by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
For the first time in my 25 years, I went squirrel hunting last weekend. There were no dogs and no fancy gear, just good ol’ walking-around-the-woods-shaking-vines squirrel hunting and it was a blast! Imagine my surprise when I was told “you haven’t been squirrel hunting until you hunt with hawks.” Wait…what? I had no idea that was a sport much less an organized club. But yes, falconry is still alive and well in Alabama. I will elaborate on the history of falconry, the art of falconry, and where you can go to see the sport in action!
The North American Falconers Association was founded sometime in the 1960s, which was brought on by the presence of the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). This bird is highly desired by falconers because they are easily trained and have very mild temperament. There were very few falconers at the time, but they would get together and hunt with their hawks to gather rabbit and squirrel. Around 1996, falconry found Alabama. About 40 falconers got together in Opelika, Alabama and organized themselves into the Alabama Hawk Association, according to the AHA website. From that point on, falconers gathered themselves into small groups and roamed all over Alabama with their red-tailed hawks. The hawks learned to pay close attention to the humans and wait patiently for the humans to flush a squirrel from the branches of a tree.
Falconry is beyond infatuating to me. The whole process starts with trapping a red-tailed hawk either by a net or a wire trap (similar to a Tomahawk). Next, the falconer begins extensive training with the hawk. A seasoned falconer will weigh the hawk and figure out how much food to feed it to keep it alive, but also keep it hungry so that the hawk will hunt. If the hawk is full, it will not hunt appropriately. Before arriving to the woods, bells are attached to the hawk’s feet for locating purposes. Once in the woods, the falconer allows the hawk to find a perch on a nearby tree. The falconer and maybe a few others will begin shaking branches and vines to force squirrels into plain sight for the hawk (some falconers use dogs, some do not). Once the hawk is zoned in on the squirrel, it swoops it with it large talons aimed for the squirrel, grabs it up, and takes it to an open area for consumption. It is up to the falconer to find the hawk and trade it another piece of meat for the squirrel. This goes on and on until the falconer is content with the harvest. I have been told that sometimes the red-tailed hawks are very loyal and will remain with their owner for many hunts. However, it is possible to trap a rogue hawk and the first time the falconer sends it up to perch, away it goes.
Where to find falconry events
Meets are held once a year in Alabama, but people all over the country are invited! The past two meets have been held in the Grampian Hills on the outskirts of Camden, Alabama. However, past meets have been held in Echo, Alabama near Ozark. This is a time for all members of the AHA to get together and share their knowledge and skills with other, less experienced members. It is also a great time for the public to get a unique view into the livelihood of a falconer.
I feel like the sport of falconry is a glimpse back in time. It is unbelievable to me that people are able to train hawks when I can’t even train a dog to fetch. If you are interested, please visit the AHA website and keep up with this amazing sport. The next meet will be held in Camden, AL on February 23-26!
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