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Where We Got Our Feathers

Where We Got Our Feathers

When I say that I work with birds of prey, the first thing people assume is that I am a falconer.

I wish.

Falconry is an incredibly old sport. Some sources I’ve seen have dated it up to 10,000 years ago. For most places, it seems as though there are records beginning around 3000 years ago. It’s a way of life that has provided people with food and a relationship with nature from the time history started to be recorded. In case you aren’t familiar with it, the concept is simple: you train a dinosaur to hunt for you. The dinosaur isn’t a pet and in the tradition of some falconry, is released after a time to procreate in the wild and live its life as naturally as possible.

It’s cool as shit.

It’s also where my field found its footing and for the life of me, I cannot find where raptor rehab began in America. I would assume that it began sometime before the Migratory Bird Act came into effect because of the decline in raptor populations in the United States. Center-wise, I can find plenty of some of the oldest in the country; however, they all still seem relatively recent and I know it’s got to have deeper roots. Most were started in the 1970’s-1980’s but that’s about all I can find.

(I.e. If anyone knows anything about the subject, spread the knowledge my way!)

 

Rehabbers will use falconers as resources and vice versa. If there’s a particular bird that needs to hone hunting skills after being in captivity for a while, a falconer can be called to help. Falconers often know more about the raptor populations in the area and are an invaluable resource to centers everywhere. If a rehabber has a bird that may not be releasable, it could be a breeder for a falconer. (It’s a topic I’ll touch on later, but we will try to find the best way possible a bird can live out its life, even if it can’t be released into the wild.)

 

When it comes to our Education Ambassador birds, how we train them and how we create living spaces for them come straight from falconers—I mean, I’m pretty sure that our standards were SET by falconers. And, I mean, if anyone know what they were talking about, it’d be the guys participating in a few thousand old tradition. (HINT: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.) The equipment that we use are essentially the same set up with anklets, jesses, and a leash. Oh, and a glove. That’s a pretty important one. The types and methods vary greatly–it’s important to realize that in this field there are many different ways to skin a cat–but all have to accomplish the same task with one thing holding priority: the raptor’s safety.

 

From Google images: The light brown leather are the anklets, the dark brown strips are jesses, and the coil of rope is a leash. The basics.
From Google images: The light brown leather are the anklets, the dark brown strips are jesses, and the coil of rope is a leash. The basics.

 

 

Having any bird of prey, whether it be for falconry or education, comes with a strict set of rules, restrictions, and prerequisites. It can depend on where you live as well. For instance, in Pennsylvania, to be a falconer you need letters of recommendation, a hunting license, a falconer that will take you under their wing (ha), among other things. You can only start out with a red-tailed hawk or an American kestrel. Whereas in Mongolia, I’m pretty sure you only need the balls to climb down a cliff, brave angry, wolf-killing, goat-dropping golden eagle parents, and steal a young eagle and then somehow learn how to ride a horse with said eagle on the glove.

Toe-mae-toe, ta-ma-toe, am I right?

I’m pretty sure Mongolian natives are simply born knowing these skills. They’re some of the true masters of the art.

 

To prevent rambling, I’ll leave off with: Everything we do as raptor rehabilitators has a foot in falconry. Falconry can survive without us, but we couldn’t survive without the knowledge and expertise passed on through the ancient practice. I want to reiterate as well that the field I’m in is incredibly regulated, more than I want to bore you with, but our image to the public and our strict following of the laws (set both by people and nature) are the pinnacle of what we do.

 

 

Dinosaurs Among Us

Dinosaurs Among Us

Here’s the thing, opinions are like assholes: everyone has one. I don’t know personally what each one smells like, and I’m not inclined to find out, but I KNOW what each one has in common.

That being said, I will never assert that anything you see on this page or anything I say is law. Animal rehab, fitness, or anything else I might babble on about is subject to constant scrutiny. There’s no one way of going about it and there’s certainly many ways to screw up. I hope you take the stories and the information I’ve procured and are able to use it to your benefit. I really hope you just read it, really.

Most of what I’m going to post about will deal with raptor rehabilitation. I’ve always loved dinosaurs, first of all, but I never thought I’d end up working with them. Animals have always been a love of mine, from chasing rat snakes through corn fields, to cleaning out horses stalls, to saving mice from house cats; so, I knew they were going to complete my life puzzle as I got older. I chose writing as a major because my school didn’t offer anything specific in the realm of the wild. And writing was my second love in life anyway. I couldn’t NOT do anything with animals, though so I got involved with my local animal rehabilitation center: Tamarack Rehab and Education Center. What I didn’t know was that they were mainly involved with birds. Raptors. Wonderful, intelligent, fierce creatures that soon mystified me more than anything I had ever been close to.

My next post will deal with the history of raptor rehab but I want to touch on a point that often makes me wary of posting too much online: this kind of stuff is controversial. Techniques used on individual birds, the use of education birds as ambassadors, even rehabilitation itself can inspire heated debates. One that I’ve heard most often is to “let nature take it’s course.”

My only words to this is that most of the birds we get in are the result of human influence. The gull wrapped in fishing line, the eagle with lead poisoning, the thousands of birds that are hit by cars; these are not natural occurrences. I like to think that what I do makes up for the damage that we’ve done and much like the revival of both the California Condors and the Bald Eagle, I hope to one day use what I’ve learned to bring other species back from the brink of extinction and to educate the public and younger generations.

I love to see the look on their faces when I tell them not to let anybody tell them they can’t do something because I love dinosaurs, and now I get to work with them.

One of my duties in this field is to show off our ambassador birds and teach people about these amazing creatures. This is Jasper, an Eastern Screech owl. And yes, he is as fierce as he looks. And yes, that is as big as he'll ever get.
One of my duties in this field is to show off our ambassador birds and teach people about these amazing creatures. This is Jasper, an Eastern Screech owl. And yes, he is as fierce as he looks. And yes, that is as big as he’ll ever get.