27 February 2019

A Falconry Story

I read Simone’s falconry story over in the Lady Hawker’s group at Facebook. While I’ve never owned a raptor of any sort, I could relate to the chasing down of a bird. Parakeets and cockatiels like to go on ‘walkabouts’ too and I’ve kept a few of those in my earlier years. She gave me permission to repost it here and I hope you find it as funny as I did. If you’ve ever chased down a bird on the loose, I have a feeling you will.

Simone and Henry of the falconry story. Simone and Henry

The Epic Story of Henry’s Walkabout in Seattle:

 

One afternoon in September I was coming home from the San Juan Islands with a friend and had all of my animals with me. As I was unloading my truck it was getting hot and I had Henry (gyr x merlin) in the back and he was panting a bit. He overheats quickly being part gyrfalcon. I couldn’t find my glove so just picked him up on my bare hand (I do that sometimes, he’s so tame. BAD IDEA.) and walked him to the front house door. I don’t know what happened next exactly as I would never let go of the jesses on purpose of course but he bated and slipped through my hands. Fat, zero telemetry, hadn’t flown the lure in two months and it was 91 degrees out. He landed on the awning of the porch and looked pleased with himself. “Ok, ok no big deal,” I told myself as I reached for the jesses. I was within a centimeter when he launched off the roof and disappeared behind the big trees (the trees in our neighborhood are easily 100ft tall) in our backyard and my heart SUNK. I yelled at my brother that I needed help…he was prostrate on the couch with no shirt and no shoes but ran out in that condition…bad mistake as little did he know he would be in that state for the next four hours in 90+ weather.

I proceeded to catch sight of Henry here and there (but lost sight of him many, many times for up to 20-30 minutes each time) as I ran around the neighborhood with my brother (and my mom and dad at times, my brother was on the verge of heat stroke as he had just run a half marathon and didn’t bring enough water, my mom had to rescue him on a park bench..yes, he’s an adult…24 but go figure) in the heat….My mom and dad would take shifts bringing us water or help look for Henry or keep an eye on him if his location had been confirmed. Keep in mind I live in a residential area and the people on *our* block know our house as “The Nut House” and that at any given moment there may be hawks, falcons, owls, crows, ravens, ducks, chickens, dogs, cats, or strange people. But go two blocks away and you become the stranger with giant crazy curly hair holding a fishing pole that has a dead quail attached to the end. I’m swinging the lure in the middle of the road at one point yelling “HENRY!!!!” when a front door opens and a woman yells at me: “What are you looking for?! A falcon?!” ….. “Um, yes”, I say (is she for real?) and she says, “Oh, haha, I was kidding.” Not funny lady.. maybe it was the lure, maybe she just had a lucky guess. I told her what he looked like (yeah right) and where I lived and ran off. I’m sure she thought I was crazy. Anyway, Henry had disappeared now..

And at this point my brother and I completely lost sight of Henry. The trees were too huge to get a good line of sight all around and it was easy for him to fly out of one side of a group of trees without us seeing him. I ran through neighbors backyards, knocked on doors, all the while swinging Henry’s lure, which conveniently happens to be attached to a freakin’ 12′ pole. Nothing. No crows alarm calling, no robins alarm calling. No one had seen him. I was sure he was gone. The house is on a high hill with a valley below and surely the valley and air currents were too much for a curious little falcon. But then I heard Steller’s Jays alarm calling a block away. My brother and I run as fast as we can, find the jays and eventually decide they are not talking about Henry. I’m at my wits end by this point… I trudged home kicking myself for possibly taking the wrong lead and trying to think of what to do next, though nothing seems like an option. A 300 gram falcon with no telemetry who is fat as can be in 90F heat in a neighborhood on a hill with heavy tree cover all around. ALL the odds are against me I felt like. I near the house, which looks out over the small valley (the road starts to go downhill just four houses east of my house) and there, buzzing above the slope of the hill, across a busy street, is HENRY. I take off, narrowly avoiding traffic on the busy street and try desperately to catch up with him.

I catch up with him and although he isn’t flying away, multiple times he flew around me and half-heartedly came in to the lure but never touched it or landed. He landed quite a few times in the tall trees and just looked at me. He would dive bomb my head, buzz over me, disappear and reappear multiple times. He even came out of nowhere once when I yelled his name and wasn’t even swinging the lure. It was an emotional roller coaster! Again keep in mind that by this point Henry has probably moved 20 times and each time it’s a MAD DASH to keep up with him. There are so many trees and houses in the way. When he would take off my dad would go one way, my brother and mom another and I would start swinging the lure yelling his name. There is absolutely *zero percent chance* we didn’t look crazy. How did four people escape from the looney bin in one day?

At this point it was obvious he wasn’t too into the lure so my mom called Wendy (bless her soul a million times) who was at work quite a ways south of our house. She drove from her work, north of our house to get pigeons at another friend’s house and then back south to my neighborhood with two live pigeons. Granted this is all in horrible RUSH HOUR SEATTLE evening traffic. Did I mention bless her soul a million times?!

Henry had been sitting on a certain cedar tree for about 10 minutes at this point when Wendy pulled up. My brother had my Jack Russell x Beagle Otis because Henry is somewhat imprinted on Otis (a story for another time) and will often try to steal the lure or food from him so I was trying everything at this point. Anyway, Wendy whips around the traffic circle, tosses me a live pigeon on a line without slowing down and I toss it out under Henry. He comes into it immediately but won’t commit, almost lands on a transformer, then goes by it multiple times but still won’t commit. Otis loses his mind seeing this happen and slips his collar and runs across the street, into traffic, almost gets hit by two cars (seriously, centimeters away), my brother and I are screaming at the top of our lungs for Otis to stop but he makes it to the other side safely. Now I have my dad call all the pet shops in the area to ask for finches as the pigeons are apparently a bit big for Henry. Our friend Ron has been called who works at a bird shop but they are closed and also have no finches. My dad is on the phone down the block, my brother is on the corner as a lookout in case Henry flies that way and out of sight, Wendy is on the street with two live pigeons flapping and I am in some stranger’s front yard swinging a lure with a nasty, dead, in the heat for four hours quail with hornets buzzing all around when a hornet flies up my shirt. I scream and dance up and down (I have bad reactions to hornet stings) and whip my shirt off, Wendy is yelling “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?!?!” and howling at me like I’ve gone crazy but I don’t even realize how utterly insane I must look..shirt back on and Henry now is pretty much ignoring us (how???!!). Hour four of this ordeal arrives and I am at my wit’s end. My dad has driven to Petco at this point to pick up parakeets (absolutely awful, I know but we were going to put them in a BC and hope for no death to parakeets) and Henry has flown up higher in the tree with his back to us. He is utterly and completely ignoring us. There’s now a dead and bloody pigeon on a line in front of some random person’s house and I’m still on another person’s front lawn swinging the lure, contemplating how I might climb their roof even if they aren’t home to give permission. Thirty minutes before sunset. I literally feel like crawling into a black hole and dying and with everything that has just gone on (I had just lost my beloved aunt, who I was very, very close with, to breast cancer and she loved Henry) I can’t imagine losing my little buddy to such a stupid mistake. In one last ditch effort I wiggle and throw and toss the lure and dead quail around on the sidewalk across the street from Henry. He turns around, leaves the tree and flies directly to the dead quail, lands on the ground next to it, hops on it, I crawl slowly, shaking, on my knees and pick the little turd up.

 

I learned a few things that evening after getting Henry back: family and friends are priceless, persistence pays off, Petco will take parakeets back, your friends, after hearing the story, will tell you they just saw you on YouTube topless swinging a lure…”the neighbor’s must have been filming with their smart phones after all” (don’t believe them) and my brother’s “half marathon?” Yeah… he wasn’t part of a marathon. He just ran a bunch of miles by himself with no water and called it a marathon. He didn’t realize his “half marathon” was just the warm up.

I slept like a bag of rocks that night.

 

Simone Lupson-Cook

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