Monday, June 29, 2009

The End of The Project

I was out of town all last week at a conference for work and returned The Project to her owner while I was away. On Friday morning I recieved a text message saying that the kestrel wouldn't eat on her own Thursday night, that he'd force fed her in the morning but it didn't look good. A few hours later I got the text that she'd died.

He's not sure what happened so I don't have details but it's an unfortunate turn of events. I feel like I'd been doing well with her and she'd improved many times over from what I'd initially seen of her. I'd like to think she would've started taking game in the near future but that is, of course, pure speculation.

She was a good learning experience and we had some good flights. Since she wasn't "my" bird, I don't feel the same sense of loss that I did with Dulci, but losing any bird is tough. My eyes are set on the fall now though. I'll get a fresh passage bird and start with a clean slate. I'm starting to feel more comfortable with kestrels in general and look forward to getting the next one going as quickly as possible. The starling population could use a good kestrel to keep them in check and I will be doing my best to oblige! Blogging may be a bit slow for the next while but I'll check in if anything pops up.

I wonder what my next kestrel is doing right now...?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Bully

There's a robin that lives outside our apartment building that absolutely HATES the kestrel. Seems like all birds do these days, but this robin is exceptional in his distaste. Every morning when I leave with the kestrel on my fist he comes zooming in to buzz my bird no more than a foot from my face! I'm not exaggerating its proximity either, literally 12 inches, occasionally closer! I can't tell you how many times I've instinctively ducked when out of the corner of my eye this red-breasted ball of fury comes hurtling towards my head!

This morning he was in particularly good form, making perhaps a dozen passes at us before we made it into the car. You'd think a bright red enclosure of metal and glass would stifle the attack but this robin knows we're in there and will keep dive bombing the car until I'm moving out of the parking lot. And the scary thing is, it apparently remembers we're in there an hour later!

When I returned from hawking this morning (not bad, but nothing to blog about) the robin resumed its attack before I'd even left the car! I had scarcely I pulled into a parking spot when I heard the tell tale war cry sound from the roof of the garages behind us and the rufous defender was after us again! Confident in the car's stolidity, I proceeded to let the kestrel finish a tidbit when I hear a loud *thwack* on my window. The robin actually hit the car! There were wing prints on the window!

Head bowed in deference (not submission!!) to the bold little Turdis Migratorius I quickly bolted for the safety of my apartment. I'm not scared of The Bully, I swear I'm not, but that sucker might just put out my eye if I'm not careful!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Perfect Slip

The wind was howling pretty good today, 24 mph just before I headed out, but it's awfully hard to keep me from hawking if I have even a bit of time. And between a conference at school and a dutch oven cook off this evening, a bit of time was all I had.

We headed over to our usual business park but after a few times around it appeared that the wind had blown all the starlings into another state. I'm like a fisherman always wanting that one last cast before I head home though so I cruised through the park one last time.
As we passed a vacant lot overgrown with weeds the bird suddenly slicked down and bated. Hmmmm....I didn't see anything but I've learned to trust the birds eyes more than my own. As I turned around I saw a group of probably a dozen starlings lift briefly from the field and then settle back down.


This was an absolutely beautiful set up. The starlings were about 30 yards out and the weeds were so tall that you couldn't see them...but that also meant they couldn't see us! As I pulled to a stop in the adjacent parking lot a gift from heaven, one more starling, dropped in to the foraging group marking exactly where they were. With the wind at our backs The Project was off, wings clipping the tall grasses as she covered the 30 yards in a second. A quick wingover and starlings erupted all around where she'd gone down! Booyah!!!

But then she "hopped". And hopped again. And suddenly she was on the wing again with the dang grackles converging like locusts on a grain field. In a matter of seconds the starlings joined in and she was chased back to the car with a massive ball of birds slamming her from every direction. She was driven to the ground just behind me but even on the ground there was no respite from her attackers. She lifted into the air again and the strong wind instantly took her and the black demons 100 yards away. I was worried that she'd be driven away again but I made my way over to the tree she'd been driven in to and she quickly came to my fist and scolded me for exposing her to such evil.

None the worse for wear, we had one more marginal slip just before leaving the business park and heading home.

So another day with nothing in the bag but man, that was a beautiful slip today. I'm not sure exactly what happened to make her miss since the grass obstructed my view. It could be that she just wasn't quite on target since they were down in the weeds but she had to have been awfully close. I hope it's not that she hit one and just wasn't able to hang on but that's a possibility too. The front inside talons on both feet are extremely dull and I wonder how much of a difference that makes. I'm spraying her feet twice a day with water but it will be awhile before they're where they need to be. Then again, she's been able to handle baggies well enough so who knows. I just need to see her actually hit one in the open so I can see clearly how she does.

We're so close I can taste it. We hawk every day though so I'm optomistic. I hope to have her kill something before next Friday since I'm going out of town for a week and a half and will be returning her to her owner during that time. I hope he hawks her while I'm gone but he's a busy man. So before next Friday...send me good vibes and more of those perfect slips!

Monday, June 08, 2009


Well, I lost her on Saturday.

It was a bit windy but nothing that would keep me from flying, and yeah, she was probably a gram over where she should be but I'd flown her higher and she'd done okay. It was the grackles that did it though.

It was a perfect slip, a couple adult starlings being pestered by probably half a dozen juveniles, and off she went. I don't know if it was the wind or her weight but she overshot them and landed on the corner of a building. And then they came. Blacker than the evil they are spawned from, first one, then the rest of the gang (probably 10 or so) began their assult.

"I was after starlings you b@stards, not you!!" I yelled but they were relentless and aggressive!! They were actually smacking the kestrel around rather than just buzzing her. The kestrel made attempts to come to my fist but every time she took to the air they were on her like black on asphalt, from one building to the next they chased while I did my best to keep up.

And then she'd had enough. She disappeared behind a building where I couldn't go. She was headed east over a wooded area, the nearest road in that direction a half mile away. I quickly jumped in the car and headed that way but even the most direct route was roundabout. No telemetry since her owner was probably going to release her and I am planning on trapping a passage bird in the fall. I'd always thought, "If she goes, she goes" but that isn't the way I wanted it to happen!

I figured the grackles would force her to take some shelter somewhere in the trees but there were some soccer fields on the edge of the woods in the direction I'd last seen her headed in. A soccer game was just finishing so I pulled into the farthest parking spot, got out, and hopelessly swung my lure.


I drove to the shopping center on the other side of the street. Swung the lure.


Crossed a busy intersection and slowly cruised the parking lot of another shopping area and movie theater hoping to see her on a pole...

Nothing. The sun was setting, literally as well as figuratively.

Back to the industrial park where I'd lost her. More swinging of the lure and whistling. *Sigh* I slumped back in the drivers seat and texted her owner, "Bird AWOL. Looking now. Call me when you get a chance." It had been about 45 minutes since she'd disappeared. There was a stiff wind blowing to the east, and about 20 minutes of light left. She was gone.

I drove back to the shopping center across the street from the soccer fields. I looked back over the woods and soccer fields toward the back of the industrial park a half mile away trying vainly one last time to determine her trajectory, figuring that maybe I could come back at first light. If nothing else, it was a good area, she would be fine.

A heavy sigh as I started the car and cruised slowly out of the parking lot...

...but wait.

What's that on the light pole over there? Is that a kestrel or a grackle or robin? There wasn't much light left, it was hard to see. Wouldn't that be hilarious if it was actually her? I stopped the car and pulled out the lure.

One swing and a whistle and she was inbound!!! YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!! With my hope fading faster than the light, literally dejected and on my way home, I'd found her! She skirted my fist a few times, causing more than a bit of anxiousness as the darkness grew, but eventually landed gingerly on my fist and tore in to a starling breast. I didn't let out a breath until I'd clipped her in, sat back in the car and locked the doors!

The Project continues!!!

Falconry sure can be a rollercoaster!!

(You'd think that I'd want a break after that adventure but Sunday I was out again in just about the same area, this time with her owner along. We had loads of fun, with some fantastically close calls on starlings. She's sooooo close! We had a bunch of slips that really gave some insight to her flight style. She likes to stay above them until the last second and then try and wingover on top of them instead of attacking directly. It will take a good setup for it to work but I think we're close. And even though she was mobbed just about every flight, she handled herself well.)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


I suppose I got a little excited after last weekend. I'll even quote myself as saying (in my last post two days ago nonetheless!!):
...the importance of weight control with kestrels. At 97.7 she was still buzzing the glove and took 20-30 minutes to get down. At 97.1 she's all business.
This morning the storm broke. It wasn't raining and since I'd been kept up most of the night by my poor, sick two year old, when the alarm went off at 5:15 I was ready to get up anyway. I got the bird's food out, gathered my hawking bag, and weighed the bird. Full disclosure: When I put her to bed last night I suspected I'd given her too much. I was right. At 99.7 she was a full 2 grams higher than the weight I posted about above. Again:
At 97.7 she was still buzzing the glove and took 20-30 minutes to get down.
So what do I do? Yup, go hunting. *Sigh* Now for those of you fearful to read on, expecting some tragedy, rest at ease. The bird is safe in her mews at home. And honestly, what happened wasn't even that nerve wracking. It was just what you'd expect from an overweight bird.

I found some sparrows in between some shops at a local shopping center. The bird bobs her head at them but it was more of a cursory glance than any real interest. Nevertheless, I decide to try the dart method with the silly thought, "Well, maybe if she's already inbound she'll decide to chase." A starling lands next to the sparrow and I approach with the bird tucked in my hand...Perfect! I look down at the kestrel to gauge her interest. She's looking up at me with a quizzical look like, "What are we doing now?" I toss and...she shoots over the top of both sparrow and starling and flies up to the top of the building.

What did I expect?!? For the next 15-20 minutes she made lazy passes at my glove but eventually came down. This time I was smart enough to clip her in and head home. I'll be more accurate with her weight tomorrow...OR I WON'T GO OUT!!

And then, as I opened the car door to get in and leave, as if the universe was mocking me, an adult starling with three juveniles in tow landed not more than 15 feet from me and began fighting over a piece of bread.