There are few things in the world more majestic than a hawk in flight. They soar and circle hundreds of feet above the ground before swooping down and capturing small animals that most eyes would overlook. Centuries ago, people started to tame these birds of prey and train them to hunt. Today, falconers around the world are still training a variety of raptors for the same reason.
Yesterday, a Twitter user posted a video of a well-trained hawk flying between two women. The post’s caption, “Precision,” says it all. In the video we see two women standing a few feet apart. They’re leaning in and letting their foreheads touch, leaving a small gap between them. However, the bird of prey doesn’t seem to care about the obstacles in its way. Instead, it’s focused solely on its trainer’s glove.
You don’t have to be an expert on birds to know that hawks and other birds of prey are incredibly graceful. However, this video gives us an up-close look at this grace in action. The bird glides a few inches above the ground before beating its wings to gain some altitude. Then, in the split-second before it flies between the women, the raptor folds its wings and glides through with very little room to spare. In fact, you can see the women’s hair move slightly from the wind off the bird’s wings.
Training a Hawk
According to the Ohio Falconry Association, much of the equipment in falconry has been modernized. However, the methods used to train hawks and other raptors haven’t changed much over the centuries. When done correctly, the bird doesn’t see its trainer as an owner or an authority figure. Instead, the raptor and trainer become partners in the hunt.
The first thing a falconer has to do is relieve the raptor of its fear of people. More importantly, the hawk or other bird needs to associate the falconer’s glove with food. To achieve this, the trainer will spend several hours a day with their bird. Over time, they’ll teach the raptor to walk, hop, and finally fly to the glove for food.
After a couple of weeks, the falconer can put the hawk on a leash called a creance. At this point, they employ a food-garnished lure that looks like the bird’s future game. So, if one wanted to hunt rabbits with their bird, the lure would look like a rabbit. The raptor will learn that going to the lure and returning to its trainer will result in a food-based reward.
After about a month of intensive training, the hawk is ready to fly free and hunt with its trainer/partner. However, this is the most trying time for many falconers. If there isn’t enough game in the area for the raptor’s instincts to take over, it might fly away and revert to the wild.
It’s obvious that the hawk in the video above has been well-trained, probably over many months. It knows that as soon as it lands on the glove, it will get a juicy treat.