Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Different Kind of Hunting

I would like to share with you the experience I had when I went hawking with Kenny, one of our  volunteers.

Kenny allowed me to accompany him on one of his hunting trips.  Kenny is a licensed falconer here in Missouri and has trained several Red-tailed Hawks to hunt in harmony with him and his dog. 

When we set out in the morning, the sky was bright blue and the air was invigorating and crisp.  As soon as we arrived at the hunting field, Kenny’s Jack Russell terrier Caffie leaped out of the truck and immediately began sniffing through the tall grass for rabbits.
 Our own Sequoia--even at rest she is always on the alert for even the slightest movement
When Kenny removed his red-tailed hawk, Sadie from the crate, I got to see her for the first time.  She was a tall and majestic red-tailed hawk, with especially large feet.  Sadie quickly spotted a good perch and flew to the top of an old fence post that ran near the perimeter of the field.  When she landed, I could hear the jingling bells that are tied to the back of the falconry equipment Sadie wears as she flies.  The bells would help us to keep track of Sadie’s location.
 Sequoia scanning her surroundings--not much escapes this gaze
I watched Sadie scan the field for rabbits, and so I did the same.  Kenny pointed out a small patch of shrubs that showed evidence of rabbit activity.  The trunks of some of the shrubs had teeth marks in the bark.  On the ground amongst the shrubs, I could see rabbit holes.  I shook the shrubs with the walking stick Kenny gave me, trying to scare a rabbit out of the hole.  No luck, so I kept walking.
Sadie scanning the field for rabbits.
I continued to walk around the field, occasionally hitting my stick against piles of brush, patches of shrubs, or anywhere I thought I might scare out a rabbit.  As we moved about the field, I kept one eye on the ground scanning for rabbits and the other eye on the hawk.  I loved watching Sadie choose and fly to a new perch that would offer a better vantage point.  Sadie had chosen a high perch in a line of trees that bisected the field.  Suddenly, I spotted a rabbit darting across the field a little to the right of Sadie’s perch.  I pointed and shouted, “Yo! yo! yo! yo! yo!” the call that Kenny had told me to make if I spotted a rabbit.  But Sadie had spotted this rabbit even before I did, and she was already flying down towards it.  The falconer’s term for a raptor that has taken flight after prey is a “slip.” 

As she closed the distance between herself and the prey, the rabbit doubled back along its path.  Sadie was not fooled.  As quick as a gust of wind she turned in the air and pounced down on the rabbit.  “She’s down!” I shouted.  Kenny and I started walking back across the field, towards the direction that I had seen Sadie take the rabbit, with Caffie bounding ahead of us.  I couldn’t see Sadie anymore, and I was worried that she might hide in the tall grass.  But soon I spotted her between two small hills, mantling over the prey (mantling is when a raptor tries to hide its prey with its wings and body). 
Sadie mantling over her kill
Once Sadie had eaten her fill of the prey, Kenny put her back on his glove and we began to walk back towards his truck with the rabbit in hand.  I felt privileged to witness a raptor catch its prey, one of the most spectacular sights in all of nature. 

Submitted by Leah Sainz, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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