• James E Aarons DVM

Eagle Falconry

Updated: Apr 29


“Can I pet her?” Katie asked as Chloe moved up and down, back and forth on the glove. Katie could feel the pressure from her strong talons pressing on the reinforced glove.

Hannah Hartsell and Celilo, Bald Eagle, photo by Craig Volpe. CascadeRaptorCenter.org.

“No, she’s working, Katie. She’s a machine, with only one focus. Emotional rewards don’t do it for these guys. Petting is just a distraction for her. When you want to get rid of her, stretch your hand out and, as you do so, and just turn your hand over, and she’ll take off.”

“Those bells on her legs were jangling when she came to me. What are those?”

Eagle Falconry, Chapter 16

“Bells are used to help locate a bird while hunting. Some falconers leave the bells on the bird all the time, but I only attach them when we’re hunting. The bells can be quite cumbersome and uncomfortable, so I use small ones. That’s why you don’t hear them jangle until she’s nearby. I think it’s more useful to have two bells of slightly different tones than two larger bells. The off tones will carry farther and be easier to locate than two large, identical bells. Bells are traditionally attached directly around the bird's leg with a small strip of leather called a bewit, but can also be attached to the tail, or to the neck.”

“This is so cool, Tal.” She turned her hand over, letting Chloe fly back to her tree perch. Tal took the gauntlet and called the bird back. She returned immediately waiting for a command.

“She’s totally focused on her job, she doesn’t care about us. She just knows she needs to go from point A to point B. Birds of prey do not consider us friends and buddies. This is a working relationship. Watch this.” Tal dug a piece of meat from the leather pouch and threw it high in the air. At the same time, he shook the bird from his gauntlet. Chloe immediately swooped up to catch the meat a second after it reached its highest point. As soon as she caught it, she dropped to the ground to devour her treat.

“See this new behavior she’s showing us?” He observed. “This is called mantling. Chloe is hiding her catch from others by dropping her wings and hunching over her catch. She had to work for the treat, and doesn’t want anybody else to get it.”

The treat was a small one, and she gobbled it in one gulp. She looked at Tal who was inviting her back with a held-out arm. Chloe knew, from previous training he had more treats hidden in his glove. She accepted his invitation and flew back to his arm.

“Let’s run her through some moves, okay?”

Katie nodded her head, paying keen attention.

He shook the bird off his arm, and she flew back to the tree.

“This is called a lure,” he said as he reached into his leather satchel. He pulled out a furry toy attached to a lead line. “I’m going to throw the lure out, and she’s going to chase it down and kill it.”

“How do you take it away from her if she’s so focused?”

“Good point. She’s going to mantle it, and work to protect it. But if she knows there’s another treat she can be convinced to let go. Watch this. For a small reward I will get her to hop off of it.”

Katie watched intently as Tal threw the lure on the ground. He turned and ran, pulling it through the grass, immediately attracting Chloe’s attention. In an instant she was on top of the lure, overtook it and straddled it in less than three seconds.

Tal walked towards the eagle, stepping on the lure line in case Chloe had thoughts about taking off with it. “See how she’s mantling?” He pointed at the way the bird totally covered the caught lure by spreading her wings and dropping her chest onto it. “She doesn’t want anybody to see it or take it from her.” He moved toward the eagle a baby step at a time. Finally Tal’s feet were so close the bird acquiesced. She surrendered the lure to him and looked around for the reward she knew he would offer.

“Timing is critical in training. You’ve got to let the bird catch the prey, but then you need to coerce her to leave it by offering a reward.” He quickly pulled another hunk of meat from his pouch and tossed it a few feet away. Tal stepped on the entire lure to hide it from Chloe when she fluttered to the meat reward. She devoured it with the same intensity she used in mantling the lure.

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