What got you started as a falconer?
I’d read about falconry before, but what really got me started was seeing Mark Booth’s falconry program at Connor Prairie. I talked to him after the show, and he told me about the laws and responsibilities required of a falconer, regaling me with tales from his childhood. He directed me to the right people and two years later, I was training my own falcon.
What kind of responsibilities does being a falconer entail?
Unlike pet owners, a falconer can’t simply toss food out everyday and trust the bird to be happy. Falconry entails 24/7 maintenance of a highly demanding raptor and a detailed knowledge of the raptor’s biology as well as all the laws regulating falconry. I am state and federally licensed as a falconer and have to abide by both the stated laws of the government and the unspoken ethics of the other falconers. That’s not even factoring in all the nuances of falconry: the training, the hunting, the making of equipment. Falconry isn’t for everyone. You need to love it to succeed.
What is your bird’s name and breed?
The bird I’m flying this year is a female American Kestrel named Tephra.
Why did you choose her?
I didn’t really choose her, not in the way you would choose a dog or a cat. As a licensed falconer, I am able to legally trap raptors from the wild within a specific season. I trapped Tephra on Sept. 19 off of a telephone wire in Westfield.
How has being a falconer influenced your life?
I have met some of the most amazing people through falconry who have taught me more about life than I ever could have learned at school. It’s also taught me dedication and a greater attention to detail. If I were to slack off, I could potentially have a seriously injured or even dead raptor on my hands with only myself to blame. Much of my free time these days is spent thinking of, making and doing falconry-related things.
Is this something you think you will carry over past high school?
This is definitely something I will continue after I graduate. There may be lapses between birds as I go through college, but once you’ve been hooked by falconry, you can never truly give it up.
How long have you been a falconer?
This is my second year as a licensed falconer. Before getting my license, I spent two years tagging along with other falconers, learning from them and getting a better knowledge of the sport.
Where do you let your bird hunt?
Because Tephra is a kestrel and hunts mostly sparrows, I am able to hunt in almost any public place and wherever I am able to get permission from private owners so long as I have my license on me. I’ve been to abandoned fields, the backs of schools and restaurants, parking lots around Carmel and Westfield, all around my neighborhood and anywhere else I’ve seen a sparrow fly.
What safety precautions are you required to take?
The biggest threat I have to worry about is the presence of other, larger hawks. My last bird was killed by another hawk while we were out hunting last year, and I’m always on the watch to prevent that from happening again. If my bird or I – she usually reacts first – spots danger, I immediately call her down and leave the area. Less worrying but just as dangerous are cars, ignorant people and power transformers. Evening is also dangerous since the darker it gets, the more likely the hawk will be to find a comfortable perch high in a tree and refuse to come down till dawn. As far as precautions go, the most I can do about that is stay away from busy roads, crowded places, and telephone poles and never hunt late in the day.
What’s your favorite part of being a falconer?
Letting the hawk fly free and seeing her come back to me.