture she uses when she takes down her prey.
She knows from training that doing so will bring yummy, organ meat rewards.
It was a delightful and interesting hour. I hope we can go back another day and either take another class or do the Hawk Walk. It is truly a unique and stirring experience to be near these birds.