SPOTLIGHT: Birds of Prey…

by SARA MASHALL //Editor-in-Chief

A chilly breeze cools the air down to almost unbearable temperatures, after weeks of warm days.

A small group of South Plains College students gather around a young man and his hawk, excitedly waiting for what’s to come.  A young rabbit freezes in fear, sensing the predator hungrily watching.  The hawk takes off, soaring through the frigid air and flushing the rabbit from its hiding place. The rabbit bounds away in a blur of fur. The chase is short lived, and the rabbit is tightly caught in her long talons. Returning to the young man, the hawk awaits her reward. “In sixth grade, I became interested in falconry after my father got his license,” said Cameron Price, an engineering student at South Plains College.

Falconry (or hawking) is the sport of hunting small wild game or birds with trained birds of prey, such as a Peregrine Falcon, Red-Tailed hawk or the Harris’ Hawk.

“There are wild caught birds and birds raised in captivity,” Price said. “I got mine from a breeder, and I’ve had her for three years.”

Falconry has been widely romanticized in medieval tales of knighthood and heroism. Today, falconry has become a hobby and even a profession.

“There are three parts to becoming a falconer,” Price said. “It takes about two months at the shortest. But it took me over a year to get mine.”

First, an aspiring falconer must find a sponsor. This sponsor must be someone who has been a General Class Falconer for at least two years. The best way to find a sponsor is to spend time with other falconers. According to The Texas Hawking Association, the densest population of hawkers in Texas is the Dallas/Fort Worth area. After choosing a suitable sponsor, the apprentice must pass the falconry test, administered by Texas Parks and Wildlife. The test must be passed with at least an 80 percent or higher.  After passing the falconry exam, the apprentice has their facilities and equipment inspected by a certified game warden. This ensures that the apprentice has all the necessary materials for the upkeep and care for the hawk or falcon.   In order for a falconer to hunt efficiently, there are several items necessary for the hawk’s effectiveness, such as a glove, the jess and leash, and a telemetry transmitter.

Hawks and falcons have extremely long, sharp talons. When they are being held, those talons will dig deep into a person’s soft skin. Utilizing a glove, or gauntlet, the falconer can easily handle the bird without fear of injury.

To keep a bird from constantly flying away, the falconer attaches a jess, or a leather strip or parachute cord, to the ankle of the bird. To the jess, the falconer can then attach the leash, which is traditionally leather. This allows the falconer to handle the bird on the fist or on a perch.  In modern-day falconry, transmitters are attached to the bird, instead of bells, to locate a bird. This allows the falconer to fly the same bird during a longer period of time without being lost, which is highly beneficial in more urban-like areas. Along with maintaining equipment, there is a lot of upkeep with a hawk.

“You have to monitor their weight, feed them, water them,” Price said. “Then you have to hunt with them, check for injuries and diseases. You need to hunt with the bird every chance you get to hunt.”

Dr. Megan Keith, biology instructor and sponsor of the Biology Club at SPC, first met Price when his sister was taking a zoology course. Price and his father once brought their hawks to her class to discuss falconry and to give students the opportunity to see the birds up close and interact with them. Price had a second chance to have students learn about hawking and interact with his hawk, Adele, at the Biology Club demonstration during the early afternoon of Nov. 18 at the home of David Etheredge, Biology Club advisor and professor of biology at SPC.

“Opportunities like this don’t come up often,” Dr. Keith said. “We wanted to take advantage of the offer to give our members more variety in the trips available to them this semester.”

The SPC Biology Club is open to any student with an interest in biology or wildlife. According to Dr. Keith, the club’s main focus is to expose students to as many different areas of biology as possible, including career opportunities, hobbies, internship opportunities, volunteer or community service opportunities.

“In our experience, students who major in biology are not always aware of the breadth of career opportunities that are available to them,” said Dr. Keith. “This kind of demonstration allows our students to better understand the guidelines and regulations that are necessary to own or handle wild animals, as well as give them an opportunity to interact with a hawk and watch it hunt up close.”

Several Biology Club members participated in this falconry demonstration. One of these students was Matt Hamilton, a biology major anpresident of the Biology Club at SPC.  “My favorite part about the demonstration was observing the connection between the Harris’ Hawk, Adele, and Cameron,” Hamilton said. “They were able to work as a team to achieve a common goal, which was pretty incredible when you consider the fact that the hawk could have simply just eaten the rabbit that it had captured.”

Each student was able to handle Adele for a short time while Price watched over.

“For us, it’s really just about getting together and exploring new things with good friends,” Hamilton said. “The club benefits every time we have an opportunity to explore different aspects within biology. This particular event might have shown some of the students an interesting new hobby, or even sparked an interest in becoming an ornithologist.”

For Hamilton, the Biology Club brings together like-minded students and professors to explore different available careers one might pursue as a biology major. The Biology Club has monthly meetings in S181 in the Science Building on the first Wednesday of each month from 12:20 p.m. until 12:50 p.m. So students do not need to worry about missing any classes.

“All it takes is a willingness to participate in events,” Hamilton said. “We are not a demanding club by any means, and we really want the students/members to benefit from joining our club as much as possible.”

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