A Group Of Wild Animals That Live And Hunt Together Your First Bird of Prey – Harris Hawk or Red Tail?

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Your First Bird of Prey – Harris Hawk or Red Tail?

Today, young falconers have a wide variety of species to choose from. But choosing your first bird of prey is not as simple as deciding which dog or cat you want to own. As with most purchases of an exotic species, there’s a lot to consider, and you can make your life and, more importantly, the birds’ lives a lot easier by starting off on the right foot.

Choose a bird for beginners and stay away from those birds that are generally smaller in stature. The smaller the bird, the more difficulty the young falconer will have when trying to achieve a suitable flying weight for the bird. The metabolism of the birds is also something to consider, as some species can be very difficult for inexperienced falconers to handle. Noticing if a bird is not developing properly or starting to get sick is something that an experienced falconer should naturally detect. In smaller birds, a slight change in weight can be a warning signal that a young falconer may not notice or may not fully appreciate the potential consequences.

So which birds should you target first? Well, here are the modern favorites of the hawk;

Harris Hawk (Parabuteo Unicinctus)

Arguably one of the most common birds used in falconry today, this beautifully colored falcon is extremely social, easy to handle, has a very good temperament and is quite easy to train. Harris Hawks exhibit sexual dimorphism where the male is approximately 40% smaller than the female. Therefore, due attention should be paid when choosing equipment, as the size of polls, hoods, rollers and other items will vary depending on the gender of the chosen bird.

Harris Hawks are great hunters of smaller game such as birds, lizards, small mammals and large insects. They originate from Chile, Argentina and the southwestern regions of the USA. Living in a predominantly semi-desert climate, Harris Hawks are also regularly seen hunting in groups of 5 or 6 birds at a time (and sometimes up to 14) allowing them to take much larger prey. So owning a male and a female can be very exciting during the hunt as falconers can experience the birds working together against their chosen quarry.

It really is a perfect all-rounder and a great bird to start with. Expect to pay up to £500 for a bird – their popularity has not gone unnoticed by breeders!

Also known as the Gulf-winged Hawk, it has several predators of its own – namely the Coyote and the Great Horned Owl. The threat of the Coyote means that this bird does not tend to work well with dogs. Also, if your Harris spots a Great Horned Owl, watch out because all hell might break loose! These owls hunt hawks at night, while Harris tends to have the advantage in daylight when the “sky wolves” (as they are sometimes called) will attack the Great Horned Owl together as a pack.

Red-tailed Buzzard (Buteo jamaicenis)

The name of this bird probably threw some people off to begin with. Known throughout the falconry world as the Red-tailed Hawk, it is actually a Buzzard. Here are the basic facts;

Length 43-65cm

Wingspan 120-150cm

Weight 1-2 kg

Native to the Central US and Northern States, it is also found as far south as the West Indies, hence the name Buteo Jamaicanis. Feeding on small mammals, birds and reptiles, Redtails in more northern states will tend to fly south in the winter.

The red-tailed hawk is a popular choice for falconers. At 65 cm, the bird is a good size and a well-trained bird shows great courage and enthusiasm when hunting prey. As with most birds of prey, Red-tails must be flown regularly to build and maintain the high levels of skill required for effective hunting. These “hawks” tend to live about 6-8 years in captivity and can be aggressive, especially those that have been highly trained. Still, a great first bird especially for those falconers eager to hunt regularly with their bird.

You’ll pay up to £450 for a female, less for a male. However, this is money very well spent!

Whichever bird you decide to start with, please don’t underestimate the amount of time, care and application that a new falconer takes to this sport. If you cannot devote sufficient time or resources to owning a bird of prey, please do not be tempted. Many of these beautiful animals are lost or released into the wild, left to fend for themselves or abused. Please understand the level of commitment required before starting and make your decisions wisely. If you’ve never flown a bird before, then I strongly recommend investing in a beginner’s course. You’ll know for sure by the end of the course if the sport is for you – and you’ll have learned a lot first-hand from an experienced falconer.

Happy hunting.

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