January 31st is the last day that it is legal to capture a bird for falconry in Kentucky. Mike and I had decided that it would be cool to have birds that could hunt together. Jim, my red tail hawk had recently finished her rehabilitation and had been successfully released. Mike had finally decided to release his red tail and get a kestrel. Last Sunday was the 31st.
We had gone out Saturday morning before appointments and must have seen 20 to 30 hawks. There were red tails, coopers, sharp shins and others everywhere, but not a kestrel to be seen.
I was back in time for appointments and had a thought. The chocolate lab puppy that I had gotten was due to come in soon. It occurred to me that having it on the weekend was much better than waiting until Feb 2 or a Tuesday. We called and they were most accommodating about delivering Foxtrot and a large ziplock of his food. I had a new 7 week old puppy.
I thought about taking Foxtrot out when I went back out Saturday afternoon, but decided that could be dangerous for the new pup. I did throw the trap out for a couple of kestrels, but they were not fooled by my mouse in a hardware cloth cage.
Sunday 2:38 am: Foxtrot is awake and insistent that my face and ears NEED to be cleaned. This is not my ideal time of day, but even I can figure out that Foxtrot needs to pee and he needs to pee NOW! I slid my feet into my boots and grab my jacket and pup. Sure enough Foxtrot pees and poos outside! Then he wants to play in bed. I finally get him to snuggle in and strive to teach him the fine art of sleeping in on Sunday mornings.
Mike had been out on an emergency at 4:00am. On his way back he had seen and trapped a beautiful male kestrel that he had named Speck. Mike scouted the area, but left me on my own to trap a female kestrel.
Again I thought about taking Foxtrot, but wisdom prevailed and I headed out. I saw a few kestrels. They ignored my trap. I moved my trap to a new kestrel. They ignored my trap. I did this several times. I had a book on the ipod so I would be patient. Still no birds. Finally I texted Mike and said I needed his trap, but I really needed the Mike luck. Sure enough, within five minutes, Mike, Mike’s trap and I had caught a beautiful female kestrel. That five minutes included picking me up, placing the trap, kestrel going for the trap, flying off, going back for the trap, getting caught, getting loose before we could get there, getting caught again and us getting her safely out of the trap. I named her Over.
Now it was game on. Mike’s bird ate off the glove by the end of Sunday. He texted me to let me know. My bird bit me and hung upside down from my finger. I didn’t actually cuss, but I thought it.
Monday 5:44am: Foxtrot is back at the face cleaning thing. Boots, coat, leash, pee and poo on the way back in the house. Oops. Gotta work on that. When the alarm went off at 6:44am Foxtrot had absolutely no concept of a snooze button. My face and ears were definitely clean!
Mike was going to help put on Over’s anklets, but things came up. I put temporary anklets on Over and she had them off by the next morning. Mike sent me a video of Speck sitting quietly on the perch and reaching out for food. I didn’t have time to work with Over until the evening after work. Within a short time, I had her reaching to the glove for a tidbit and then hopping 8-10 inches to the glove. I did send a video to Mike, but for some reason I also included the caption “BTW she bites very hard!” The weather was bad and the staff strongly suggested that I leave before the roads got even worse. Training was cut short and Foxtrot and I headed home.
Tuesday 6:44 am: Foxtrot slept until the alarm! After successfully going outside, we snuggled in bed. Still working on the fine art of sleeping in. Mike brought some proper anklets and Robert helped me put them on. Mike complained that his bird still liked to bite. I texted that Over had drawn blood and hung upside down for 2 minutes. By the evening Over was jumping routinely to my glove and we had a 18 inch flight. Tuesday evening, I didn’t like the way Over was acting and fed her a half mouse in addition to the training food. I texted Mike that he would be ahead of me in training, but it was not worth the risk. Speck got an anklet off and had to be replaced.
Wednesday 8:20am: Foxtrot is at Guardian Animal so I can stay and take care of the cats. Perhaps I also need a full night of sleep. Mike sends a text that his new bird is a stubborn little jerk. I reply that I am a better trainer. We laugh, but each bird is a distinct individual. There is no cookbook to falconry. You really must have a strong bond with the bird. Over spends the day in my office and discovers the porthole window. She is doing 4 to 5 foot flights now. I start lure training. Over wants no part of the lure, but begs for part of my subway ham sandwich then jumps on my head. I did take the Harris hawks, Bravo and Zulu out for their first free flights with me. They did well. My heart about stopped when Zulu found a tall tree 200 years away. I was relieved when she returned. Speck took his first hop to the glove on Wednesday evening.
Thursday 5:16am. Not a bad time to be awakened by puppy breath and soft fur and feet. We had a lesson on keeping puppy teeth off of my ears. I spend a lot of time massaging his paws so he will let us trim his nails later. All in all, I’m pleased with Foxtrot’s training or my ability to read his training of me. I have a several hour zoom meeting and have Over out on her desk perch. She jumps on my head three times during the meeting. I’m sure the chairman was not amused. Mike sent a video of a short 8 foot flight. Speck is coming along, but Mike is annoyed at the kestrel biting. I have gotten better at avoiding Over’s beak.
Friday 6:10 am: If you have to wake up, a good face cleaning is not a bad way to get up. Foxtrot is learning the snuggle back in. I didn’t get a chance to work with Over until after work again. She flew free flight in an exam room. Mike asked about the biting and said that Speck was part piranha I think I am better at avoiding bites than he is. Over is training me. Kestrels can be gentle when they want a tidbit off your finger and vicious when they want to be left alone. “I’m not sure they quit biting. I think you get better at avoiding the beak.”
Saturday 7:44 am: Foxtrot had a sleepover at the clinic. I enjoyed a good night sleep. Mike worked with Speck outside on a creance. I did lure training inside. I took the two Harris hawks out hunting for their first time with me. They are meant to hunt together so I took them out together. Mike texts “I think you are the bravest person I know.”
I didn’t know that they were supposed to go out separately first. I correctly read Mike’s text that as I was somewhat risky or even unwise. Wow, you think? New puppy and new kestrel and finally getting the Harris hawks ready to hunt all at the same time. Yeah maybe, but pushing the envelope in all directions allows me to be at my best at work and life.