Wednesday, January 26, 2005



"You have a great ability to get inside the redtail's mind," I wrote in an admiring note to John Blakeman on 1/23. Here is part of his response:

About my perceptions of the red-tail's mind:

It's not so much a matter of profound perception as of the inordinate number of hours spent in the personal company of these birds.

Each of my fellow falconers shares most of these understandings. Because of my extensive field and captive breeding studies of red-tails, I have an additional understand of their ecology and the interplay of their mentality with the natural environment.

I'm not so personally excited about my ability to read the red-tail's mind. All humans who work with animals learn about them. It's nice, and contributes to my understanding of the hawk. But I hold in more precious regard my personal experiences with the bird. There are about 3000 licensed falconers in the US, and every one of us treasures both the opportunities and obligations we have in keeping wild hawks in our care and hunting with them. Because hawks and falcons are essentially non-social predators (unlike dogs), our trained hawks do not regard us as their "masters," nor do they respond to any of the usual controls of voice or deportment that a trained dog or horse might. A falconer must creatively attend to every need of the hawk, as its absolute servant, not its master in any way. Make any training or caring error and the hawk simply flies back into the wild given the first opportunity.

Every time I step into the field with my red-tail, Savanna, sitting free on my fist, I marvel just as I did when I first did it over 30 years ago, that the bird will fly free through the air, attempt to capture a fleeing rabbit, and either capture it and allow me to approach and retrieve the hawk, or I must stand there in the field and elevate my gloved fist with a piece of meat to cause the hawk to return after a missed hunting flight. The bird freely turns around and flies to my fist, lands, and then resumes her hunt.

Who else gets to observe a predator conducting its own hunt so closely and intimately? My mind is 12 inches from Savanna's, and during the hunt I see every movement she makes. I follow her eye, feel the tenseness in her clasping talons on my gloved fist as she thinks she sees a prey animal, and the swish of her wings brushes my face as she leaps off in pursuit. Who gets closer to a wild raptor than this? How could I not understand?

This unique relationship between men and hawks has been the core and motivation of falconry since its origin in China and Mesopotamia millennia ago. I am honored and privileged be able to be a modern falconer. I'm pleased to be able to share some of my perspectives with your cogent readership. They already grasp the regality of the red-tailed hawk. My thoughts merely expand them a bit.


John A. Blakeman