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Eye On Texas: Falconry In Texas

by Published on
Bill Sallans

Falconry was practiced 2,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, and it’s still practiced by Texas game hunters today. This portrait was taken at a Texas Hawking Association event known as the Sky Trials, a contest in which falcons are judged on flight, obedience, and hunting success. Racing pigeons are released during the competition, prompting the falcons to stoop (dive) at their targets at speeds up to 200 mph. Sometimes the falcon catches its prey, sometimes it misses. Though the sport is labor-intensive and costly, the interplay between man and nature makes it an enduring collaboration.

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  • Natural_Texan

    Many raptors are taken from their nests and sold into this ‘hobby’. Where I am in Texas it is the beautiful Harris’ hawks that are especially targeted. Groups nesting within view of a road cannot fledge their young. On-line sites ask as much as $1000.00 for these animals? .. often advertised as captive-produced. Yet who knows? .. with that kind of bounty on their wild heads it’s always going to be profitable to take them from nature.

    Nope! .. not picking a fight with responsible falconers or owners of wildlife of any stripe.. just want to point out it’s not all art and beauty and history.. Other types of slavery were practiced in Mesopotamia two millennia ago.. and not everything steeped in history and tradition is positive or beautiful. Adios!

    • Mike

      Falconers know and so does Texas Parks and Wildlife as well as US Fish and Wildlife. Harris Hawks require a state issued band be placed on one leg. This band identifies how and where the bird was obtained

      • Natural_Texan

        Hello again.

        I participate in banding many raptors for
        conservation purposes.. all are released unharmed.. If we can put a band
        on a raptor so can anyone. The nature of these birds is once they are
        near fledged they can be banded, their leg-size does not change.

        can be no way to verify that a banded bird is for sure and in fact
        captive-produced. Where the metal band comes from is a non-issue.
        Bona-fide captive raptor producers should be speaking out about the
        taking of raptors from nature. I see nothing. The silence speaks volumes.

        This taking, if it is according to rules, may be legal in some places
        and in some populations.. I don’t see the falconers as a group (or any
        naturalist or nature lover) supporting such take. Yet in the field it is happening and for the purposes of Falconry.

        hobby and history of Falconry is deserving of some of the superlatives
        you use to describe it. The industry surrounding falconry? It is suspect
        and by my experience relies heavily on taking animals from nature..
        These same proud wild beings define by any standards the apex of freedom
        and power.. put to personal (and commercial) use.

        Thanks for your reply.

        • Mike

          So far, from both of your posts, all I’ve heard are accusations.”Many raptors are taken from their nests and sold into this ‘hobby’. And “yet in the field it is happening and for the purposes of Falconry”. Surely you must have some evidence to back up that claim. If so, everyone would like to see it handed over to the appropriate law enforcemnet agencies.< An empty nest doesn't mean a falconer or *hawk dealer*has emptied that nest for sale. Human scent around a nest will often draw preditors who will feed off of the young. I once found a Red Shoulder nest and came back weeks later and found a Raccoon sleeping in that same nest. No hawks! Perhaps your banding activity has been a problem for the nests you have observed.

          • Natural_Texan

            Hello again.

            I see this is an emotional issue for you and I apologize for getting you riled. It’s important for me as well! that’s why I’m here. I’ll try to clarify my position.

            I personally do not like that these magnificent animals are taken from nature for any purpose.. and yes that does effect my views on falconry. But I’m not against the falconry hobby as a whole. My point is that it is driving the taking of wild raptors. Legally and otherwise.

            The birds are taken from the wild, that’s fact.. State and Federal Law allows for people to purchase licenses and permits for the taking of raptors from nature and the targeted, legal animals taken include the animals I see and work with. I see on Raptor association sites where newcomers are in some cases required to apprentice with the Harris’ hawks specifically? This is what drives the taking of birds.

            I’m unfamiliar with under what circumstances wild raptors can be legally sold or traded.. you likely know more about that. It is my belief that the rules are being broken and more animals are being harvested from the wild than is allowed or reported.. but you are correct I can’t put a number to it. Regardless, I personally think the practice of taking wild raptors is harmful and should stop. As for the prices I referenced.. they came from online searches to Falconry sites and suppliers.

            You are right, nesting attempts fail. The nests I’m referring to are where I see the tire tracks of the vehicles and the saw and cut marks where the nests are taken down or the thorn-brush cleared away. And sure thing if I have anything to share with the authorities to stop this kind of stuff I do.

            You are also correct in saying that working with wildlife, including for the purposes of research is a compromise and bad things can happen.. It falls on us to decide which risks are worth taking and for what purpose. I have yet to see where fledgeling birds in our studies have failed to thrive normally.

            You are incorrect in saying I have only criticisms, I wrote “The
            hobby and history of Falconry is deserving of some of the superlatives
            you use to describe it.”

            But I do have criticisms, some of which I have shared here. Don’t even get me started on the practice among raptor breeders of pairing different species of raptors in cages that would never interbreed in nature.. thereby producing some new product or whatever..

            Thanks so much for taking the time and effort to discuss this with me here.

          • Mike

            The issues mentioned are not emmotional at all for me, it is one of legality and common sense. Falconry is heavily regulated by both state and federal agencies. These agencies work very closely with the various state falconry clubs and organizations that promote the safe, legal, and ethical practice of the sport. Practicing falconry outside of the scrutiny of these clubs and governmental agencies is very difficult. Perhaps a little research on your part as to what that envolves might convince you that raptors are not being taken from the wild and sold. It would be difficult and very risky for all .The consequences of being caught would be costly in legal fees(thousands of dollars), possible jail time and loss of falconry permits.In fact, the whole purpose of breeding projects has been to restore native populations and reduce any need to take from the wild populations. Of the few wild Harris Hawks that are taken by Texas falconers, they are almost always a young bird that has fledged and been hunting for several months. They make a far better hunting bird with less training time. They require a state issued band upon capture and their where abouts are closely monitored. They can’t be sold and are often returned to the wild. Assuming tire tracks, cut trees or branches and removed nests are the work of falconers is quite a reach. In your efforts to protect these birds, why not place a few wildlife cams around nests and prove your point. Many uneducated and generally ignorant people have considered raptors of any kind to be *chicken hawks* thus worthy of removal, by any means necassary. Just a couple of years ago, some local boys were seen shooting an entire Bald Eagle family in the nest! Check You Tube and you’ll find any number of people claiming *hawks* tried to kill their Chihauhau or Yorkie. Blaming falconers for a failed or destroyed nest because you’ve seen Harris Hawks for sale on the Internet is a bit short-sited but definately understandable since you don’t think raptors should ever be taken from the wild. However, falconers and falconry have played a major part in the miraculous come back of the Peregrine Falcon and the current restoration project of the Aplomado Falcon. Perhaps a trip to the Texas Hawking Association falconry meet in Waco, in January and meeting falconers, you might see them in a different *light*.

          • Natural_Texan

            I thank you for your reply?

            I’m disappointed it is defensive and accusatory and less precise than your original informative article. But you shoot from the hip? a Texas talent that I have yet to fully learn for use in polite conversation, even as a multi-generation native Texan! Frankly, I don’t think your reply meets the high standards of the Texas Observer in general and hope the editors take a look.

            I have admitted this is an important, even emotional issue to me and why; I dislike that such proud and free animals are subjugated in captivity and, through the demands of the falconry hobby that even one is lost to nature.

            Falconers have played a role in raptor restoration.. that’s great! So have very many people who never hope to enslave such a being of light and air.. a raptor.

            Your say ‘so what’ it’s all legal’ and ‘you can’t prove how many are taken by Falconers’ .. This pretty much quantifies the space between you and me on the subject. You make excuses for the loss of raptors in the wild. I propose an end to the taking of these great animals from nature.

            I’ll leave you with this photo.. so unlike the image you chose for your article, that of a raptor in total submission, blinded, bound, defeated. This is of a free spirit. Enjoy.


          • Mike

            Natural, the article is not mine. I’m simply commenting on your comments/ accusations that falconers are raiding nests, preventing natural fledging and selling the same as captive bred birds. The fact that you openly admit that you don’t like the idea of raptors
            being kept in captivity, clearly explains why you would point a finger at falconers, accusing them of such activity, which both the state and federal government would consider illegal and falconers would consider highly unethical. However, bearing false witness is also considered illegal and unethical. Falconers are committed to policing themselves and don’t tolerate the kind of behavior that you suggest they are involved in. Get some evidence, that a prosecutor can build a case around, and you’ll have all the assistance you could ever want from falconers to stop that practice … if it does exist. But to say falconers raided a nest, and took all the young because you saw tire tracks and limbs cut off of a tree, shows your prejudice towards falconers when it could have been any number of reasons or circumstances. As for the photos, the one at the top shows a captive bred Peregrine(notice the gold band on the right leg). It will have an excellent chance at a long(perhaps 20 year), healthy life, flying freely and hunting.It never has to worry about it’s next meal or *being* a next meal. It may even be used in a breeding program and produce many successful young over it’s lifespan. The hood keeps it calm and relaxed during transport and in unfamiliar settings. The Harris Hawk in your photo, if it’s wild, had a seventy percent chance of dieing it’s first year of life from starvation, accidents, disease or preditors. If it survived that first year, it had a forty percent chance of dieing it’s second year from the same reasons. Should that bird survive it’s second year, it will most likely have three to five more years to reproduce and then most likely die a miserable death. Life can be cruel. As for my comments not measuring up to Texas Observer standards, they are free to remove them should they chose to.As I said, life can be cruel. LOL! Have a blessed day.