IN THE BEGINNING

My initial reasoning behind starting Beaks and Talons was to bring knowledge of medieval falconry to school children as it’s such a fascinating topic and I felt it was a neglected part of our world’s history.

I first met Harley when he was at the tender age of 18 weeks. Almost full grown by this point Harley was the only one of his brood left in the aviary with his parents and on the day I was there we were to “pull him”. In preparation for my arrival the breeder had moved Harley’s parents into a different walled off section to try and limit the amount of distress caused to all involved.

As the breeder went to catch Harley I prepared his first set of ‘furniture’ This is the word we use to describe the leather anklets, jesses (straps) and bewits which the bird wears on its legs. Like a dog lead it is a way to aid in the training of a bird. It is a very quick process to attach the anklets and jesses to the hawk (with assistance it is a few minutes at most) and adding a ‘swivel’ (a fantastic metal device which prevents the jesses and leash from becoming entangled so often) and a leash you have a nearly fully equipped bird.

The first moment I had Harley on my gauntlet he screamed. Not a high pitched scream you might imagine from the stereotyped “movie hawk” sound. This sounded more like a dirty fierce motorbike engine but coming out of a teeny bird. At that moment I knew ‘Harley Davidson’ was the name for this little beast.

The process of training a bird varies from species to species, and from individual to individual. As with people every bird is different. Harley is the most fantastic Harris Hawk I have ever had the pleasure of working with, but of course I would say that.

It begins with ‘manning’. This is simply being with the bird on the gauntlet and gradually allowing them to adjust to your presence. Harley spent a good hour throwing himself off my gauntlet in the breeder’s kitchen. Once he had tired a bit he realised that I hadn’t made any move to eat him, in fact I wasn’t at all threatening. Within two hours he was eating steadily from the gauntlet. This may not seem a huge step to some, but a bird will not eat if they feel threatened or scared so it is a big step towards a good relationship.

Over the next two weeks Harley got more used to me, and I began the task of getting him to step to the glove. Once the bird has mastered this you teach them to jump to the glove. Then a short flight. Then a longer flight. And three weeks later you have them flying 30ft or more.

Television & film..

Harley has featured in a number of productions.
GETTING TO KNOW HARLEY

Harley and I have featured in a number of productions now, so if you need a hawk then Harley is your bird! Our film debut was in 2015 in a less-than-typical retelling of ‘Arthur & Merlin’ and it was a very new and very exciting experience for both Harley and I.

The biggest challenge to overcome with this task, as far as I saw, was the new locations. The first was a densely wooded area which was also a very popular bridle path and dog walker route so every few minutes Harley would flinch or shriek at something walking past.

Whilst waiting for our turn to film and trying to be quiet this was not great and earned me a good few evil looks from the filming crew. Once it was our turn it all worked out in Harley’s favour.

The next scene was to film Harley coming in to land onto the gauntlet of the ‘evil wizard Aberthol’ (which you saw in the trailer). This was rather tricky because I hadn’t really done that much training flying Harley between two gloves. He was used to either flying to my glove from a perch, or away from my glove where he could choose to land. He found this surprisingly tricky and didn’t like flying towards the wizard at all. After ten minutes of gentle persuasion he flew the 20ft to the actor brilliantly. Unfortunately, in the film business one take is not enough, so we had to do it again.

After the fourth time Harley decided he’d had enough and flew off, landing at the top of a massive tree. He then began to unceremoniously remove his ‘costume’ for the day which had been thin strips of fabric loosely wrapped to cover his un-removable ID rings and digital tracker. Once he had removed the fabric from one leg he flew back down to me (to my relief). It was a very definite message that he was done with that scene.

The rest of the day was taken up with stills of Harley on his perch just relaxing, and some footage of the same. It was absolutely fantastic to be involved in and such a great experience for us both.