Falconry birds aren’t pets

 

As a 55-year-old lifelong raptor enthusiast with 12 years of professional raptor work under my belt, I enjoyed seeing a ferruginous hawk on the cover (“Now you see her,” HCN, 3/6/17).  As a licensed falconer of over 30 years, though, I take exception to the author’s statement that “ferruginous hawks, however, are not popular pets among falconers.” That’s because falconers don’t keep raptors as “pets.”
 
According to the North American Falconers Association, “Falconry can be defined as the taking of wild quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of a trained raptor.” I suppose one could define “pet” in such a way to include a falconry bird, but I think, on the whole, that few dog, cat, parrot or horse owners spend much time pursuing wild quarry in its natural state with said beasts. Furthermore, these animal caretakers even more rarely capture their animals from the wild, train them, hunt with them for a while, and then release them back to the wild, as falconers commonly do. Falconers really don’t like their birds being called “pets.”

I personally would have preferred the author to quote a U.S. falconer regarding ferruginous hawks, rather than a U.K.-based one. All U.K. non-native raptors are bred in captivity and imprinted; imprinting is a bad choice for most buteos, but especially so for something as stubborn and powerful as a ferrug, as your author found out. Here in the U.S., ferruginous hawks are usually taken as non-imprinted older chicks or captured as immature “passage” birds and have far fewer of the behavioral problems associated with imprinted birds. They’re a handful more because of their flight style, in which they often refuse close-flushed quarry and prefer to pursue jackrabbits going over the horizon, and because of their stubborn attitude. Even so, there are a few outstanding ferruginous falconers here in the U.S.

Bryan Kimsey
Clayton, New Mexico