Lucky Peak, Part 3- Peregrine

Looks like the owl season is picking up. We caught 3 last night (in the rain) and 6 the night before, bringing our grand total to a grand total of 23 owls so far this season. Glenn and crew have just started trapping back in NY, and they will doubtlessly surpass our numbers by the end of the week.

     In more exciting news, I had the opportunity to catch and band a female peregrine falcon the other day. I promise this will be the last self-indulgent photo of me holding a raptor, but I think I earned it. It put on a real show, making several passes at our lure birds before winding up just barely snared in our nets. I had the pleasure/ adrenaline-inducing-experience of untangling it, hissing, biting, and kicking all along the way. Did you know that peregrine falcons hiss like snakes when they're angry? i didn't know that either. A misplaced talon can also apparently cause permanent nerve damage, though fortunately I have not experienced this firsthand.

     You may be asking, how on earth do we catch these hawks? Well, it was appropriately described to me as "upside-down fishing." First you take a pigeon, throw a leather harness on it, and attach it to a string. the string loops around a tall pole, then wraps back to the observer blind. By pulling on the string, the bird gets hoisted up the pole, flapping along the way and behaving like an injured bird. Surrounding the pigeon pole is a series of drop-nets, mist-nets, and bow-nets-- an entire array of various contraptions for catching incoming hawks. When a passing raptor eyes the "injured" pigeon, it make a bee-line for the bird and gets safely snagged in the near-invisible nets between it and its expected lunch. Getting a falcon, kicking and screaming, out of a net is no easy job (my hands are replete with tiny and not so tiny holes from talons and beaks), but the real award goes to the doves and pigeons, who put up with an entire season of near-death experiences, only to return every evening to the safety of their cages, water, and birdseed. I've heard that this age-old technique has been passed down with little modification by Asian falconers for over 2,000 years!

     As for the owls, that's just a "simple" matter of broadcasting an ear-splitting recording of the owl's territorial call, and surrounding the speakers by 18x3 m mist nets. The owls fly in to check out the broadcaster and get (safely) caught in the net in the process. I have to say, the most difficult part of the job is psychological- imagine being half-tangled in a net attempting to remove a feisty little saw-whet owl from the net, only to glance into the dark woods to see two haunting, yellow eyes staring back at you at an uncomfortably-close distance. This episode is reported by owlers almost every year, though I haven't had my cougar-encounter yet...Though I did meet a black bear last week at 03:30 in the morning.
     Hard to believe I only have 3 more weeks left up here!

Female peregrine falcon (juvenile)


  1. You realize I only check this to see self-indulgent photos of you holding birdies -I mean- raptors. Ok, ok. I enjoy reading about your other activities as well.

  2. This fascinating insight into bird-capturing process reminded me of something I read about how the Lakota used to catch bald eagles. I thought you might be interested:

    "The ones who sought to capture an eagle would be purified in a sweat lodge and then with the help of several assistants would sit for days in a covered hole in the ground or a pit camouflaged with branches with a dead jackrabbit or a prairie dog attached to the captor by a length of thong. If the captor and his helpers, who remained at a distance, were deceptive and careful enough, an eagle would take the bait; the captor would have to be quick to catch the eagle as the bird attempted to take off with the bait. The bait could also draw a bear or a pack of wolves, and therefore this ritual... was done only by brave men."

  3. Oh, that quote is from Ed McGaa (Eagle Man), by the way.

  4. sounds like an awfully complicated way to catch an eagle. thanks for the quote!

  5. I won't lie, I like thinking the pidgeons return happy to their cages and birdseed. My neighbors have the interesting habbit of slingshotting our pidgeons then roasting them over the fire... Oh, and what's this about the bear?? I hope you don't see a cougar, though it makes for a good story doesn't it?

  6. Sean, you are so cool. Upside-down fishing, you say? I am thoroughly jealous. Always wanted to chill with peregrine falcons.


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