Cooper’s Hawk Training

DSC01064Last week I was lucky enough to get the chance to man a young female Cooper’s hawk for the first time.

This little lady was just a fluffy black and white baby in a screened-in tent when I first came to the centre to do my apprenticeship back in August. I was intrigued by them then, they looked so curious, picking at bits of meat, bobbing up and down in their water basin and hiding out in their little dog kennel.


Young Harris hawk on the left, two young Coopers on the right


Now this bird is a lightning-fast, reptilian killing machine. She’s basically a cobra with feathers. Ironically she sounds more like a squeaky dog toy…

DSC01050For at least twenty minutes after I took her out of her aviary she was very tense, holding out her wings as you see in the above photo, screeching, bating and panting. Sticking a camera in her face didn’t exactly help, but it’s good to get her used to things like this while she’s on the glove. I kept my movements slow and gentle to minimize her stress.

Eventually she calmed down and I was able to jump her to a nice piece of raw quail she could  focus her attention on. She plucked her quail extensively, showering my lap with tiny feathers. Eating quickly and efficiently on the glove, that’s good.

She’s very light, and she has very good coordination. She’s not sloppy with her feet like some birds can be. Looking into her cool blue eyes, it’s hard to imagine that as an adult they will turn to blood red.

I’m really lucky to be able to follow these fractious and intense little accipiters along their training as they mature. I wouldn’t want to be a small woodland creature staring up at this face:


Training Young Raptors


Lure training a young female Gyr/Saker Falcon

One advantage of having my talented journalist boyfriend home for a visit is that I get great photos of my latest activities!


Not interested in the lure

I’ve been working at the Raptor Centre for about a month now and it’s been magical. I’m lucky to be there at a time when there are many young birds to train: Cooper’s Hawks, Red Tailed Hawks, Harris Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, Gyrfalcons and Gyr/Saker Falcon hybrids. They all need glove training and flight training.


A young Peregrine Falcon

IMG_9344IMG_9338IMG_9351IMG_9353IMG_9363Above is a young Peregrine Falcon I’m feeding on the glove. This is so he can learn that the glove is a nice place to be where he gets to eat. At first he wasn’t interested in his chunk of raw quail and was preoccupied with trying to take it away to enjoy somewhere else. You can see how hard he was leaning to one side. Once I tried wiggling the meat in my glove a little he changed his mind and decided to chow down.


Lovely Bell enjoying some sunshine on her back

Some of the training we do is simply manning birds, which means to carry them around on the glove. This is just good practice for the birds as they get to observe their surroundings and form positive experiences. Of course some of our birds are very well trained already like Bell the Saker Falcon (above photo) and Harry the Swainson’s Hawk (below photo).


Getting Harry off his weathering station and onto the glove for a manning session

Next up is feeding a Gyrfalcon/Saker hybrid on the glove. This little beauty tore through her portion of pigeon in no time. You can tell she’s young because of the bluish tinge to her cere (nostril area) and feet. These will mature to a bright yellow color.

IMG_9402IMG_9398IMG_9383Finally, feeding a pure white Gyrfalcon on the glove. Gyrs are magnificent birds that used to be reserved for kings and nobles in European falconry. They are very impressive, especially when tearing apart their prey. Thanks for reading!

IMG_9316IMG_9304All photos by the Stuttering Journalist.

Raptor Centre Volunteering

Today was my first day volunteering at the Raptor Centre. I scrubbed out quite a few aviaries, helped in the flying demos a little bit and assisted in flight training some young Red Tails and Harris Hawks.

One young Harris Hawk decided to land on my shoulder twice instead of my glove. Lucky for me he didn’t bear down with his talons and was easily tempted back to the glove for his piece of meat. A little scary, but I’ve been torn up so badly by rabbits at this point that the raptors don’t worry me. They don’t want to hurt me, they just want their tidbit. Rabbits are the ones with the real killer instinct!


I’m glad Gaston vacated this pen before I was sent in to clean!

During our last demo of the day, I was asked to clean out the Marabou Stork enclosure while he was performing for the demonstration. He had shed some massive flight feathers (he has a ten foot wingspan), which I was very impressed with. Cleaning aviaries may not be the most fun thing in the world, but it’s a great way to get an up close look at a lot of very cool feathers as well as get to know the personalities of some of the birds. It’s also a great feeling knowing you’re helping to make the birds more comfortable.

I also had an exercise in taking a flying lure away from a Saker Falcon that had just finished catching it for the demo. I had to wait a while for her to calm down and then distract her while I quickly hid it behind my back. I was able to do this when I popped her back on her weathering perch. Once birds of prey have something they think is food in their talons, it’s an interesting task to try to get them to give it back to you!

Raptor Handling Apprenticeship


This is Turbo, a young male Peregrine falcon we were flight training today

I have been busy for the past week attending a falconry apprentice course at The Raptors center in Duncan BC. An amazing facility with great staff caring for over a hundred different birds of prey. A good number of birds are on display for visitors and many of them are working animals, employed at chasing gulls away from airport runways and dumps and performing for film and television.


Bell, a 17 year old female Saker falcon who is an absolute sweetheart

Among the more impressive species they have are bald eagles, golden eagles, a Maribou stork and beautiful white gyrfalcons. There are also many species of owls, lots of different species of hawks and falcons, a few turkey vultures and a tiny kestrel no bigger than a robin.


Little Kessy, an American kestrel. So cute

I learned many things there, including how to man (carry on the glove) many different kinds of birds, how to replace (imp) a lost tail feather, clean aviaries, how to tie a falconer’s knot, and how to train birds with a flying lure. I learned that you need at least two years of experience before you can man eagles because they are very dominant and will do whatever they can to intimidate you. They also hold a grudge against you if you do something like trim (cope) their beaks and you will not be able to work with them for a few days if you do.


Annie with Hera, a mature female bald eagle. Here she is tying Hera’s leash to her weathering station

I learned that Harris hawks are one of the only raptors to hunt in packs, and that turkey vultures can be among the most dangerous birds to handle. I learned how to make jesses, which are leather straps that tie into anklets on the birds legs and allow you to secure the bird in your glove, and also that weight is very important and the birds are weighed every day in order to find out if they are ‘keen’ enough to be flown.


One of the young barn owls who later went AWOL

I learned about how things can sometimes go wrong, as while I was there a couple of young barn owls were taken out for flight training and were lost in the nearby trees for multiple days before they could be recovered. I also learned that feeding birds day old chicks on the glove can be messy business when they rip into the yolk sac and then spray the contents all over you!

All the mess and danger was worth it though, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I was bitten once or twice by hawks, and it wasn’t half as bad as I was expecting. I handled a turkey vulture briefly and escaped unharmed. Luckily I was not footed (grabbed by the talons) by anyone which is what can cause real damage. Most of the birds are very well-trained and the staff are excellent educators. I really can’t recommend the experience enough.


Elton, a spectacled owl and crowd favorite

I had such a rewarding time there that I’m planning to begin volunteering on a regular basis. Since I already have the apprenticeship course under my belt, I can be much more useful, although I do expect to spend a lot of time hosing down aviaries, cutting raw quail and rabbits into tiny bits and making jesses. For me it’s worth it to get to be around such magnificent predators.


Gaston the Maribou stork performing in the flight show

My ultimate goal is to obtain my own bird and take up falconry. In British Columbia the only thing legal requirement is a suitable aviary or mews which has been inspected by the relevant authorities. My choice would be a Harris hawk which is also a very good beginner bird. Hopefully I can move towards this goal as I gain more experience at the center and see if it’s a good fit for my lifestyle. I basically already run a raptor feed supply company with all the quail, rabbits and pigeons I breed!


This is Duck, a male Harris hawk resting on my car after some impressive flying exercises