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Trapping Success

October 5th, 2009

Trapping Adventure Success

It only took three outings to trap my first immature red-tailed hawk! After driving around for a good part of a Sunday morning, Sue helped me trap this beautiful immature red-tailed hawk in the Shelby Township area. She was sitting on a telephone pole, watching traffic go by. Once we spotted her, we turned the car around, I tossed the trap out the window into a ditch, and she hit the trap before we could turn around again. What a lucky break after two previous outings without success! I ran out of the car with gloves and a towel and quickly covered the raptor to prevent her from seeing my hands. I grasped her two feet, and quickly untied the nooses that had closed on her talons. With the feet under control, I folded the wings under my gloved hand, picked up the trap and towel, and quickly ran towards the car. I was very excited to have trapped my first immature red-tailed hawk!

Trapping Criteria

When looking for the ideal Red-Tailed hawk to keep for training for falconry, there are a few criteria used to determine suitability for Falconry:

  • Large Bird: ‘Large’ can be relative, based on area, and climate, and personal preference based on the type of expected game you are going to fly your bird at.  Some folks even prefer to fly small males, but the ultimate decision for acceptable size is up to the falconer.
  • Large Feet: Raptor feet are quite varied, but you are looking for something sturdy and beefy. Thin talons and pads may not be a good sign, nor will they be suited well for grasping and holding game.
  • Response: The bird should hit the trap pretty quickly, indicating a good hunter with little hesitation.
  • Feather Condition: Feathers only grow once a year, so any feather damage is going to have to wait another year, or be fixed by the falconer if the damage is repairable.
  • Keel / Crop: You’ll need to diagnose the keel on the raptor to determine how ‘sharp’ it is. Is it fat? Is the keel well pronounced? A large bird that is well fed, indicates overall good health, and a good hunter. A full crop would indicate that it had eaten recently, and is still hungry enough to hit the trap for additional nourishment.
  • Health / Injury: You’ll need to assess the overall health of the raptor fairly quickly; there’s no obligation to take on a raptor-maintenance nightmare from the start. At a minimum, you should dust her off with poultry dust (for mites, files, and parasites) and you should treat any injuries with first aid, then release the bird back to the wild. You’ll feel good knowing that a wild bird received your first-aid assistance, if only to give it a leg up in the wild and speed its recovery.

When I got back to the car, we quickly hooded her, wrapped her in a nylon stocking, and bound up the talons with co-flex. We performed a thorough inspection on her and got her weight. So, how did my capture rate? My first bird was 1147grams which is not overly large but average size. She hit the trap quickly, was quite fat, her keel was not well defined, and her crop was full. The feet are large enough to be a good hunter, although they were quite dirty which is not uncommon. There were no injuries apparent on her, other than a slight scratch on the right leg-pad from one talon scraping the other foot! The combination of these factors led me to the decision to keep her and mold her into a well-mannered falconry hawk. Five out of six characteristics isn’t that bad, and with my ‘trapping clock’ running out, it was time to call the morning done and get home to begin the manning process.

I am very grateful to my sponsor, Sue, for putting in so many hours of trapping for me to find the right bird. Trapping can be very time consuming if there are not many trappable birds around. Luck, timing, and many other factors play a big part of catching that red-tail for falconry.  I would also like to thank all the folks in the Michigan Hawking Club who put many hours of time and effort into getting legislation passed to allow trapping of wild birds in Michigan.

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The First Trapping Adventure

September 23rd, 2009

The First Trapping Adventure

With the falconry adventures soon to begin, there is one thing I am missing after all my paperwork, equipment, and facilities are ready to go:  I need a raptor!  So it’s off to trapping my first red-tailed hawk with my sponsor. Most folks that I tell this to are astounded that you have to go trap your own, and the immediate next question is:  How do you trap a hawk?  Well, I went on my first trapping adventure with my sponsor late in September to find out for myself. I had a pretty good idea of what I was in store for by reading the trapping guides and watching a few videos.  I was super excited to go out looking for my first red-tail with an experienced trapper. Knowing that trapping could be a many-day activity, I set my expectations low, but I was still excited to finally be attempting to capture a wild raptor that seem so difficult to get close to in the wild.  Many redtails will spook or ‘bump’ off of their perch with the slightest appearance of people.  Most of the adult hawks that we saw on our drive immediately alighted on the wing once we stepped out of the car, which is why it’s so important to ‘serve’ traps from a moving vehicle – very carefully.

Once you do get lucky, serve your trap, and have a redtail land and get caught in the nooses, it’s important to remember that you have a wild animal in your hands and that extra precautions are prudent when handling them.  A wild raptor is very scared, and will grab with its feet/talons at the earliest opportunity.  When approaching a raptor on the trap, it’s a good idea to get a towel and cover them quickly to calm them down.

Since trapping red-tailed hawks is a whole different adventure than hunting with them, you’ll need some equipment to help you with the task of catching your trainable raptor.  Here is a short list of my ‘trapping-kit’ that I take with me when I go out looking for a hawk to trap:

Trapping Kit

  • Trapping Permit*
  • Hawk Trap (possibly two)
  • Trap Bait (Gerbils or Chipmunks are best)
  • Towel
  • Heavy Gloves
  • Hood
  • Nylon stocking
  • Co-Flex Tape
  • Poultry Dusting Powder
  • Scale
  • Binoculars
  • Camera
  • Med-Kit
  • Anklets and Jesses

How-To: Trap a Hawk

1. Identify a trappable bird. An immature red-tailed hawk is the trapping target. Sometimes, this is easier said, than done. Finding and identifying hawks can be difficult for the novice if you’ve never done it before.  Find a hawk, identify it as an immature hawk, and getting close to it is just one step in the trapping process that can take more time than you think.

2. Serve the trap so that the hawk can see it.  You need to present the trap in a manner that does not ‘bump’ or move the hawk out of the area.  The hawk needs to see the tasty morsel inside the trap.  Active chipmunks are usually the best, as they stay quite active in the trap after it’s thrown.

3. When the hawk lands on the trap, you must hurry up and get to the trap as quickly as possible.  A flailing hawk can injure itself on the trap nooses.

4. Cover the bird with a towel. Make sure it is protected from further struggle.

5. Immobilize the feet and get the bird under control.  With the feet in one hand, you may or may not get a struggle from the wings, but you should at least have a subdued hawk in your hands.  Expect a gaping mouth, and scared eyes. Be gentle, this is an elegant creature and it deserves your respect and proper treatment. Now is a good time to apply poultry dust to kill off any mites and fleas that the bird may be harboring.

6. Hood, sock, and bind the feet.  Hood the animal with a raptor hood to keep it calm. Slide a nylon stocking down over the body of the bird so that it cannot move around, and get the feet under control.  Co-Flex tape is a great way to bind the feet but the tape can sometimes leave behind a sticky residue, which you have to clean off the feet later, but I prefer to use “dog shoes,” one for each foot. The dog shoes have a Velcro strap that bind around the leg, and the heavy canvas does not allow the talon to poke through the fabric.

7. Now that you have the raptor immobilized, you can now weigh it. Getting a weight on the raptor gives you an idea as to their suitability for falconry.  A small bird may not be desirable if you are planning on hunting squirrels.  Also take note of the keel and the crop.  You’ll want to know if your raptor has eaten recently.

8. Inspect the raptor’s feathers, keel, and feet, evaluating the overall health of the raptor to make the ever-important decision to keep it for falconry or not.

9. Should you decide to keep the raptor, this is a good time to outfit the bird with anklets and jesses so you can leash it up later on your glove to start the manning process.

Now you have a decision to make.  Do you keep the bird, or let it go?  It’s up to you, based on your own requirements, health evaluation, and gut feeling about the bird.

*DISCLAIMER: Trapping wild raptors is permissible by Michigan DNR Permit ONLY. DO NOT attempt to trap *any* raptor without the help and assistance from a licensed, experienced falconer.

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Quote of the Week

September 2nd, 2009

Quote of the Week:

Overheard in a discussion about trapping Merlins:

“Pulling a Merlin out of the sky isn’t like calling a Red-Tail off of a pole!”

Reminds me of Han Solo talking to Luke Skywalker:

“Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy.”

This sounds like the words of an experienced falconer, one who has been trapping birds of prey for many years.  So often we get focused on the routine, the regular stuff that an apprentice and a master do during an apprenticeship. We trap Red-Tails, and after you’ve done it for a while, you know the routine, and it seems pretty easy. Easy enough to teach an apprentice how to do. Now, Trapping Merlins is a whole different ball-game. You need different equipment: a blind, dho-gaza trap or mist net, harnessed live bait, usually a bird. You need different terrain: preferably a beach along a migratory bird route. You need patience: *lots* of patience, as you wait for a bird to fly by and locate your bait. You need to maintain a hidden and quiet posture in your blind; once false move and the Merlin may spook and not see your lure bird.  Someday, I hope to embark on a trapping adventure that involves a Merlin or other bird of prey that I have yet to interact with.
If you are into trapping different birds of prey, then you had better be prepared to use different tactics and read up on them.  For more information on Merlin trapping, you should read this trapping excerpt from M. Alan Jenkins. [link]

 

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