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Fall Season 2005

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THA Journal Summer 2005

The Little One(s) That Got Away
Chuck Redding, Houston

After a three decade absence from falconry, I decided to train a kestrel. Last fall I trapped a nice passage falcon who later got chased off in my own neighborhood by a female sharp-shin. This kestrel was just getting into hunting, having caught a bagged sparrow in spectacular fashion, and was occasionally crashing the bushes going after others. No field kills, though. I was a bit torn up by her loss, which was compounded by its occurring on the very last day of the year. This should have been the end of the story, as hawk trapping in Texas ends on New Year's Eve. But the end of my falconry season was still a few months off.

At the THA Field Meet in Abilene, Bob Peavy and Cody Fields informed me that I could to go to Arkansas to trap another bird, since the season was open until the end of January. The next week I drove from Houston to Texarkana with my BC and a zebra finch. About 10 a.m. Friday morning I trapped a good looking haggard tiercel, keeping him in case I could not find any passage birds. I trapped three more birds, all haggards, and saw some others, which also appeared to be adults. That afternoon I jessed him up, took the hood off, put him in a shoe box and headed back to Houston. I called my wife Stephanie, to have her pull a mouse out of the freezer, only to find three sparrows in my trap when I got home.

This bird, called Apollo, was unlike his friendly predecessor. Initially he was extremely wild, not surprising, since he was almost two years old. It is possible that he was a third year bird, but I doubt it. He was one of those birds that slides off your fist rather than gripping it. He eventually settled down and I had him trained in about a month. He had a few problems. Matt Mullenix gave me a cotton rat (Sigmodon hispidus) that had been mostly eviscerated by Matt's Harris' hawk. Unfortunately, I didn't remove any of the hide and while eating it the kestrel ingested a huge amount of fur. Easter morning when he wouldn't eat, I panicked and took him to the emergency vet where he was diagnosed with a swollen liver, possibly cancerous. After casting four horned owl caliber fur pellets he was fine, but as he had already started on antibiotics, his hunting was delayed for a couple of weeks. Then just as he was ready to go again I found a bruise on his left tarsus and decided to free-loft him for another two weeks. He got quite fat, even catching two sparrows that mysteriously escaped their cage in the mews. Well, one escape was a mystery, the other less so. When I thought that he was ready, I started cutting his weight back. Though he was still high in weight, I took him out with my friends, Randy Kocurek and son, Chris, and flew him at a wild sparrow. He put in a picturesque, but lazy pursuit, but then was a little balky returning, so I put him up for the day.

By the next evening after work, his weight was down a couple of grams, though still pretty high. I put him in the hawk box and drove to the industrial park where he had put in some good sparrow flights. It was an hour or so before dark as I drove down the street. He was looking out the window for sparrows. There weren't any on the driver's side but we spotted two sparrows hopping around on the other side of the street. I slowed the car down. I had to shake him off my fist, since he was not going on his own, but that's all he needed. The sparrows took off and he caught one right away. I stopped the car and it looked like he was going to settle in. Suddenly he takes off with the sparrow, flying to a tree. I thought I would wait him out, and sat on the curb. Unfortunately, he was restless and flew to another tree. At some point, a migrating Swainson's hawk flying very high, swooped down and landed in the next tree. An omen apparently, and obviously interested in a kestrel/sparrow dinner. Apollo was tucked in on a pine tree branch and was not too disturbed.

The kestrel plucked and ate the sparrow until dark, then flew over a building. The Swainson's hawk omen aside, I figured I would get him back in the morning. Because it had gotten so late, my wife had rightly worried that I had lost the hawk. This had to be the one time that my cell phone was on my desk at work. When I got home, I was still pretty confident, although I didn't sleep too well. My plan was to get back there before dawn.

After daylight I found him flying around still in his jesses, preening himself, and being mobbed by mockingbirds. I tried a live lure and a butterflied sparrow on the glove, but he was only mildly interested. I then set the live lure out. He flew down to it, picked it up, but dropped it when he lifted the lead weight. Suddenly he flew off quickly, and returned with another kill. I couldn't tell what it was, whether mouse, bird, or lizard. I'm thinking lizard. Now I got really nervous.

I drove home to get my BC trap. I recruited our pet zebra finch, who earns his keep by occasionally being kestrel bait. The trap had missing and flattened nooses, but at this point I wasn't sure that he would even attack it. No kestrel had escaped from this trap previously, so I thought that the trap was OK, nooses or not.

I returned to the area, where Apollo was still flying around. It was now about 1:00 p.m. He was down the street, so I set the trap out expecting him to take a while, if he attacked the trap at all. Wrong again. I walked to the car, opened the door, looked back at the trap He was sitting on it. What's more, he was glaring at me warily, rather than trying to get the finch - not a good indication. Suddenly, he struggled, obviously caught. I made my next mistake. He appeared to be well caught, so rather than rushing the trap, I walked over to it. I didn't want to frighten him. Consequently, he bated a few times against the noose, slipped loose and flew off. An hour later I saw him fly over a building. I didn't follow him because until then he had been returning. That was the last I saw of him. So my season ended with a kill (or two) and a lost bird. I went out there for few days, but saw no sign of him. Nor did I get any calls from any tenants of the industrial park, whom I had spoken to and showed some interest.

A series of mistakes on my part contributed to his loss. I flew him too high, on a quarry that I thought he might carry. I flew him late in the day. I used a trap that was not in optimum shape, and assumed that he would take a while to attack the trap. In spite of all of this, I did have him trapped. If I had hurried to the trap, I probably would have him in the mews right now. Now I drive around Houston seeing about a dozen good starling and sparrow slips every day. This is a great time of year to have a kestrel. I had told my sponsor, Jim Ince, that I would be satisfied with just one sparrow kill this season. I should have added that I would also like to get the bird back. I guess this is what apprenticeship is all about.

On the up side, this bird is obviously a good hunter, and a first-rate jess remover. One time he removed two field jesses and an anklet in less than thirty minutes. While free-lofting in the mews I kept little tie-wraps on his jesses to prevent this. I cut the tie-wraps off when I took him to the field.

Now he is probably flying around somewhere, jess-less and fat, having long forgotten the odd three months he spent with me.

For pictures and more information, check my web site.

Published in Fall 2005 THA Journal

My Footing Story
Chuck Redding

When reading falconry magazines and books, I frequently encounter references to being footed. In the April 2003 NAFA Hawk Chalk I read a funny story on footing by Bob Glass, (“Why I Cry When My Redtail Holds My Hand”) describing how a particularly nasty footing by his RT caused enough nerve damage to his hand that it improved his golf game. In last summer's THA journal, Jack Brady wrote about being footed first by a Peale's peregrine and then later, under similar circumstances, by a prairie falcon. Painful, but the description was funny. A while back I helped Jim Ince cast his peregrine tiercel, so that he could imp the bird's tail feathers. He warned me, “don't let him foot you.” Until that night I didn't think that peregrines had particularly strong feet – the bird didn't foot us, but he tried, as well as making serious attempts to bite. “Gaucho” is one muscular peregrine, and I am glad he didn't get a hold of me. It took a major effort for the two of us to cast him and avoid his wrath.

This is my red-tail footing story. It's not funny, but I think it's interesting. If you are reading it, then Danny Pickens must have agreed, or was possibly short of material. The event happened forty years ago when an aggressive eyas red-tail footed me in the eye. I guess one shouldn't start with the punchline, but there it is.

It was the autumn of 1965. My family lived in northern Illinois, where I had an eyas red-tail called Aerial, a big eastern hen (Buteo jamaicensus borealis). She was the first of two red-tails that I trained, the second being her one-year-younger sibling. In the cooler weather Aerial was free-lofted in a horse stall, a ready made mew with large, vertically barred windows, a feed box perch by the door and a sawhorse in the middle, also used as a perch. It had straw on the floor, so I'm not sure why she didn't get Aspergillosis, except that the stall was well ventilated. We had a routine when I fed her each night. When I opened the door she would always be sitting on the feed box immediately to the left of the door. She would fly to the sawhorse, turn around, and launch herself at my garnished fist. She liked the feed box since she could look out the window. She was always there. One night, I opened the door, looked to the left, and instantly realizing that she was not perched there, glanced at the sawhorse. In the dim light I had about a half second to see her taloned feet before they hit me going about 25 mph. One foot was in my eye, I don't know where the other foot was, but the impact knocked me back outside. Stunned, I ripped the bird off of my face and she fluttered to the ground in front of me. In my mind, I can still see the image of the buzzard sitting there, now very docile, curiously looking up at me. I was bleeding all over the place, but I could see out of both eyes. I picked her up, fed her, and put her back in the mew. Her talon had slashed my eyelid, but didn't scratch or cut my eye.

The very next day I put her out to weather, and being fourteen, carelessly hooked her up with a dog leash. She broke loose while I was at school, flew off, and I never saw her again. Fortunately she left the leash and snap swivel. I was well aware of the warnings about those snaps, but decided I could certainly get by for just one day. Live and learn? No, two years later I lost her sibling just as she was getting into the molt – with a dog snap.

Aerial's field record, if you want to call it that, consisted of a half grown mallard and a fox squirrel that was unethically flushed from its hiding place. She also had a great downhill flight on a cock pheasant, which escaped at the last second by blasting into a small woodlot. A crash, with lots of breaking limbs. I thought Aerial had caught him, but when I ran down to the woodlot she was sitting in a tree waiting for me.

One interesting thing about this bird was her ability to catch meat chunks in the dark. In the horse stall, I could throw one to the floor and she would attack it. When I turned on the light she would have it in her talons. I played this game with her a number of times. It was pretty amazing, almost like a barn owl.

As a fourteen year old, I thought she was a pretty good hawk. At least when she wasn't footing me in the eye!

Winter 2005/2006

Trapping In The Great Indoors

If you ever need to trap a bird in climate controlled comfort, Office Depot may be your ticket. In early December I got a call from a local wildlife rehabber, Carolyn Ecton, who told me that there was a small falcon inside a nearby Office Depot store. She believed it was a merlin, wasn't sure, but was hoping that I would trap it. Based on her uncertainty and description, I decided that it was probably a female kestrel and asked her to put a mouse out. I was leaving shortly to attend my cousin's college graduation at Reliant Stadium, but I promised that I would check things out the following evening after work.

When I got there, I asked the manager if there was a falcon flying around the store. Yes, he said, there he is........ (pointing). A cute female kestrel was living in the rafters of the store.

I walked next door to Petco (how convenient), and of course they had no $2 mice for the BC trap. I decided to buy a $15 zebra finch, which kestrels love, but told them that I would be returning the bird in about twenty minutes. Unfortunately the girl could not catch any of their finches, so I said that a $16 Chinese Pygmy hamster would be OK. Again, I said that I would be returning him very shortly.

I put the little rodent into the trap, walked back to Office Depot and placed the trap in a location where the bird could see it – this was on top of a bookcase. Within minutes the kestrel was stomping all over the trap. The bird was madly trying to get to the hamster, who was being accommodating as it turns out. Unfortunately, as I watched, noose after noose was closing empty (I could see them sticking up because I was standing only a few feet away). I was just beginning to get worried, when the hamster begins the Chinese Pygmy hamster death shriek, the sound carrying across the store. Apparently the rodent wasn't content to sit safely out of the way and the k-bird got a hold of him through the cage. At this point I figured that the $16 hamster was mortally wounded, and worse, that the kestrel was not going to get caught. About this time, the kestrel began to struggle, obviously noosed, and I walked over to extract her from the trap. She was an adult. Getting her loose took some help from store personnel, as the bird had a noose around each leg, and John Graham's nooses hold pretty well*.

I wrapped the bird in a little towel. The hamster was wounded, but not mortally. I didn't bother going back by Petco knowing that they would not refund the money for a hamster with a ripped and bloody ear, so I gave the bird and the rodent to Carolyn for a little R&R, along with a little warning about overfeeding the kestrel. She asked me if I wanted the bird - I told her thank you, but I had a red tail at the house that would love to have a kestrel over for dinner, and declined.

As of this writing (12/28/2005), the hamster is living at Carolyn's house, while the kestrel was released about ten days ago.

The next time you are at Office Depot, have your trap handy. You never know - there might be a resident goshawk living there.

*Free plug here – this was a BC trap built by John Graham

Summer 2009

A Tale of Two Hawks

by Chuck Redding

Last September, right after Hurricane Ike and shortly after my return from a climbing trip to Colorado, Chris Comeaux gave me his tiercel Harris' hawk. This was a second-year Coulson bird that had been passed from Bryan Chenault to Chris, and then on to me.

Bryan flew the bird in a cast with a female, and according to Bryan, this bird, then called Aztec, typically initiated the chases, while the female made the kills. The tiercel caught one bird on his own.

Chris flew the Harris’, but devoted most of his time to his gyr-peregrine tiercels. Chris was not too fond of him, and possibly vice-versa. As the hurricane approached, Chris tried to get the hawk, along with his dogs and two falcons, into the attic of his house to escape rising water. At some point, the Harris' decided to foot him in the hand. “Here I was trying to save the little bastard's life, and he did that. I never came so close to wringing a hawk's neck in my entire life,” said Chris. He’d flown him on Bolivar Peninsula, which is a much better environment for his falcons than a Harris' hawk. Chris thought that the bird was stupid, telling me, “When I take him squirrel hawking, he looks down, not up!” He said that the hawk wouldn't chase birds, but pursued rabbits and squirrels. As Mike Wiegel and I were leaving the night I picked him up, Chris remarked, “Hey man, he seems to like you.” Actually I think Chris was happy to see the hawk leave.

For a while, I wondered if Chris had a point about this bird's intellect. All the basic routines that I have with my three-times-intermewed redtail were trouble with this bird. Every time I put him in my weathering area, the Harris’ was panicked by the netting at the entrance. He wouldn't sit on the scale, he was hard to approach in the mew and he didn't seem to learn things very quickly. Then, within a week of acquisition, I left him tethered in my yard for 30 minutes and he wrenched his leg so badly that I thought he had broken it. That scuttled my plan to give him to Rob Evans, who had agreed to take the bird as soon as Rob fixed his hurricane damaged fence. Rob has flown redtails out in Katy for years. He has only one mew and didn't want to spend the season rehabbing a Harris' hawk. At that point we had no idea how badly he was hurt. After an overnight stay with Dr. Mark Peckham, the hawk mended quickly, but during that time, Rob fixed his fence and trapped another redtail. From the start, I had planned to give the Harris' away. I have a relatively busy schedule and already fly a redtail that I call Cisco. Now I was stuck, but at the same time, elated.

Earlier in the year, I had considered getting a Harris' to fly in addition to my redtail. By September, my practical side had decided against it, but while at work a few days after the storm, I got the call from Chris. “You still want a Harris' hawk? I have too many mouths to feed.” I said, “Sure.” That evening, Mike and I met Chris at Bay Brook Mall in Clear Lake City. Incidentally, I missed the storm completely. On Wednesday when we left for Colorado, the storm was headed towards Corpus Christi. When I got back, I had no electricity, but I had a Harris' hawk.

I changed his name from Aztec to D'artagnon (the fourth Musketeer) or Dart for short. Nothing wrong with the original name, it's just that I have an alphabetical naming convention for my hawks and Chris didn't mind my changing it. The name change, along with dropping his weight by 100 grams, apparently made all of the difference and he turned into a fine hawk. Chris and Bryan did something right, because I certainly didn’t train this bird. From there, I spent the season keeping him and my redtail in the field. It was occasionally an effort, but I enjoyed the time with both. However, I will transfer the Harris' after the NAFA meet next fall. More on that later.

I have decided that if a guy has to have two hawks, a redtail and a tiercel Harris' is the way to go. When I retire, assuming I have the physical ability, I will attempt to fly this combination again. They have distinctly different styles in the field. The Harris' is easier to fly and more responsive. He accelerates faster and is more maneuverable. Harris' hawks have a fluid versatility that enables them to snatch a sparrow from a bush one minute, and clobber a buck cottontail the next. On the other hand, I still like the way that only redtails smash into the brush; I have never seen a Harris' hit cover quite like that. This, along with their wing-overs and teardrop stoops, make redtails a thrill to watch. When I get tired of that, I will quit flying them.

The rabbit fields around Houston are well suited for a redtail. They tend to be overrun with wild rose bushes, and the birds need to slam the cover to catch the rabbits. The rabbits in Fort Worth, in addition to being more plentiful, live out in the open, and you get a lot of long flights. I have hunted the Harris’ in my best Houston field where Cisco has caught about 40 swamp rabbits in the last few seasons. The Harris’ momentarily caught a swamper, but it got away, grabbed in the heavy cover. Similarly, Carlos Madruga brought his little passage Harris' to the same field two years ago; it quickly caught up with a swamp rabbit, smacked the cover, bounced off and the rabbit escaped. Ten or 15 minutes later, Cisco smashed into similar cover and we put a swamp rabbit in the bag. This is clearly redtail territory.

This brings us to the next point. How did these two birds compare? Which caught more game? The answer depends on how you look at it. The redtail put more than twice the amount of meat in the freezer this season, but the Harris' had twice the number of kills. Because of where he was flown, the redtail's quarry was consistently larger: cottontails, swamp rabbits, and squirrels. The Harris' caught over sixty small birds, a dozen cottontails, 21 cotton rats and a slew of mice. I took the hawks to fields that matched their respective styles and abilities. I never deliberately squirrel hawked with the Harris' hawk, although he did chase a fox squirrel one day and nearly caught it.

Which is a better rabbit hawk? Based just on the numbers, it appears that the redtail was better. He caught 25, including 10 swamp rabbits. But this is deceiving. This Harris' is a superb rabbit hawk, catching a couple of rabbits in situations where even an old veteran like Cisco would have trouble. Once, in a gully on Lynne Holder's property, a rabbit was flushed several times, and the hawk caught it as it ran up the stream bed. The quick acceleration and maneuverability of a tiercel Harris' made the difference here. In the open, the redtail is faster and is able to close on rabbits that seem to outrun the Harris'. But the Harris' is willing to persevere. In Amarillo, Dart caught a rabbit that easily outran him upwind. Dart continued to follow, well behind, but when the rabbit got into the grass in the adjacent field and slowed down, the Harris' nabbed him. This flight went about 150 to 200 yards and was one of the best rabbit flights I have seen. In my opinion, the redtail has the advantage in the heavy cover; the Harris' in situations where there is lots of stopping, starting and maneuvering. In open fields with light to moderate cover, they are about equal.

Other points of comparison:


In windy conditions the redtail is better, a master of heavy air (a sailing term). This may be the result of age and experience, but it takes a lot of wind to cause him serious trouble. He hunkers down on the T-pole and has regularly caught game in blustery conditions, though it does affect his efficiency. In Amarillo on Thanksgiving Day, the wind was blowing steadily around 25 knots with strong gusts. At one point the redtail flew sideways without moving his wings; he faced into the wind to go from a tree to a farmhouse straight to his left. It was amazing to see. A few minutes later, from a light pole, he flew about 40 feet straight up, not flapping once, did a teardrop stoop and smashed into the heavy cover to grab a cottontail. A while later he caught a bob-white quail. The Harris' got blown around quite a bit that day, but managed to catch a mouse. During January in Fort Worth, I flew the redtail on the way back from the Abilene meet. The wind was blowing hard that Monday morning. After an hour, he caught a rabbit, but I advised Lynne Holder not to fly her redtail, and I did not fly the Harris'. Earlier in the season, in Houston, I lost the Harris' on a windy afternoon and did not get him back for three days. The telemetry was in the car.


With birds as quarry, there is no comparison. My redtail caught only two birds this season: a quail and a barn owl that was safely released. The Harris' is a bird-catching machine, though he is extremely selective, and can instantly decide whether he will pursue. He needs close slips as most birds can out fly him. When he first started hunting, he would chase every bird that he saw, including doves, larks, snipe, and savanna sparrows. He gradually took them off his list of realistic prey. My redtail, even after three years, chases doves whenever he sees them sitting in trees. It appears to be mostly for fun, or possibly aggression. He will attack other raptors when he can. Two years ago, while rabbit hunting, he killed an unwary immature female Cooper's hawk, and has tangled with a ferruginous hawk and a couple of great horned owls. He crabs with any local redtail he encounters, and chases red-shoulders when they harass him. Next fall, since I will not have the Harris' after Thanksgiving, I will see if I can turn Cisco into a sparrow hawk. He is interested in small birds, occasionally trying to ambush them in the grass in our rabbit fields. More than three years ago, on his initial outing, his first flight was on a house sparrow. Minutes later he just missed catching another bird. Jim Ince can attest to this.

Cotton rats (Sigmodon hispidus):

Viewed by many as nuisance, including me sometimes, the hawks catch a lot of them. There is no doubt that their abundance has cost the hawks a number of rabbits in the last few seasons. But I think that cotton rats may be their favorite prey. Early in the season, the Harris' could not catch one. His technique was to hover and then land on the spot where the rat disappeared, often trying to dig it out. There is only one way to catch cotton rats, and that is to hit them before they bolt, or disappear under a bush. Once they run, they are like furry bullets, and nearly impossible for a hawk to catch. Ultimately, Dart learned to catch them and ended up with 24. The redtail has caught cotton rats consistently for years.


Although Matthew Mullenix wrote that the best squirrel hawk that he had ever seen was a friend's tiercel Harris' hawk in Georgia, I don't hawk squirrels with mine. Matt added that the only serious injury he had hawking squirrels was with his redtail. On the other hand, Dan Hillsman told me that his five-times-intermewed tiercel Harris' got chewed up on every encounter with squirrels, ending up with a disabled toe that didn't heal for more than a year, the result of a squirrel's entering his mew. Cody Fields mentioned that some friends came by his house in Arkansas with a cast of female Harris' hawks. They caught squirrels, but all hawks needed minor medical attention after the hunt; they were all bitten. Although at a flying weight of 920 grams, he is much smaller than the other squirrel hawks around Houston, generally big female redtails, Cisco is a good squirrel hawk. I have hunted squirrels the latter part of the past three seasons. I prefer the greater foot strength and weight of a redtail, though I know that a good footing hawk is preferable to a hawk with great strength. Cisco got bitten, especially early on, but in general, he handles squirrels well. These days, large field rats bite him more often. The Harris' shows interest in squirrels, one day pursuing a fox squirrel that showed up while we were hunting rabbits and birds. Dart also bates at squirrels when he is tethered in the yard. If I did not have the redtail, I might fly the Harris' on squirrels. In the wild, even red-shoulder hawks take gray squirrels.

T-poles (T-perches):

Many falconers don't fly their redtails off a T-pole, despite the advantages. With rabbits, it gives the hawk a better jump than off the fist and enables hunting if there are no trees or power poles nearby. A redtail can be trained to the T-perch very quickly; one kill from it and the hawk will get the idea. Harris' hawks take to it naturally—Dart sometimes to a fault. There was an occasion when I wanted him to follow me along a tree line, but he was interested in riding the pole. When no pole was offered, he landed on the ground. He is a young bird, still learning. Cisco has about the right attitude towards the T-perch. He prefers the T-perch, and will ride it for hours, but if I flip him from it to nearby trees, he will hunt from the trees. I can get him right back just by raising the pole. In general, a T-perch can be used almost like a lure, as both hawks will fly to it instantly.

Field response:

Anyone who has flown Harris' hawks, knows how responsive they are, never wanting to be away from the falconer. I would have thought that Dart was impossible to lose, but on a windy afternoon in December, I slipped him on some grackles, lost sight of him momentarily and did not see him for three days. I was shocked. He disappeared, and a total of five of us looked for him over the next couple of days. The day after he was lost, I spent about 10 hours in the area. Three days after his disappearance, I took off from work at midday to go back to the same field to hunt with the redtail, hoping the activity would bring the Harris' back. When first I got there, I blew the whistle, raised the T-perch and Dart flew up from the detention pond. He had done well, putting on some weight and had bites on his feet, obviously from a rat, as they are plentiful there. He had also survived in an area that had plenty of local redtails. I am a believer in telemetry, but this Harris' had made me complacent. I almost always fly him with telemetry, but I was in a hurry that day and slipped him without his transmitter. That caused me three days of grief and worry.

The redtail is also responsive, but not like the Harris'. When we first arrive at a field, he may fly around the field doing a little surveillance, fight with the local buteos, or just sit in a nearby tree, waiting for me. Then he will return, flying to the pole, ready to hunt. If he is on point, he has zero field response, but this has actually paid off a number of times. Two evenings in a row, right at dusk, I could not get him back when I was ready to quit. I waved the lure, whistled and held up the T-perch—all was ignored. On the first night, he caught a five-pound swamp rabbit, practically in the dark. The next evening, he sat on a cyclone fence, refused to return and then caught a cottontail. Each time I thought he was just sitting. He will do the same while squirrel hunting. He’ll just tune me out if he thinks he has a shot at a squirrel. By contrast, the Harris' will always stop what whatever he is doing, and return—it’s just his social nature. When I release him at a field, he will pounce on the T-perch when it is still lying on the ground. If I don’t hurry, he will land on the car, fly to nearby trees and then quickly return.

Both birds will return when they have full crops, useful when hunting in an area where there are cotton rats, since it means that the hunt can continue. In the redtail's case, his returning is greed-driven. He will often sit in a tree and squawk before he comes down. With the Harris', his friendliness drives him, and he will respond right away.


This Harris' screams more than any other hawk I have encountered. If you went to the NAFA meet in Amarillo, and were outside the hotel at any time during the day, you probably heard him screaming. He was consistently louder than any hawk in the weathering yard. Dart will even scream while bathing and I have seen him scream with his head tucked under his wing. He is quiet in the field, but will scream in the car with a full crop returning home from a hunt. His screaming is one reason for his being transferred to Lynne Holder. She lives in the country, and is not too concerned. She has heard him.

The redtail screams sometimes during hunting season, and is pretty vocal otherwise. He chirps and whistles when I go to pick him up, and will often peep just before diving from a tree to fly to glove or lure. During the molt he does not scream at all.

Mantling and transferring off game:

This Harris' mantles on every kill, though he gets to eat nearly everything he catches. He does not carry. He is very possessive and tries to drag everything away if I approach too closely. Since much of what he catches is small (birds, mice and junior cotton rats), he gobbles them down quickly. I can get him off bigger cotton rats and rabbits by holding the prey with the gloved hand and tossing a tidbit ahead of him. This Harris' will let go and chase the tidbit every time. He has a trait that may be a little dangerous for him. Unlike my redtail, he seems unconcerned about the local raptors, rarely looking at the sky for enemies. Dart is much more worried about me, looking down at his prey all the time, flapping his wings as he mantles. This may make him more vulnerable to getting ambushed, and is an extra reason to get to him quickly in the field. Of course, this is good practice with any hawk down on quarry.

The redtail varies in his behavior. On squirrels he practically waits for me to show up with a tidbit. Squirrels are tough, and breaking in not easy. I will tidbit him and take him up, a technique I learned from Carlos Madruga. With rabbits, he breaks in almost immediately, and a cool tidbit from the bag is less appealing, so I will often let him eat some; when he relaxes a little, I will transfer him off. I enjoy sitting with him while he eats a freshly killed rabbit, so I will sometimes do that, letting him eat a fair amount, especially after a long hunt or late in the day. He often rips rats into chunks immediately, and I am usually not successful getting them into the bag. If there are wild raptors in the area, he is very nervous, and mantles a lot, watching the sky. Otherwise, once he begins to feed on a rabbit, he does not mantle and acts as if I am not there.

The future:

Next November my apprentice, Lynne Holder, will take the Harris'. Her permit will upgrade shortly after the NAFA meet. Why would I give away a $1000 Coulson Harris' hawk for a junkyard redtail caught in Fort Worth? Several reasons. Although my facilities are legal for two birds, it is inconvenient to shuffle the birds around at my house. As mentioned previously, the Harris' screams and I live in a neighborhood with an oppressive home owner's association. My schedule is a little tight, and giving both hawks enough field time is an effort. I will be happy to keep the redtail, at the same time sorry to see the Harris' go. Dart is well suited for Lynne's environment in Chappell Hill, Texas. In spite of her efforts, she had limited success with her redtail because of the scarcity of rabbits. Her barn is full of house sparrows, there are ducks on pond, and she sometimes flushes a rabbit. The Harris’ will do fine up there. I will enjoy flying Dart part of next season, and know why so many falconers are crazy about Harris' hawks. This particular guy was a gem, and it will be a little painful letting him go.

Though Dart is been great, Cisco has been the most fun of any bird I have flown personally, or been in the field with. This includes a very good kestrel, a dozen Harris' hawks, at least an equal number of redtails, a couple of peregrines, prairies, some hybrid falcons, and a goshawk. Including my teenage years, Cisco is the fourth or fifth redtail that I have trained. He has been consistently good and my first really successful game hawk. He is well matched for the Houston fields and the rabbit terrain around here—even better than the Harris'. Cisco is a good squirrel hawk, and is good company, knowing all of our routines. And after four seasons, he still smashes the cover! I prefer hunting rabbits and squirrels over hunting small birds, though that has been fun with the Harris. I can hood the redtail, put him on a perch and cope his beak without casting him. He never foots deliberately, and will generally hunt with a dog and any number of people in the field. He puts on great aerial displays at times, hovering and soaring. His only vice is getting overly excited when we arrive at a hunting spot, and he'll break primaries trying to get out of the hawk box. For that reason, he is hooded on the way to hunt. At the end of a hunt he dives back into the box and rides quietly home without a hood. He has become like the beloved family dog, but he takes game. Next season he will become a sparrow hawk.