Photo and article by Keith Thompson
New parents are bombarded with instructions and advice on ways to child-proof a home. The goal being to turn an ordinary looking home into a child-proof rubber room, where a kid could not possibly injure itself even if it were to climb to the top of the refrigerator and attempt to glide through a closed window.
I had decided this year to bring back a tiercel Goshawk from my annual expedition to the mountains. Attempting to learn from past mistakes, I set out to bird-proof my house.
Goshawks, tiercels in particular, can be temperamental creatures. The mishandled ones can be really nasty. Raised right ('right' in falconry vernacular meaning the way I do it) in complete association with the family from the earliest age, only slightly nasty.
Take the experience of one of my friends. We'll call him Winston. Determined to give his bird constant contact with people, he dutifully carted it to work each day and set its nest box prominently upon a tall filing cabinet, where it did what Goshawks will do, it proceeded to whitewash vitally important documents. He proudly carried it around to show off to his fellow workers who grimaced in disgust at the sight of a half-feathered chick laying in a box full of dead stuff. Sections A through D of the filing cabinet went untouched for weeks as the secretaries avoided the Gos section of the files. Paper was spread strategically about the place, some of it occasionally caught a mute, but most of it was flung against the pastel wallpaper.
Winston would peek over the top of the box and tidbit his bird frequently throughout the day. Each time his face peeked over the box, the chick would get excited at the thought of a savory snack.
But wasn't it all worth it? I asked him. The ruined carpets, the wall that needed re-papering, the neglected and lost clients, and the secretary that had to be replaced? "Not really," he said, "she grew to associate my face peeking over the edge of the box as a big ugly lure with my ears looking like two tantalizing flapping wings. As she began to fly, I would duck and twist in vain as she would latch herself by both feet to the side of my face." But hey, I thought it could have been worse, she was okay around copy machines.
I intend, in this article, to help a falconer deal with that trying period while his chick goes from a helpless downy to a feathered marauder. You will need to prepare your house so that a Goshawk can safely and happily have its way with it. Raising an imprint Goshawk is a fun time, but it does require some forethought and preparation. Preparation will make this brief period survivable for the family and the chick.
Hopefully as a falconer, you have already done a certain amount of preparation far in advance of obtaining your chick. Of course I'm talking about if you're married, you will have picked a wife whose own mother was a terrible housekeeper. She will have, therefore, grown up in squalor.
Raising a chick in your house will mean that for a while you will be forced to live in less than sanitary conditions. If this is the case, consider yourself fortunate. On the other end of the spectrum are those falconers who will have to clean for weeks in order to get their houses at least as clean as an ordinary hawk nest. Falconers on the whole are not the kind of people that are likely to be featured in a Better Homes and Garden magazine. To put it more bluntly, we are generally slobs.
Take last summer. Every day at my desk, I would catch the unmistakable whiff of something dead. "Oh well," I would say, "It's probably nothing more than a dead mouse." It will eventually go away, I'd reason. But it hardly ever did. Then low and behold, come fall when I performed my annual cleaning out of my falconry bag, which consists of taking it outside and dumping it upside down, bags of meat would fall out. My bag hangs beside my desk, of course, but the bad thing is I repeat this scene every year. And thousands of other falconers do also. I refuse to believe that I am any more dimwitted than the rest of you. Consider the story of the falconer that did exactly the same thing, except he left a whole rabbit in his bag. And he didn't catch on until after he had been hunting in the fall and pulled it out with another one to clean.
To properly raise your chick in the house, you will first need to find a prominent place in the house to set up the chick's nest so that it will become exposed to the daily activities of the household. The best spot is a place where it's absolutely in the way of everything. Here your chick will sit in a small nest encircled by four feet of newspaper in every direction. What at first will appear to your wife and friends as a cute fluffy thing will slowly transform itself into an eight foot diameter circle of mutes, blood, down, and wax eyesore. But don't worry - yet - this is the easy part. Before long, like a child with newly discovered legs, your bird will branch out and your entire house will begin to look like the once disgusting circle. So to clean the circle is useless. The rest of the house will soon take on the appearance of the circle.
Chalk is a poetic term used to describe what your bird defecates all over the house. I have worked out a system whereby a small nest box is placed inside a much larger one, like what a Volkswagen might come in. My chick takes particular delight in breaching the wall.
Chalk has a sometimes invisible appearance to many falconers. Everyone notices it but them. A friend stopped to pick up a lady hitchhiker only to find that she refused to get in the car. He never did figure it out.
Just yesterday my wife's cat did what cats were born to do - it threw up on the floor. Never missing an opportunity to articulate my displeasure at the species, I ranted and raved about how her cat was messing up my house. No sooner had I finished than my tiercel Gos chick, which was standing on the counter, flung a mute across the top of her cup of hot chocolate. The timing could not have been worse.
The first thing a falconer should do is to convince his spouse of the practicality of astro-turfing the house. It's tough, it's long lasting, and you can hose it down when it gets soiled. No expensive carpet cleaning bills for me! And don't worry, there are ample cracks around the edges for the water to drain off.
Next, the furniture. Have all the furniture covered in plastic. Again it's durable, it stands up to kids, and best of all, hawk mutes just roll down and disappear under the cushion. What about the mutes that roll off on the floor? No problem, get out the hose and wash her down.
Another solution that comes from a friend of mine who built a new home was to just paint the plywood floors white. He loves it and often brags about how nice a good painted floor looks.
But someone will say, "Look, I just don't have the extra cash to completely redo my house right now. Is there anything that I can do that is cheaper?" Sure there is. Here are some suggestions for dealing with chalk for those of us on a restricted budget. The secret is not in controlling the chalk, but the people who object to the chalk, that being your wife. The trick is knowing exactly what to say. Be prepared. Prepare your responses in advance. Following are just a few suggestions for those times when the wife glares your direction and points to a mute:
1) Don't worry hon, it'll wash up. (Act cool as you hand her a rag.)
2) Doesn't it kind of go with the color of that carpet?
3) Looks like toothpaste to me, I'll talk to the kids later.
4) You know, mice won't stay in a house with hawk mutes all over the floor.
5) Hey, has your cockatiel been out again?!
6) What have those kids been tracking in now?
7) I saw a sofa with those kinds of designs on it at the store the other day, and they wanted a fortune for it.
8) Isn't it amazing sweets, how little a hawk mute smells in comparison to say a dog's?
If you begin to despair at the mute problem, relax you're going through the easy part. The hard part begins when your chick starts flying. This is the stage we refer to as "the flying bowling ball." Lamps, pictures, nick-nacks, trophies, antiques, anything that could be toppled by an average sized kid with a baseball bat is in danger, get rid of it all. Store it away. Have a garage sale. The danger here is not something might get broken, but that you will throw the chick out too early, causing you to have to pay the consequences for years to come.
Usually, a falconer, upon hearing that he will soon be a daddy, will hysterically shout things like, "My life is over - ruined," "I'll never have a spare dime again," "No more free time, no more privacy," etc. And while all those things are true, as it turns out, kids come in pretty handy for at least one thing in life - manning and taming hawks. The best manned birds seldom come from childless homes. Families with large numbers of kids consistently produce well behaved birds. Lets face it, by the time a chick has weathered a pack of kids, everything else in its life will look much less threatening. So be sure and give your chick plenty of kid-time. If you are a childless falconer, then really consider investing in a couple of kids. One is okay, but two are better. One kid thinking the other kid is getting more hawk petting time than the other will more and more aggressively fondle the chick. It becomes a contest of which one can pet, handle, and grab the chick the most. In the end, you are sure to have a really tame bird.
One of the most important things to do before getting your new chick is to stock up on dead stuff. Usually dead stuff involves quail, so it is best to stock up on a hundred or so. One of the most important points to remember when raising your imprint is to never-ever let it get hungry. This involves stacking dead stuff liberally around its nest box. Remember by keeping your chick satiated at all times, you will delay incessant screaming by as long as one week. Believe me, it is well worth the trouble for one last quiet week!
Often times, some of these dead things will become displaced. This can be a problem. My mother once grabbed the foot of what she assumed was a toy stuffed bird that my short-hair pup was enjoying. She began playing a game of tug-of-war until the not so stuffed quail ripped apart. The pup trotting off proudly with his half, and my mom holding hers, entrails hanging down and all. My mother trotted off as well.
Every falconer should prepare well in advance to obtain a proper fitting hood. If you plan to construct one yourself, then start a good six months ahead of the day you'll get your chick. I have found that by making two dozen or so hoods, one will in all probability not really fit, but at least be close enough so that it can be crammed on over the bird's head. Because of the number of hides you'll need to purchase, you won't save any money, but at least you will have the satisfaction of being able to stomp viciously on all the grotesque looking leftovers. If, on the other hand, you choose to employ the services of a professional, then start two years in advance. Some hoodmakers can be painfully slow. They operate on the assumption that if you wait a couple of years for the thing, you wouldn't ever consider sending it back. I suggest that you order the size hood that the hoodmaker recommends and an additional four more - two smaller and two larger. certain to have a good fitting hood. (Clayton, you owe me a couple of hoods for this.)
Armed with this vast store of knowledge, any falconer can raise a well adjusted Gos chick. But if you find that you are totally incompetent and can't follow simple instructions and totally mess up and end up with a bird like my last one that I affectionately named "Psycho," then the following has worked well for me:
Plan a weekend of fishing and take your Gos (hooded) to some unsuspecting apprentice falconer so he can watch it for the weekend. When you return to pick up the bird, act as if he has somehow totally ruined your previously perfect imprint. You'll still have a "Psycho," but at least now it won't be your fault.
back to home page