Falconry, Rehab, Conservation

CRWN is dedicated to shining the light on the positive ways falconry helps birds of prey.  There are many ways that our relationship with them is mutually beneficial, but the general public has no idea.  Many see only one thing…a bird on the glove or perch, not flying.  Some think it is a one sided, selfish and even cruel thing to have a falcon or hawk.  What they don’t know is how falconers help them survive, help them recover by rehabilitating and releasing injured & orphaned raptors, and have even saved one species, the Peregrine falcon, from extinction.  If it weren’t for falconers like Tom Cade and falconry, there would be no more Peregrine!!  It was their idea to try breeding their falconry birds in captivity.  They did, and it worked!  The Peregrine is thriving and was removed off of the Federal endangered species list in 1999.

Conservation efforts are still happening.  Falconers are currently working on plans to successfully relocate predatory birds who prey on endangered terns and snowy plovers, to help increase nesting sites and improve habitat for forest dwelling raptors, to support lead-free ammunition which kills condors and other predatory birds that feed on lead infected carrion, to educate thousands of people on the vital role of  birds of prey for rodent and insect control, and more.

Here are some facts from research:

  • 70-80% of wild Red tail hawks studied die in their first year, mainly from starvation and parasites.  This holds true for most raptor species.
  • Parasites and disease flourish in weakened immune systems already stressed by lack of food.
  • By age 5, one in five survived.  Causes of death range from starvation and disease, but the greatest reasons being human caused.
  • Hit by cars, gunshot, poisoned, electrocution and wind mills kill many thousands of raptors each year.
  • In the care of a falconer or raptor educator they commonly live 20-30 years, and some species like eagles and Great Horned Owls much longer.
  • Falconers and their birds generally take one animal while hunting, if they are lucky.  Misses are common.
  • Falconers are the most heavily regulated hunters in the country.  We undergo a 2 year apprenticeship, must pass the hunter safety course, must pass the Stare required written test, and pay for expensive Federal and State falconry permits every year.
  • Falconers also buy hunting licenses for upland game and water fowl, and must hunt within state mandated hunting seasons.

Humans and birds have been partnering together in the hunt for over 4000 years.  Our relationship with them is deep and ancient! Raptors are intelligent creatures and have figured out on their own that humans walking through a field bump prey out of hiding providing hungry raptors more success in eating.  It is learned behavior sourced from the primal need for survival.

To this day, wild birds of prey will follow tractors plowing up fields feeding on scattering rodents.  There are falconers who’s birds live freely in the wild, waiting each morning for their human to go hunting with them.  These birds know they are more successful in the hunt because their falconer helps them find and flush out food.

Here at CRWN we are dedicated to helping conservation and rehabilitation efforts for all birds of prey.  Of our falconry birds, we have successfully saved two Red tail hawks from certain death had they been left in the wild.

SheRa, my first falconry bird as an apprentice in 2008, came in at 6 months of age with liver flukes, which I treated. Because of her weakened immune system, she developed Aspergillosis, a fatal fungal infection for wild birds that invades the air sacs and internal organs.  Again, with the help of our raptor veterinarian, Dr. Vicki Joseph,DVM we saved her.  Then West Nile Virus hit, but because I had vaccinated her for it, she had a mild case with minor long term damage.  Asper hit again, and she was treated surgically and miraculously survives.   She cannot be returned to the wild due to permanent feather folical damage from the WNV which causes weak flight feathers that break each year.  Because we can repair them (called “imping”) she is able to fly and hunt successfully.  Without those feathers, she is a less powerful flyer, and therefore compromised in her ability to catch game. She would likely starve to death. She and I still hunt jackrabbits, her favorite food next to rattlesnake!

Sala, Kaylee’s young Red tail, came in with  a serious infection in her cere, or nostrils.  The infection ate a hole all the way through one nostil into the other and was spreading down her beak. Light could be seen through the hole in her nose!  She is healed now, and flies joyfully at her quarry with her life saving falconer friend.  She would have been one of the dead one’s.

Our Harris’Hawk, Hercules, came to us at 5 months old from a breeding project.  As a fledgling, he damaged most of his newly forming feathers resulting in dull, weakened and incomplete feathers.  He is shiny now, is happily flying and interacting with us and is a favorite of our guests.

Angel, our sweet rescued Swainson’s Hawk came from a two year stay in a rehab facility.  Swainson’s population numbers are low, and they are one of the few insect and meat eating, long migration birds of prey.  Being deemed non-releasable due to her eye sight (and we suspect neuroloical damage) she sat in apparantly improper housing.  When we took her out of the travel carrier  we were shocked at how badly she smelled like old feces.  We found her tail feathers broken, bent and thrashed, her wing tip primary feathers broken, and a scabby bald spot on her forehead.  Obese and clumsy, we trimmed her beak and talons, changed her diet, began monitoring her weight, provided clean bath pans for her to bathe in, treated her for parasites and loved her up.  She is one of the most gentle and easy going birds we have in spite of her ordeal with humans.

Quixote, our immature  and inexperienced Anatum Peregrine falcon broke his collarbone in half from hitting his first pheasant incorrectly.  He would have died a slow, painful death in the wild had I not been there with him.  Yesterday, 10 weeks after his injury, he flew again for the first time.  I cried, and he was enthusiastic to say the least.

Last year CRWN successfully conditioned and released Jett, an adult female Peregrine falcon for The California Foundation for Birds of Prey, 5013(CFBP), a leading edge raptor rehabilitation group founded by Dr. Vicki Joseph, DVM.  CFBP is one of the few rehab centers in the country that utilize falconers for conditioning and evaluation of high needs raptors like falcon’s, accipiters and eagles.  Her eagle program utilizes Master Falconers to train Golden Eagle youngsters to hunt, survive crow mobbings, and soar to the heights successfully.  Without these falconers, orphaned baby eagles would die as they need their parents to help them learn to hunt and survive.

Another CFBP bird lives with us. Ozzie, our superstar Western Screech Owl is a hit with all who meet her.  As a day old nestling, her tree was cut down and all babies fell to the ground.  She is the only survivor, but her head injuries cause slight paralysis in her right eyelid.  Non-releasable due to her injuries, she is an ambassador and huge hit with the public.  Not much is cuter than a 5 inch owl who winks one eye at you!

The success stories are endless.  Falconers carry deep, intimate knowledge of birds of prey exclusive to them.  We hope that by understanding the greater role falconers play in conservation and helping birds of prey live healthy, long lives that the people who brand us as “cruel” will see underneath their own uninformed opinions and become supporters rather than criticizer’s.

~Liz Smith-Oettinger, Founder, Executive Director

 

  One Response to “Falconry, Rehab, Conservation”

  1. Very interesting article. I had no idea what falconeers did for birds in the wild! Keep up the good work. 🙂

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