Plight of the Urban Falconer

By

Alan Malnar

 

An immature redtail hawk about to connect with quarry. Photo by Steve Duecker

 

Unlike our predecessors who strode the Scottish moorland on horseback, we urban falconers, tangled in a massive and modern web of cement and steel, must find alternate hunting grounds to practice our kingly sport. We hawk industrial parks and on vacant school grounds, spend Saturday morning sunrise in fastfood parking lots and irrigation ditches that meander not through fields wild with hay and flowers inasmuch as being surrounded by industrial parks and back alleys laden with bits of trash. When fate finds us chasing an errant hawk, we hop fences and gangle across golf courses, slip between garages, and, to the dismay of some curious resident, knock on a door and ask for permission to trespass.
But regardless if asphalt rather than moorland grass is pommeled beneath our feet, we still experience the same rush of adrenaline unlike any aristocrat who witnesses the spectacular flight of a trained hawk catching quarry. Whether flushing ducks from a pond near the eighteenth hole or stalking crows in a vacant city lot, we remain true to the passions that dictate our lives, no less than Richard the Lionhearted did when riding his horse, hawk in hand, through the Holy Roman Empire. Although many of us would prefer to reside on the vast expanse of the prairie or even on the periphery of a small town that would enable both the benefits of employment and plenty of hawking territory as well, those of us who live within the big city limits must make the best of what we choose, or in most cases, are forced to do. Needless to say, besides hawks, many of us must feed our families too.
Unfortunately, the hunting grounds we possess are rapidly being swallowed by mass development, and the hawking jaunts we often take, log mile upon mile on our odometers. Both our tires and our patience are wearing thin, but what is the alternative ­ quit falconry?
Never!
The stark contrast of track homes and mini-malls make weekend hawking trips to the desert even more desirable, for the thrill of the natural world is intensified by the grey backdrop of bright city lights that overshadows our lives. Our plight greatly differs from the struggles of those falconers who live on the outlying edge of the city or even more so, those fortunate enough to inhabit the rural scape. We must plan our hunts around traffic jams and yet conform to the nature of our birds. We are limited to the species of raptor we can dutifully keep and to the available quarry at hand. When hunting for hawk food, we are restricted to where we can shoot a pellet gun. We must keep a constant watch to evade hordes of curious onlookers. We must face the scrutiny and sometimes the irrational whims of not only game wardens but animal control officers and policemen as well. And we are often exposed to activist groups that have no sympathy for the sight of a hawk feasting on its fallen prey. But we keep our sport clean and legal, certainly the way it should be, because of the constant element waiting to display some badge of authority over our legal rights. Most importantly, however, we must always protect our hawks from the dangers of the city: an electrocuting power line, a passing car, or the neighbor's pet cat.
These conditions keep us in check; we are forced to think ahead. We have developed a keen awareness and street smart intelligence for the sake of the birds we love. So we harbor our dreams of one day escaping the confines of the city and with gusto, continue to practice the sport that we love, regardless of the many obstacles we face. Our passion is the bird of prey, and the silent cross we bear is a desire to live and practice our sport in peace. This is the condition of many, but truly the plight of the urban falconer.
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