Today the new falconers have a huge variety of species to choose from. But selecting your first bird of prey is not as simple as deciding which dog or cat you would like to have. As with most exotics purchases, there is a lot to consider and you can make your life and more importantly bird life much easier if you start off on the right foot.
Pick a beginner bird and stay away from birds that are generally smaller in stature. The smaller the bird, the more difficult it will be for the new falconer when trying to achieve a suitable flight weight for the bird. The metabolism of birds is also something to consider as some species can be very difficult for an inexperienced falconer to handle. Realizing if a bird is not developing properly or is starting to get sick is something a very experienced falconer should naturally detect. In smaller birds, a slight variation in weight can be a warning sign that a new falconer may not notice or fully appreciate the likely consequences.
So which birds should you target as your first? Well here is the modern falconer favorite;
Harris falcon (Parabuteo Unicinctus)
Definitely one of the most common birds to be used in falconry today, this beautifully colored hawk is extremely sociable, reaches the glove with ease, has a very good temperament, and is fairly easy to train. Harris Hawks exhibit sexual dimorphism where the male is approximately 40% smaller than the female. Therefore, it should be taken into account when selecting equipment, as the sizes of the anklets, hoods, twists and other items will vary depending on the sex of the chosen bird.
Harris’s hawks are great hunters for smaller prey such as birds, lizards, small mammals, and large insects. They hail from Chile, Argentina, and the southwestern regions of the US Living in a predominantly semi-desert climate, Harris’s hawks are also regularly seen hunting in groups of 5 or 6 birds at a time (and sometimes up to 14), allowing them to face much larger prey. Therefore, having a male and female can be very exciting when hunting, as the falconer can experience the birds working together against the chosen quarry.
It really is a perfect all-rounder and a great bird to start with. Expect to pay up to £ 500 for a bird – its popularity has not gone unnoticed with breeders!
Also known as the bay-winged hawk, it has a few predators of its own, namely the coyote and the great horned owl. The threat of the Coyote means that this bird does not usually do well with dogs. Also, if your Harris sees a Great Horned Owl, be careful because all hell could break loose! These owls hunt hawks at night, while Harris tends to have the upper hand during the day when the “wolves of the sky” (as they are sometimes referred to) will attack the great horned owl together as a pack.
The red-tailed buzzard (Buteo Jamaicenis)
The name of this bird has probably surprised some people to begin with. Well known throughout the falconry world as a red-tailed hawk, it is in fact a buzzard. Here are the basic facts;
Native to the central US and northern states, it is also found as far south as the West Indies, where its name Buteo Jamaicenis comes from. Feeding on small mammals, birds, and reptiles, Red Tails in the northernmost states will tend to fly south in winter.
The red-tailed hawk is a popular choice for falconers. At 65cm, the bird is a decent size and a well-trained bird shows great courage and enthusiasm when hunting prey. As with most raptors, red tails must fly regularly to develop and maintain the high levels of fitness necessary for effective hunting. These “hawks” tend to live 6 to 8 years in captivity and can be aggressive, especially those that have been highly trained. However, a great first bird especially for those falconers who wish to hunt regularly with their bird.
You will pay up to £ 450 for a woman, less for a man. However, this is money very well spent!
Whichever bird you decide to start with, please do not underestimate the amount of time, care and application that the new falconer requires for this sport. If you can’t devote enough time or resources to owning a bird of prey, don’t be tempted. Too many of these beautiful animals are lost or released into the wild, left to fend for themselves, or mistreated. Please understand the level of commitment required before starting and make your decisions wisely. If you’ve never flown a bird before, I highly recommend investing in a beginner’s course. You will surely know by the end of the course if the sport is for you, and you will have learned a lot first hand from an experienced falconer.