Sunday, September 27, 2009

First Kills

Today we got our first kills!!

Yup, we took multiples our first time out. 6 or 7 in fact (I kinda lost count). Admittedly some were blatant muggings but he did take a couple right out of the air!

...Okay, okay, they were grasshoppers but I had fun!

Saturday was his first time outside and after a less than stellar session I decided he needed more exposure to the outdoors so I decided to take him on a little walk today. Knowing that the grasshoppers are still out in full force I popped the creance (30lb. fishing line attached to a light sandbag) in my pocket thinking that if he showed any interest I might as well let him go as long as he would be attached to something. He was a bit higher than I had him Saturday so I wasn't sure what would happen but sure enough before we'd even hit the main field I was headed to he started head bobbing at a grasshopper. I attached the creance and took a couple steps and he plopped down on our first kill of the season! Wahoo! :-)

He didn't even try to carry. He bit off it's head, chowed down on it's body and I lifted him back on the fist. I un-wound about 15 feet of the creance, held it in loops around my free hand and headed out into the main field where the grasshoppers are thick.

A big one with yellow wings (he doesn't like the ones with red wings apparently...) got up in front of us and he zipped off the fist and caught the sucker in midair about 10 feet in front of me! Alas (or thank goodness?), the creance brought him up short just after he caught it and he must've let it go when he hit the ground. I don't know how far he would've gone had the creance not been attached...

He didn't seem to happy about the unexpected drop to the ground but hopped back to my fist easy enough when I approached. I wandered over by the bike bath where two big grasshoppers were flirting and he dashed off to nail one of 'em with plenty of creance to spare. He kind of flared when I approached so I just stood back and he downed the bug right there on the bike path. A short whistle when he finished and he hopped back to the fist! Cool!

That did it for the morning session as I had to head off to church. I hadn't planned on him actually catching anything but it worked out perfect since he needed a little tidbit before I left. Both grasshoppers only equaled 2 grams!

After church he weighed in still slightly above where I would've liked him to be but lower than he was in the morning so with the creance attached again we headed back to the grasshopper field. I had a little more line out this time but didn't really need it. He was definitely more keyed in to the grasshoppers at the lower weight. He smacked one right off the bat and then jumped to the fist for a tidbit of starling breast when he finished. I had my cell phone camera with me this time:

That pattern repeated itself 2 or 3 more times. He'd grab a grasshopper, eat it quickly right where he was and then jump to the fist for a 'real meat' tidbit. He showed real tenacity when one grasshopper dodged his first attacked by hopping about six feet away. He hit the ground where it had been and immediately hopped back up to fly it down where it landed. Just like a goshawk!! :-)

He had one more flight where he took the bug right out of the air. It was a good 20 foot flight! I ran toward him to give him as much slack in the creance as I could but it eventually brought him down again. Again, who knows how far he would've gone, but this time he kept the grasshopper in his foot. As I approached he lifted off the ground and actually brought the grasshopper to my fist!

I forget how many we ended up catching in the afternoon session, I think it was 4 or 5 though.

For the most part I think I would've been okay without the creance but there were a couple times like the one he caught flying, and one where he missed toward the end after he'd filled up on a few, where I don't know if I would've gotten him back. I need to have him a gram or so lower and work on some instant response at longer distances before I'm comfortable free flying...but today was fun! I think it was a good opportunity for him to "hunt" with me and get used to that whole procedure. I need to get some baggie sparrows to toss for him in the field and then we'll really start having some fun.

Good times await!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Progress Report

We're doing well. At 78g he still doesn't have "instant" response but we're getting close. (But we haven't gotten outside yet either...) He did come to the glove without a tidbit yesterday so that's a good sign.

I gave him a couple of baggie sparrows over the weekend and it's clear that sparrows are a new thing for him. I think he was a bug bird before I got him (his first casting was grasshopper parts...). I almost had to set him on top of the first baggie. He killed it quickly though and then spent the next hour plucking it! If I hadn't broken into it for him he may still be there today! The second baggie he was a little more enthusiastic about but the sparrow managed to evade him twice before he finally got a foot on it. Again, he killed it quickly and then plucked, and plucked, and plucked. He got the entire sparrow both times though so hopefully he'll have connected a good meal to killing his own food. There were a couple of really positive things though: he didn't try and go anywhere with the sparrow despite my two year old running around and even jumping on my back while I was laying next to the bird. (Dulcinea tried to hide everytime she caught a sparrow.) and when he finished the sparrow he jumped to my fist for a final tidbit both times. So that's encouraging. I think it will take some work to get him on starlings.

His one vice is screaming. He yells at me almost constantly when I get close and sometimes food won't even muffle the noise. *KYAK KYAK KYAK kyhmp kyhmp hymp (as the food goes down) and then back to KYAK KYAK KYAK* It's quite annoying. I wonder if he's just a really young bird? I know imprint kestrels scream all the time, and luckily Hayduke is quiet if I keep my distance, but he can really get loud. I almost have to go outside if I want to work with him when the kids are going to sleep. Hopefully once he's in the groove and hunting his own food he'll lay off on the siren. Loud, repeatative noises are one of my worst pet peeves!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Week One Update

Between 82 and 85 grams he'll make a few jumps to the fist. About 3 feet has been his longest. I occasionally have to "prime" him by giving him a tidbit on the perch and he'll still think about it for a few second before coming but we're on the right track. This evening he should be around 80 grams and be a little more motivated to make longer leaps. I have this hang up with not wanting to let birds loose weight, I think if I had dropped him lower a little earlier we would be farther along by now but for being just a week in to it I think we're doing fine.

He's still got quite a bit of "taming" to do. He still gapes (opens his mouth) at me when I approach him on his perch and will try and bate away but he calms down fairly quickly once on my glove. He rarely bates from there and when he does, he's quick to regain the fist. I spent a whole lot of time this weekend with him on my fist and even caught him napping there at one point. Any movement still freaks him out but that will pass with more exposure. Dulcinea was so rock solid that she wouldn't bat an eyelid when I wandered around the NAFA meet (falconer's convention of sorts...) with her on the fist and people everywhere. I remember one time when she had missed a sparrow and landed on a parked car, a lady walked right up to her expecting her to fly off and she just sat there. Man, she was a good bird!

We'll get there with Hayduke, I'll let him dictate the pace but I think we're moving along well. If things go according to plan hopefully he'll be hunting by the end of the month. There are starlings that need killing:

The Most Hated Bird in the U.S.

Starling flocks take toll on economy, environment

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Day Two -- Success!!

Sunday I wasn't able to get out trapping, but Monday being a holiday, I loaded up the traps, picked up Rick and headed out at first light. We started seeing kestrels immediately.
Our first bird came down to a mouse:

A male with another one of those funky mid-moult tails:

Definitely an older bird so a quick photo and release:

The second bird we found on a lonely, dusty back road eating a grasshopper. He was way up at the top of a tall telephone pole but we made the drop anyway. He buzzed the trap once but landed right above the trap on the telephone wire. It wasn't more than a minute before he dropped straight down and we had him:

Another one with a funky tail! I guess it's just so early in the year that kestrels are usually still moulting at this time? We saw another male that we weren't able to trap whose tail was literally just a stub. I had my doubts as to whether or not he was even a kestrel when we first saw. I kept telling Rick, "It's tail just doesn't look right to be a kestrel." I thought maybe we'd mistaken a meadowlark or starling for a kestrel but as we drove up to get a better look he bumped and sure enough it was just a tail-less kestrel! Crazy.

This boy was TINY!! Another quick photo and a release:

We hit a slow patch for an hour or so but finally hit the jackpot. 3 birds all hanging out together, so we figured it must be a group of young siblings still palling around after fledging. They were pretty jumpy and we had to chase them around for awhile before we finally got a good set. The male came right down to our mouse:

We looked him over and sure enough, he appeared to be a passage (first year) bird. A full tail, streaked breast, barring all the way up between his shoulders, exactly what I wanted! We rushed back to Rick's house and put equipment on him, 111g with jesses and a hood. He cast later in the day and after several mutes ended up right around 98g. He's a tiny little guy but I think he'll do well.
Introducing Hayduke:

Looking forward to a great season with him!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Day One

Neither were passage birds but we did catch two. A good way to start trapping season, especially since its still so warm and the kestrels are keeping pretty full on grasshoppers.

This first one came down to a sparrow. It was tempting to keep her, look at those monster starling killing feet! (Click to englarge picture)

The second bird was an interesting catch for a couple reasons. We had thrown the BC with the sparrow in it in between two kestrels and backed off a hundred yards. We then noticed a third kestrel sitting right above us! I had brought some mice and was keeping them in an additional BC that I hadn't finished covering with nooses the night before, only one side of it was covered. We figured we couldn't pass up the opportunity though and decided to toss the mice out under this third kestrel. She hopped around on the trap for awhile but eventually got caught! As we were looking her over we noticed that she was till growing in her tail and it was the most interesting moulting pattern I've ever seen!

You can see the central tail feathers are fully grown in but the rest of the feathers are at varying stages the further out you go with the outter most feathers being the shortest. I was amazed at the uniformity of such a late moult!

Anyway, here was a victory shot we took shortly before both birds were released:

Friday, September 04, 2009


From the Colorado Division of Wildlife falconry regulations:

#609 - CAPTURING RAPTORS - The following restrictions shall apply to the capturing of raptors and

4. First year (passage) raptors capable of flight, may be captured and removed from the wild only from September 4 through October 16 and November 1 through January 15.

I'll be spending the weekend looking for my new hunting partner. I'm like a little kid at Christmas!!