Trapping Red-Tailed Hawks
By Holly Jo Linzay
A hoarse screech commands attention as the Red-Tailed Hawk soars above the field, slowly gliding in circles on broad, rounded wings. Suddenly, the hawk, a keen-eyed predator, spots a mouse on the ground from 100 feet in the air. The hawk swoops down with incredible speed snatching its prey with big sharp talons. The Red-Tailed Hawk is a formidable hunter, and its particular traits make it a favorite among falconers.
Michael Beran, a master falconer and owner of Wildlife Command Center, said if you want to train a hawk for falconry, you have to catch it. That in itself is a sporting challenge.
Once a falconer has the proper permits and licenses, one effective way to safely catch a Red-Tailed Hawk is with a bai-chatri trap. The trap is designed to ensnare a bird of prey. It consists of a cage baited inside with a live rodent or small bird and has monofilament nooses attached to the surface to snare the legs of a free-flying bird that attempts to take the bait.
Armed with a bai-chatri trap and binoculars, Beran sets off to catch a Red-Tailed Hawk.
“You want a Red-Tailed Hawk you catch to have good bone structure, big enough feet, have perfect feathers and see if it is aggressive enough,” Beran emphasizes.
Then if you catch a hawk that is “not right” for falconry, you turn it loose after you delouse it.
“I use Seven Dust, and this will kill all the external parasites. You will see mites between the hawk’s feathers. Seven Dust is non-toxic to the hawk but good for killing parasites,” Beran explains.
About 85 percent of all young Red-Tailed Hawks die annually because of external and internal parasites, Beran noted.
“So, every time you trap a hawk, you save a life. Every time you catch a hawk and kill the external parasites, you are giving it a better chance to live,” Beran said.
Early in the morning, Beran set out on an adventure with another falconer to trap a Red-Tailed Hawk. Inside the bai-chatri trap, is a gerbil and a mouse which will serve as the conspicuously alive bait. Tossing the trap out the car window to land along the highway, Beran scours the skies and looks atop telephone poles and trees for hawks.
“When trapping Red-Tailed Hawks for falconry, the bird must be less than one year old. You can tell how old a bird is by the coloration of its tail and the coloration of its belly band,” Beran said.
Training Red-Tailed Hawks
A young bird, known as a “passage” hawk, has a distinct white belly band and a brown tail. When hunting for hawks, the falconer will not want to capture one with a bright red tail. A “hag” or “haggard” hawk is older than a year and has a shorter tail. Haggards have red tail plumage. A passage hawk has a longer tail by about 1 to 1 ½ inches than a haggard hawk. Beran said the passage Red-Tailed Hawk is one that has left the nest and is on its own. A passage hawk is easily trained, he adds.
Female Red-Tailed Hawks tend to be larger than the male hawks. When catching a hawk to train for falconry, Beran suggests keeping a female hawk that weighs between 3.3 pounds to 3.74 pounds. Through the years, Beran has managed to help train several apprentices for falconry. Once someone has obtained their falconry license, they will need a mentor to complete their training.
Falconry is an ancient sport and has only gained in popularity during the last few years. Being outside watching a Red-Tailed Hawk soar gives the falconer a sense of wonder and freedom. A Red-Tailed Hawk can weigh from 1.5 pounds to 3.75 pounds and measure 18 to 26 inches in length with a wingspan from 3 feet 7 inches to 4 feet 8 inches. Breeding season begins in March and run through May. A Red-Tailed Hawk begins to breed and reproduce at 3 years old. During courtship, both the female and male hawks engage in aerial acrobatics, and often lock powerful talons and spiral down together toward the ground.
Besides catching hawks for falconry, Beran and his Raptor Rescue technicians, another branch of Wildlife Command Center, have rescued hundreds of hawks.
For related hawk videos, watch “Trapping Red-Tailed Hawks with a Master Falconer” on YouTube at: http://youtu.be/Sh141Aqpkqs