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.