Hawkin'Gear ~ A Streamlined Hawk Box

Tom and Jennifer Coulson

This box is suitable for transporting a Harris' hawk or redtail hawk. It only weighs 13 pounds, so it's easily carried.


The "giant hood" or "hawk box" comes in all shapes and sizes. We've seen those that it would have taken a U-haul to transport, and many more than were smaller, but would barely fit into the falconer's vehicle. As the hawk is quiet and still during transport, there is simply no advantage to making a "giant hood" giant. The hawk box design we present here has been field tested over many years and with hawks of many sizes and shapes. This box is designed with the shape and habits of a raptorial bird in mind ­ a bird that sits upright. The bird is placed in the box backwards (tail first) so that the hawk faces forward. This box design has more tail room than anything else, which allows the hawk ample room to lift the tail to mute without brushing it against the back of the box. Herein, we include plans for: (1) a box suitable for transporting a Harris' hawk or redtail hawk, (2) a double box for a cast of Harris' hawks, and (3) a box to fit an American kestrel, merlin, or sharp-shinned hawk.

At first glance, our boxes might appear to be too narrow, but there are 2.25 inches of shoulder room on either side of a female Harris' hawk. The narrow box discourages the hawk from turning around. A large female has 4.25 inches of head room, and the tail clears the floor with 1.5 inches to spare. The part of the hawk's anatomy that comes closest to making contact with the box is the beak. We have never heard a hawk's beak tap the door, even when the vehicle stops short. (We have ridden beside the boxes to test this.) On the ride home, hawks will sometimes feak on the door and sides of the box, but this is the hawk's choice to lean forward and do so.

For our method of hunting, the hawk box has many advantages over the hood. We feel safer knowing that all five Harris' hawks are in separate compartments where they cannot reach each other. Even though they hunt in a group and are perfectly socialized, we feel that there would be some degree of risk involved in perching our five Harris' in the truck hooded. What if one bird throws its hood and thinks a spot on the other hawk's foot is food? If you have even a little imagination, you can concoct situations where a thrown hood could cause problems when transporting a group. Picture the mess that would be flying around the truck with five hawks muting and nothing to contain the mutes! And we wouldn't dare put the sharp-shinned hawk in the back of the vehicle with a bunch of hooded Harris' hawks. Yet if all are contained in boxes, this can be done with absolute safety.

We recommend using light building materials so that the boxes are easier to carry and handle. In some of our hunting spots, we are forced to park near a busy road (or some other spot unsafe for the group) and then carry the boxes to a site where the group can be loosed with safety. Lightweight boxes have been a great help in many urban situations. The single Harris' hawk sized box weighs 13 pounds, the double weighs 20 pounds and the kestrel merlin sized box weighs 6 pounds. Even though they are lightweight, the boxes are sturdy enough to sit on. Another reason to use the box for transport is it keeps the hawks out of sight. We hunt in some areas that are pretty rough to put it politely. Hawks that are perched and hooded in the vehicle draw the attention of everyone, criminals and spectators alike. We feel that we have less chance of someone breaking into the vehicle and trying to steal the birds if the birds are hidden away in their transport boxes. We are also less likely to be stopped by those passersby who "always wanted to do that."

Where possible, it is best to introduce the box and riding in the box during the hawk's first week of training. It may help to darken the air holes by draping a towel over the box during initial training. These boxes are designed for the hawk to be placed in them tail first. However, if the hawk at first refuses the box, you may need to put tidbits on the perch inside and allow the hawk to jump into the box the first few times. After that point, most birds readily accept the box. If the hawk still fears the box, it may also help to feed the hawk a quick tidbit or two while it sits in the box. Or if the hawk freaks out when the door opens, call the bird out of the box to a tidbit on the fist. Most Harris' hawks and redtail hawks can simply be loaded in and out of the box with no troubleshooting at all ­ provided the box is introduced early enough in the training. You do not need to let the hawk sit in the box for as long as you might if you were training it to the hood. Usually an hour a day suffices, and this only needs to be continued for about the first seven to fourteen days. For the first few times, keep the box absolutely still during training sessions. As the bird becomes accustomed to sitting in the box, load the box in the vehicle and drive around while the bird is perched in the box. This accustoms the bird to motion while in the box.

We have only encountered a few problems associated with using boxes. One of our Harris' hawks, who was particularly anxious to hunt, used to scratch at the door as soon as she was placed in the box. We made her box darker, and we lined the inside of the door with a slick piece of glass so that she would not dull her talons when she scratched to get out. A golden eagle Jennifer used for educational programs got motion sickness if he rode in an automobile immediately after being fed, regardless of whether he was in a box or hooded. The obvious solution in his case was to feed him after transport.

We have shared these hawk box plans with many falconers over the years, but it took the urging of our good friend, Harry McElroy, for us to put this to paper. Harry, thanks for your continued support and encouragement!

The double box designed for a cast of Harris' hawks

Materials for Harris' hawk or redtail hawk box:
0.5" x 0.75" wooden reinforcement struts
0.25" x 4' x 8' external glue lauan plywood
1.25" diameter hardwood dowel
0.5" and 0.75" wood screws
1" x 2.5" safety hasp (1 for single box or 2 for double box)
2" non-removable pin hinges (2 hinges for a single box and 4 for a double box)
1 quart exterior polyurethane
0.375" x 50' 100% manilla rope (3/8" rope)
0.25" braided nylon rope (for single box handle) or 0.375" nylon rope (for double box handle)
two part epoxy glue (and masking tape to hold the rope in place until the glue dries)
2" wide paper clip (hung on the inside back panel to hold newspaper)
lock and key or clip to keep hasp closed
Tools: jigsaw, drill, screwdriver, and paintbrush
Materials for American kestrel, merlin, or sharp-shinned hawk box:
same as before except use:
1.5" non-removable pin hinges (2)
0.75" x 2.75" hasp
broom handle
stadium astroturf or 0.25" x 50' 100% manilla rope
Dimensions for Harris' hawk or redtail hawk single box:
23" high x 20.75" deep x 11" wide (outside dimensions)
center of perch is 6.25" above the floor and 6.25" in from the door
3" x 0.75" top panel air hole (near the back)
[For a large female redtail hawk, add 1" to the height and width and 1.5" to the depth. Also position the perch so that it is 7" above the floor and 7" in from the door.]
Dimensions for Harris' hawk double box:
23" high x 20.75" deep x 20.25" wide (outside dimensions)
each compartment is 9.75" wide (inside dimension)
two 3" x 0.75" top panel air holes (one near the back of each compartment)
Dimensions for American kestrel, merlin, or sharp-shinned hawk box:
16" high x 9.5" wide x 14" deep
center of perch is 4.75" above the floor and 4.75" in from the door
omit top panel large air hole

Details and Comments:

Put the 0.5" x 0.75" supports along every corner of the box and use them to make a support frame around the door opening.

For Harris' hawks and redtail hawks, we recommend using rope to wrap the perch because some hawks pick and tear at carpet or astroturf coverings. However, astroturf (especially stadium astroturf) works well for kestrels, merlins, and sharp-shinned hawks. A smaller diameter rope would also be suitable for the smaller hawks.

We cannot stress enough the importance of proper placement of the perch. If you modify this design, make sure that you still leave enough tail room.

Inspect the inside of the box for any protruding screws. Cut or file the ends down where necessary.

Before coating the box with polyurethane, use a drill to add several small air holes (0.375" diameter) to the sides of the box (these are in addition to the large hole on the top back panel). For the small hawk box, we use only the small air holes (0.375") and omit the large because the smaller species raptor seem to be less tolerant of light entering the box.

Apply three coats of polyurethane and place the open box in the sun for two weeks prior to putting a bird in the box (to get rid of the fumes).

We drill two holes in the top panel and use a short piece of braided nylon (with knots on each end) as the handle.

Line the floor and back with newspaper. Hang a clip on the inside of the back panel to hold the newspaper in place.

Warning: When transporting any raptor, always keep in mind the dangers of heat and of carbon monoxide fumes. If you hunt on warmer days, park your vehicle in the shade and crack the windows. Birds are particularly sensitive to carbon monoxide. Do not warm the vehicle up with the birds in the car. Air the vehicle out after warming up the engine before you place your birds (and the boxes) in the vehicle. Never park next to someone who leaves the engine running. Do not leave your engine running if you stop to talk to someone. Avoid traffic where possible, but if you are caught in traffic, pull over at some point to air out the hawk boxes. Do not tail gate as you may be pulling in the exhaust of the car you are following. Install a tailpipe extender and put the transport box as far away from the tailpipe as possible.

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