Friday, June 27, 2008

backward, forward, something

Let me start with the fact that I have no experience with imprints. Every falconer knows the worst habits of them: screaming, carrying prey, bouncing off (in Bodio's priceless phrasing) the highest annoying object, which happens to be your face.

I've always said that asking 3 falconers a question is like asking 6 rabbis. You'll get twenty different answers. And when you don't know what you're doing, choosing the right advice is impossible, to put it mildly.

So my 3 falconer friends have given me quite a lot of advice, some of which was to not listen to one of the others.

I was in a good deal of frustration because out of the three worst habits the sharpie was starting to develop two of them: screaming and carrying. Both resulted from a botched live bag yesterday. It would have been fine if I'd killed it as soon as he caught it, but instead the sparrow fought back and basically kicked my sharpy's ass. He ended up pancaked at the end of his string with the screaming sparrow in his foot. This morning he seemed very shy of even going for a dead sparrow, and almost tried to carry it.

Apparently this needs to be done at 111 grams, not 113. The next two tries today were complete magic. Everything went perfectly. He was still screaming a bit at the last one, but I just put him on the fist and kicked back on the lawn chair until he a) settled down and b) shut up. Then we got up and walked over to the sparrow and, though he took a few moments, jumped down onto it. He ate like the thing was nailed to the floor. When he was just about done I slipped a sparrow leg underneath him and he stepped onto the fist like perfection.

The cause of screaming is that the bird looks to you as the provider: you are mommy. The cure is to take that focus away from you and onto the prey. This is done by not letting the bird see you handling the food in any way before it "catches" and eats. And it needs to do the catching itself. However simplistic and lame dropping from the glove onto a dead sparrow may sound, that will eventually translate into flying from your glove onto quarry. That aggression gets directed toward the real food.

If I can get him to do this every time tomorrow, I'm golden.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

first not-kill

Well, she's gotten the live sparrow that my friend K was bugging me to give her (actually I have two hawking buddies who start with a K, so this is K0). We'd all gone out crow hawking and begging for a starling slip, and ended up with just one crow in the bag. When we got back s/he seemed hungry and anxious, so I checked the trap and it had 1 new sparrow in it. Perfect. I tied up the sparrow and put it on the kitchen table, brought the sharpie in.

The sparrow had vanished.

Okay, so I was never a boy scout. I know I tied it with a proper square knot, but in the wrong place. I took the opportunity to weigh her (113 gm), searched for the sparrow, but not too hard. It would keep, and there were 2 more sparrows in the trap.

I pulled one of them, tied it up properly, and put it on the kitchen floor out of the sharpy's line of sight. Picked up the little hawk and walked over to the sparrow. It took her a few moments of staring at the crazily fluttering thing, but she went right off the glove and snagged it. It was by no means beautiful. She simply started plucking it. However horrible, this is normal in the hawk world.

Once in a while it would struggle and her footwork sucked. It was half plucked and bitten several times, and I felt so sorry for it I took a sparrow defrosted earlier today, cut off the top half, and slipped her onto that. It was pretty much in a coma when I broke its neck. She was quite happy with the half-a-sparrow and ate most of the easier meat, leaving the head, spine, and the bony part of the wings. Picked her up onto the lure and a sparrow leg, which she wasn't that interested in.

I was in a quandry here. McDermott says to a) never pick up an imprint on a kill, since it encourages carrying, and b) never let the bird eat a kill on your glove. I have exactly the opposite pattern with the Harris, and I knew I had to eventually get the bird on the glove, so I kind of did a little of both and held her, the lure, and the half-a-sparrow, and stayed right in the same spot. Hopefully that won't screw her up.

I grabbed the flashlight and walked around the living room and eventually found sparrow #1. He goes back in the trap. Unfortunately, the sparrow supply is enough of a trickle that no one gets freedom whether or not they earn it.

After the meal she was 117 grams. Five grams constitues a decent meal for a sharpy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

looking like a falconry bird now

separated at birth?

Around midafternoon she'll sack out for a few hours, especially at work where things are boring, and sleeps in the nest. Other than that, she stands the rest of the time. Today she's been learning to ride on the glove. It took absolutely nothing to get her to jump to the glove for a tidbit. With passage birds and even chamber raised eyases, this takes some doing. You have to admit, imprints simply love you.

Friday, June 20, 2008

hot day today.

Yes, I almost look like a hawk.

A couple of days ago she started footing things, just playfully. She was biting at a stick and then this long foot shot out and grabbed, and snapped back.

The last couple days have been a bit more relaxed. The weather's been horrendous and it's hard to take her out to see things. Everyone wants to just flop flat and lie as still as possible. Up till now every day has brought something new. Overall she was standing a lot more, running and jumping on things, but that has just held steady.

Right now she needs to finish growing her feathers and get more leg strength. She still has trouble standing on one foot while scratching her head with the other.

The other day I found a great field that I will probably be making good use of when she's ready.

Monday, June 16, 2008

feathers feathers everywhere

Everywhere we go, we leave a trail of fine downy bits. They're not really noticeable until you take the nest box outside and all the stuff blows out. And there's tons of feather sheath particles that fall to the bottom of the box.

I love her to death but eyas raising is an incredibly messy business. Hunting involves a certain amount of blech, but what I'm doing goes way beyond. Mincing starlings and sparrows (the cuisinart doesn't work that great, it's better with a cleaver), scissoring small bones into particle-sized bits, and plopping that goop 6 times a day onto a lure or a dead bird means permanent meat stains under your fingernails. The kitchen floor is permanently littered with sparrow feathers.

On a more positive note, I took a visit to the nest site yesterday. I counted 3 eyases for sure, and possibly four. It's also possible that the egg never hatched. They looked fine, active and healthy, and at the same stage of development as my girl. The nest is pretty crowded now, mom mostly on the side. Must be weird to lie down on top of all these bumpy, shifting baby birds.

Friday, June 13, 2008

a bit of fun

For a fraction of a second she stood without wing support, and did it several times today. She doesn't really need the heating pad during the day anymore. She eats readily from the lure and has been able to pull some meat from a heavily-scored bird. Sometimes she uses her feet to hold food, and I can see she's gripping things more. So far she's seen horses, trucks, and dogs. I still need to expose her to trains and cows.

This evening I had a little fun at her expense. I know, the camera work is poor, and I'm sure the sound quality is terrible, but it's overall cute and the lyrics are quite suitable.

This works because hawks naturally track moving objects. All I had to do was move my hand up and down in time with the music. (Doing this while recording on a slight buzz explains the shaky camera.) It works for most hawks, both young and old.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

something new every day

It's amazing how fast this happens. Every day things are a little bit different, a little bit of progress has been made. She needs less heating to be comfortable. She almost-stands and flaps more. She is more alert and curious about the outside, rather than sleeping all the time.

Here is today's picture. We spent an hour hanging out on my porch looking at stuff.
Afterwards, we went to the park to find some new clean sticks for her nest (it was getting a bit crappy and starting to smell like the bits of dead meat that occasionally fall in.) At the entrance to the park was this king snake. From the looks of it, unfortunately it seems a human was responsible for its demise. Any honest predator would have taken it home for dinner.

Monday, June 09, 2008

that uncomfortable time

She's getting to that stage where the feathers are starting to sprout and her limbs are getting stronger but are not under full control. It was hot today and she was restless. There are only so many things you can do when you're a chick in a nest. Apart from sleeping, there's the leg stretch, the sitting up, the wobbly almost-stand, the vague flapping of spiky wings. When sleeping, she would often twitch or startle awake. She scrubbed at her down a lot today. I can't imagine what it feels like growing down, growing more down, then having feathers sprout out of your skin within the course of ten days.

On the manning front, it was a little odd twice when we got into the car: she was spooked by my hand. The hand is constantly on or near her with no reaction, so why should that change when I've set her box in the car? Otherwise, we've been on the freeway, in a park with a dog, been to Home Depot twice, over the bridge four times, and she snoozed through nearly all of it.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

sneaky sparrows

in the house. I had 3 in my two hands, and one escaped, flew straight down the hallway past a Harris hawk and into the office, where there was a snoozing sharpy. Quickly I beaned the two left, put them on the kitchen counter, then went into hot pursuit down the hall past a very, very curious Harris hawk and into the office, where the sharpy was still snoozing. After five hectic minutes I had it and returned to the kitchen to bean it.

The two sparrows were gone.

Apparently sparrows are pretty durable. They probably survive flying into windows often. I beaned the one in my hand (thoroughly, just to be sure), set it on the counter, and went in search of the other two.

I found one fairly quickly (and beaned it again) but not the other. Not behind the stove. Not under the recycle bins or the freestanding cabinet. I just hoped it hadn't gone behind the refrigerator. Finally I heard something -- it had gotten into the next room, behind the china cabinet.

I come back to the kitchen and one of the sparrows I'd beaned had moved. Fortunately not far this time, just a few feet.

Next time they're going into a bucket.

top of the morning

We all got some sun on a beautiful Sunday morning. The sharpie is just barely visible in the box.

Friday, June 06, 2008

age determined

She's been looking more buff colored starting late yesterday, and today I see tiny pins growing on the edges of her wings. I talked with an old hand with microhawks, K, who says this marks her as 10 days old. I know diddley about birds this age, but apparently the buff color is a second coat of down. She looks more wooly now.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

the deed has been done

R, who is taller than me but weighs 20 pounds less, scampered up the tree like some deathly homesick monkey or squirrel, picked a bird and lowered it down to me in a small backpack. The whole up and down took less than 10 minutes. We got it set up in the box with a warm pad and it ate right away. We're guessing 5 days old, and a female. I have no clue, personally. Pictures:

Just for the record, the nest had 4 babies and an egg.

Monday, June 02, 2008

T minus 37

We're going to pull an eyas sharpy come Wednesday. It'll be an adventure. I'm nervous as a cat.

I've got a box containing a basket containing a heating pad containing a paper towel containing a bunch of sticks. I have 3 starlings and 1 other small bird, and am hoping a buddy will be able to shoot some blackbirds for me tonight.

P, bless his heart, was on the fat side but gamely went with me yesterday. He'd caught the first starling earlier this season, and it seemed to have been a fluke, but now I need small birds to feed a small hawk. We went out yesterday and fairly quickly caught a crow, but then I buckled down and passed up about 6 painfully good crow slips in favor of starlings. Passing up all those crows in hawkable position got P so amped up he was ready to put his feet into anything. We ended up getting 4 starling slips and catching two.

I really need sparrows and blackbirds, though. They're better food for a sharpy. I have a sparrow trap out but no luck with it yet except for the one OSB.

The past four days R and I have gone to the nest site at feeding time. Sunday we saw one chick for sure, today we're pretty sure there are two. We're guessing as of today they are between 3 and 4 days old. Optimum age to pull a sharpy is, according to McDermott, 4 days, but neither one of us can do any earlier than Wednesday. It should be fine, though.