Goshawk photo by Steve Duecker
Aggression in the Tiercel Cooper's and other Myths
The tiercel Cooper's hawk is often stereotyped as an aggressive, face-grabbing psycho. Unfortunately these birds are either labeled "crazy" or viewed as a typical Cooper's! Nothing could be farther from the truth. These behaviors are the result of human error, not the genetic makeup of a species. Those negative traits will definitely occur if the eyas is incorrectly imprinted or mishandled. The most violent behaviors are created by flaws in an eyas' upbringing; glove/food association and such are notorious for causing aggression. Poor handling technique can also bring on "footiness" well after the bird has been hunting. This has nothing to do with robbing a hawk of its kill, but it deals with the skill of handling at all times. One of the two Cooper's in the study described below caught 22 head in one day. This bird has never shown resentment of being robbed or any aggressive behaviors. The importance of thinking from the bird's point of view cannot be stressed enough. If your handling technique is the cause of a problem, alter your method and the difficulty will disappear. If the problem stems back to the imprinting method, it's nearly impossible to overcome.
Aggression is more easily avoided rather than cured. For the 93-94 season two tiercel Cooper's were taken. They were trained meticulously by the following method described and both turned out to be completely wonderful hunting partners and companions. Their easy-going temperament allowed 7 and 8 year old children to handle and hunt with them. These two tiercels were not special; they were just average hawks that were correctly imprinted. I trained one of these birds, and Chris Patterson, a then first year general falconer, trained the other. At present 129 accipiters have now been raised by this method, and they all seem to be amazingly similar, as if cut out by the same cookie cutter. Out of those there are nine that I would consider failures. Curiously seven of them have been Western Cooper's hawks. Typically they have been catching several hundred head their first year, a fairly normal amount for a wild bird to catch and consume during the same time. By their very nature, accipiters should be catching wild game every day. Recipe trained imprints are ridiculously tame and are able to accomplish what nature wants them to. The old stereotype of what a "normal" Cooper's hawk is has faded into the past. Now the term "normal" describes a very effective hunting partner who is mentally stable and wonderful to be around.
Sharpshinned hawk photo by Paul Schnell
Some Individual Differences
A person can expect quite a bit of individual personality even among related eyases. These differences are related to the "manner" in which a chick learns. The end product is a result of the falconer's abilities to adapt their methods to the bird's learning "style." Our two Cooper's were taken from the same nest at a few hours old and one day old. These tiercels were very different from one another in learning style and capacity. Chris' bird "A" was doing calculus as a brancher; my bird "B" just wasn't catching on.... We saw many subtle differences in their development and some that were not so subtle. When first tethered to a bow perch, "A" jumped up in about 40 minutes. It took "B" 8 days! Both hawks were out hunting well before being hard penned. Bird "A" caught game the week prior to penning. It wasn't until the week after penning that "B" first caught game. "A" always had the look of thought and contemplation about him; "B" just sat there.... As both hawks were flown daily for 6 months, their differences smoothed out nicely. "A" caught 298 and "B" took 400 head. So if your young eyas seems to be developing slowly, persevere and it will probably be fine.
Realizing the Complete Potential of your Accipiter
A version of this method for raising accipiters was initially published in the 93 December Hawk Chalk. Though this was originally written with a slant towards the Sharp-shinned hawk, it was actually intended for use with all the accipiters, and indeed it has produced exceptional examples of the three species. Due to the mental outlook and overlapping behaviors of the three, almost all training and handling principles remain consistent. In this text the "RECIPE" is adapted primarily for the tiercel Cooper's hawk.
Tiercel Cooper's are truly a classy number! Their speed and medium size combine to make them a most versatile accipiter. The explosive reflexes and mellow personality of the Cooper's make for a colorful hunting partner. Their ideal prey base (medium-sized birds) can be found nearly anywhere. They deal effectively with pigeon-sized birds and occasionally will take amazingly large items, such as ducks or crows. But those catches are infrequent and not what I would consider normal prey. Yet they can catch very small quarry often and with a lot of flash. The Sharpy is more effective with sparrows because its smaller body can fit more easily into tighter quarters. The speed and adroitness of the Cooper's is more than adequate for this type of work; in fact it could be described as stunning. Some wonderful times can be had catching sparrows in our native grasses of foxtail and bluestem. And should the odd quail flush underfoot, well...
The Cooper's agility is awesome both in the air and on the ground. In the field they're a model of efficiency with speed being at their elemental core. Foremost, these delicate terminators are a small bird's worst nightmare. Cooper's are definitely not a spare time raptor. Though the actual hunting time may be brief, the husbandry time can be substantial. Meticulous daily care is the norm; often people find endurance to this level of care to be the toughest part. More important than the specialized equipment is time. You'll need time every day for hunting. Skipping days can cause behavioral problems. You will need to obtain large numbers of live sparrows and starlings as food before hunting begins. Coturnix quail is not the ideal food item; wild quarry will make for a far richer diet. Most importantly you will have to notice behavioral or physical problems and react to them immediately. Accipiters are neither psychotic nor unpredictable. Assume a behavioralist point of view when reacting to a situation. Always ask yourself why? Determine what response or behavior you desire and then expose your bird to these specific situations, beginning with day one. Think of your bird's mind as a blank canvas that you will "color" with experience and learning.
The equipment necessary for such a delicate hawk must be appropriately sized. A person can easily get along with a thin glove. Telemetry is an absolute must: without it your hawk will soon be lost. Only the smallest of transmitters is appropriate. While the LF1 Merlin has given good results, the LF1 Merlin Special is even better, weighing near 4 grams with the battery. A larger transmitter will reduce a small hawk's maneuverability. A long range is unnecessary as usually your hawk will be nearby. This small camouflaged raptor is easy to overlook even in low grass. Most large sparrow flocks seem to congregate in urban and industrial areas. When your accipiter flies around the corner and catches a sparrow, it's gone! The transmitter will probably be used every week. I've seen my hawk catch a sparrow and drop down into three foot high grass within 20 yards of where I stood. Telemetry was necessary to avoid stepping on him!
A small leather anklet with two simple holes works very well for attaching the transmitter. Secure the transmitter to the anklet with a tiny electrical tie. A tail mounted bell will leave your Cooper's or Goshawk's feet less encumbered. Fashion anklets and jesses from the softest and thinnest kangaroo leather. A pinhole is used rather than slitted jesses. Re-oil your leather every two weeks to keep it in its most pliable state. Change the anklets, bells, transmitter, and imp feathers as your hawk mantles over the lure. A simple inside bow perch is strongly suggested as the only perch to use. By wrapping the top portion with soft astroturf, I have not had any foot problems. The leash should be fabricated from fine cloth-covered elastic. It is woven from 1/16 inch round material purchased in the sewing section of a department store. The number of strands that you include in the braid determines the amount of stretch. The leash should be stiff enough so that during a bate the raptor springs back before it touches the floor. If the leash is too elastic, the bird's talons will drag across the floor. The end of the leash is attached to a sampo swivel, which is attached to the ring on the bow perch. The opposite end of the leash should have another sampo swivel and a fishing snap which inserts through the pinhole in each jess. This leashing system has worked equally well with all the accipiters.
Adult goshawk photo by Steve Duecker
Creating the Perfect Imprint Via the Recipe
Your accipiter should be so accustomed to its routine life that it just doesn't bate. Because of its conditioning to everything in life, feather problems and behaviors normally associated with a tethered accipiter just won't occur. I recommend that your hawk be kept strictly inside. I keep mine tied to a bow perch right in the middle of the living room floor. The perch is placed upon a 4 foot square of astroturf that is cleaned each week. By keeping him inside your home you are accomplishing much! He is constantly surrounded by people and activity. This continual manning will keep him very, very tame. When a hawk has so much contact time and so little food association, screaming is reduced from little to none at all (more on this later). You will be creating the perfect imprint: all tameness, no noise, and absolutely no aggression. Because he is kept at a constant temperature, weight control and prediction can become very exact. Because he is an inside raptor, the slightest deviation in behavior is noticed at the earliest time and you will be able to counter the problem immediately.
By using the elastic leash in conjunction with "life conditioning," I've encountered no leg scale or feather damage of any degree. Most of the time he just sits and watches everything going on. Bathing usually occurs several times a day and there is no secrecy about it. He's bathed many times while a party roars on all around him. The best location is the center of the floor where everyone must walk around him constantly. I cannot recommend a giant hood for transport because too many birds have dulled their talons by bouncing around. Accustomed to seeing everything going on, your accipiter can ride in the back of your car very nicely due to the vehicle exposure you will give it as an eyas. If you prefer to use a hood, training is best started on the tiny eyas soon after taking. Having the hood slipped on and off should be part of its life. Tom Schultz explains: "Hooding is done several times every single day so that it is all that the bird has ever known."
A fine looking adult goshawk. Photo by Dave Perfetti
The old myth that eyases taken too young become aggressive just isn't true; aggression has nothing to do with age. Common aggression is the result of handling error. Two imprint tiercel Cooper's hawks taken at zero and one day of age have displayed all the wonderful tameness and ease of handling that the Goshawks and Sharp-shins have. Instead of quoting specific days for the ideal age of taking an eyas, I suggest you be the judge. Take some food with you up into the nest as you climb. Feed the chicks and determine if you want one. If an eyas shows any fear, you don't want it. It's just too old to take. The exception to this practice is the Goshawk, which can totally overcome fear if taken by fourteen days old. After that age I'd recommend visiting a new nest as the older eyas will never reach its true fullest potential. A portion of its mind will always be preoccupied with some sort of fear. It may show up as only a subtle reaction to distractions, but it will never be as good as it could have been.
The Cooper's hawk nesting habitat in the Midwest is primarily yellow or white pine stands. The average nest height is near sixty feet. These hawks prefer nesting high in the canopy with an obscuring screen of deciduous saplings below. In your search for a chick, plan to spend lots of time walking; few nests are found from the comfort of your car. The plucking post is usually within sight of the nest and may take the form of an old nest or a large horizontal branch in a sunlit area (e.g., over a logging road). Shell fragments are seldom found farther than fifty yards from the nest. Of course mutes and moulted feathers should be found in abundance. Binoculars can help you spot both feathers stuck to the plucking post branch and fresh breaks on the twigs composing the nest itself. When you do climb, be generous with the use of mothballs before you leave. Keith Buchanon, master nest finder, advises locating three nests for each eyas needed.
With enough pre-season scouting, it's possible to have a number of backup nests located. It's critical to take your eyas before it has developed any fear of man. It should eat as long as it isn't full cropped. Often initial fear does not go away with human exposure or time. Start out right with a perfect bird. Everything in its life should be positive in its relationship with man. You don't want any handicaps, such as initial fear. Bring along food (finely chopped sparrow) in a cooler so it can be warmed and fed fresh. Never hand tidbit your eyas. Initially present food above the chick's head on the end of a thin stick. This manner of presentation is very similar to the way a mother hawk would feed. As soon as possible begin lowering the physical height of the food presentation until food is offered down near the eyas' feet. This process could take a few days to learn. Soon your chick will pick up food on its own. Always give your eyas the opportunity to advance more rapidly than anticipated. Sharpys learn slowly at first and then seem to pick up everything just before penning. Cooper's will be slightly faster to learn, with the brainy Goshawks learning incredibly fast. Instead of using a plate or lure to place food upon, use the body (feathered) of another bird and place your food right on top of it. Leave this "serving platter" with your eyas twenty-four hours a day. Your hawk will begin to associate food with the prey item - not you! Gradually reduce the amount of cut up food to encourage tearing on the corpse itself. At first it will be necessary to score the surface of the prey item, thus exposing the meat. This cutting is then reduced until the hawk is opening and tearing for himself. You always want to create a pattern of learning and progress as fast as your eyas is able.
Conditioning your Cooper's not to carry is essentially creating a pattern of confidence, learning, and security within his mind. To a large degree, most conditioning is accomplished while he is still a downy. Ninety-nine percent of all training should occur before hard penning. From the first day that he is acquired, he is learning all that he is exposed to. Good hawks are trained; great hawks are purposely made. Bombard him with exposure to everything imaginable. Consider a hypothetical situation: There are two brothers, one is kept in a darkened closet and food is slid under the door. The other sibling is taken everywhere and exposed to everything. Which child is the most likely to succeed? The same is true of eyases. Have a small nest box about six inches square completely filled with thin sticks. The sticks prevent the growing train from being damaged against the exposed lip of the box. A small box like this is convenient to carry. Never pick up your eyas bodily; instead gently coax him into the box as you lean it over. Take your eyas (on the box) everywhere -- the grocery store, parties, anywhere that there are a lot of people. Encourage everyone to hold the nest box and to pet your hawk. Of course, do not allow them to pet his head, but his chest, wings, and feet are fine. You want him to be accustomed to large noisy groups. You want him comfortable with being touched. Socialization should include everything from yappy poodle dogs to freight trains. Taking your chick to a parade is a great idea. This conditioning will payoff when hawking with a crowd of flushers and in numerous other situations which will arise. Transport your accipiter daily in his nest box in your vehicle. Position him so that he can see over the dashboard and through the windows easily. Don't skip a single day, especially in the brancher stage. While at work, place his small nest box inside an enormous one with an open top. The outside box will catch the mutes.
If you are in the company of a large group of people, take this opportunity to let your hawk kill and eat. This stage should occur as soon as he is able to tear meat from the prey item. The earlier the better. THIS IS ANTI-CARRYING CONDITIONING! He begins to associate feeding and killing with having lots of people around. This confidence training will build security through repetition. Eating in isolation would be completely counterproductive: avoid this at all costs. Remember the two brothers? Use a feeding whistle anytime he even nibbles on food. Again never tidbit your eyas; create a situation in which he can "catch" a live item, preferably in front of a large group. Remember to use a wide variety of natural prey species. Make in immediately and peel open the breast of the baggie. This process accomplishes several things: 1. He is rewarded with food right away for catching the bird. There is no plucking time to diminish the connection between the "catch" and the reward. This will make a stronger learning impression on your student. 2. He is becoming accustomed to you and your hands while you make in and then back off - with a positive result! His overall impression is that first he kills a bird, next you show up, and then its dinner! Very often he'll catch birds in tree tops and shoot down to the ground to feed. He's learned through repetition that the ground is the place to eat. Because you're the good guy, he has no reason to go away from you. In fact, he'll seldom eat or even pluck until you arrive. Remember you're Mr. Security to the bird. The whole key to everything is repetition, consistency, and thinking of the overall finished product. Training is not accidental; it is preplanned and will produce EXACTLY WHAT YOU PUT IN!
When your chick becomes a brancher be certain to step-up your total training regime including the variation of baggie species. Do not cut corners with your time at this stage. A person working an average job may not be able to socialize a hawk through much of the day. This sit-uation can be greatly helped by investing a weeks vacation at home with the brancher and family. This would certainly be a wise decision. The ideal time would be the week just prior to penning, as this is perhaps the most critical developmental stage. This plan allows an average working person most of the imprinting benefits enjoyed by those with more "flexible" working conditions.
As soon as your eyas can run well, abandon 24 hour food availability and adopt a hunger based motivation plan. The plump eyas is now eager for lessons. Without such "encouragement" the fat eyas will learn little and progress far too slowly. This weight drop, though absolutely necessary, must be undertaken with caution. As long as the imprint is doing more, going faster, and responding better, all is well. The key is that there should be steady growth and progress. The brancher's weight should be very close to its post penn flight weight. You should be seeing a very excited, obviously hungry, screaming hawk. This screaming is a good sign that you are doing well and are close to weight. Don't worry; the screaming is temporary. Keep in mind it is a normal behavior for the wild branchers to scream at their parents, and of course that is only temporary. The rapidity with which the screaming vanishes is directly related to the amount of non-food oriented time you spend with your bird. The people with birds in their living rooms have a silent bird very soon; those who keep birds outside will have to wait longer.
Three sharpies, one immature and two adults.
Photo by Paul Schnell
When your bird begins branching, it is time to begin lure lessons. Spend a good hour with your hawk before training. Do this outside as he's probably not even ran far yet. At this age there is no risk of losing him. Tie a large tidbit to your lure and set it down next to the eyas. After it has eaten and almost finished playing, pick up the hawk and lure together. Keep the lure constantly exposed on the top of your gloved hand. Sensitivity and timing are needed here. Separate the two cautiously and continue to lure train several times as you normally would. End each lesson with a baggie. You should be able to train this way three times each day in the beginning, gradually reducing to once daily. Never call the hawk to your glove. Use the lure as your sole method of retrieval. The lure bond will be EXTREMELY strong and he will very rapidly come great distances for it.
Mike Kohler of Missouri repeatedly calls his imprints 300 yards or more to the lure during training. Many of the primary problems associated with accipiters are due to glove/food association. Most of the secondary problems will be avoided through your intense socialization training of the chick. Sticky footedness can be completely avoided as can the refusal of slips. When you completely eliminate glove/food association, these problems will not occur. Simply never call your bird to the glove and never reward it with food for coming when it does. Often during a hunt the hawk will fly to your fist or other people's offered hands. Be certain that the only reinforcement he receives is another slip. Perhaps forty percent of the time, the Sharpy and Goshawk will return to an offered hand all on their own after a missed slip due entirely to the conditioning that they have received. The percentage of "free" returns with the Cooper's tend to be lower. The fist is the place where they see game. Avoid allowing them to take quarry from a tree early on; that can come later.
Timing is a very critical element of all training and handling. When your bird finishes its reward on the lure, be sure to observe its behavior carefully. Let your accipiter calm down before picking him up with the lure. This cautious approach can help avoid lots of negative experiences. Later on when he's transferred from game to the lure, the same sensitivity and timing is necessary. When this transfer is done smoothly, any accipiter can be slipped from game five or six times a hunt, day after day. This is a repetition of his earlier lure lessons. Remember when he was taken off the lure several times during training? He's been conditioned to take multiples right from the beginning.
As your Cooper's becomes a more mature brancher, discontinue 24 hour food availability. Rely on the three training sessions each day for his food intake. This is a fine time to introduce large baggies. "Create" a situation in which he is certain to succeed. This is exactly what a parent accipiter would be doing at this stage. As he begins to reach hard penning time, GRADUALLY reduce his weight. This weight loss is very important. "Traditionally trained" accipiters and particularly the Cooper's were known for violent personality changes as they hard penned. I suspect this sudden change is due to an increase in blood pressure and other unknown chemical changes. As the bird penns, the rich blood from the feather shafts recedes and is "packed" into the main body system. I'm not aware of any studies showing a blood pressure change during penning, but it would seem likely. The bird becomes overcharged and literally doesn't know what to do with itself. The traditional unexplained weight loss after penning could be accounted for by additional nervousness and hyperactivity in response to the pressure change. What we do know for certain is that when the weight is dropped prior to penning on a recipe/trained bird, there is no personality change or additional weight loss. They stay just as cute and cuddly as ever. The day that he penns you should be able to free fly for the morning session including the baggie. Remember, this is business as usual. Throughout the majority of his life he's killed 3 birds a day. This day is like any other to him. Skip the afternoon lesson and go hawking on wild quarry that evening.
Weight control is the key element to success with any accipiter. Most falconers will experience a problem with "false flight weight." This weight is encountered on the way down to a true hunting weight. The recently penned accipiter will vo-calize and exhibit many physical characteristics of being at hunting weight. In reality it is on weight, but only temporarily! The young hawk may be catching game for up to two weeks at this false flight weight. Then field control may rapidly deteriorate with kills becoming more sloppy and even intermittent. A bit more weight motivation is the correct human response. All those characteristics of a hungry bird will reappear, along with field control and quarry being caught. This is the actual hunting weight and will remain so for quite a while. Many handling problems are aggravated by an overweight hawk. A hawk actually on weight will overlook many handling errors due to its intense focus on hunting, which is all that occupies its mind. An overweight hawk will have less focus, concerning itself with other things as well.
The only trick to problem solving is recognizing a tendency before it actually occurs, and failing that, to then halt the behavior before it becomes a pattern. Of course the inherent difficulty is understanding what caused the behavior. Aggression is an excellent example. Aggression itself is never a problem, but only a symptom of a different "real" problem. For instance: a fever is a symptom of an illness, you treat the illness and the fever vanishes. Typically aggression is not caused by a single mistake; it's caused by a number of collective errors which are interacting. The aggressive behavior is not the problem, but an overt symptom that we are making mistakes. Usually a problem will show up when and where its root cause is happening. For example: Falconer "X" is having problems on the kill and yet, while at home the kids routinely pet his otherwise perfect bird. This tells us that the problem is related to handling at the kill. If it were a general handling flaw, the aggression would carry over into other aspects of its life (it wouldn't be pettable anywhere). The critical element is to identify the problem quickly, alter your technique, and it is gone before it becomes a habit.
An early anti-carrying conditioning program will go a long ways towards eliminating this problem. However, any bird flown above flight weight will be more tempted to carry. By flying exactly on weight, the hawk has only one single thought: eat right now, right here. With less hunger motivation, a hawk will be equally less focused and will be thinking about where to eat. This is exactly how bad habits can begin. Unfortunate habits, such as carrying, are easily avoided and difficult to correct. Our two example tiercels can be used to illustrate how carrying can be avoided. One never carried, the other carried three times. This is out of a sample group approaching seven hundred kills. Sparrows made up a healthy percentage of that group, and of course are easily packed. This exemplifies how interconnected the components of recipe training are. It takes early conditioning as well as precise weight control.
Cold temperatures and the drive to create more muscle mass will tempt you to increase the flight weight. Do this with great caution. Weight should be increased with the raptor's health and welfare always foremost in mind. Field control is the top priority, for without it you cannot retrieve your hawk from the many perilous situations which will arise. Flying a hawk fat will offer little comfort when you consider all the dangers it faces while out of your control. Proper use of a gram scale will make your falconry more efficient and fun. You will be able to predict precisely when your bird will arrive at hunting weight. Confidence in your raptor's ability to catch quarry allows you to have a much more relaxed hunt. Through self discipline with weight control, much more real fun is to be had by anyone flying the short winged hawks.
In states where it is a legal method, window hawking is the easiest way to give your Cooper's his first four or five kills. Or alternately, head for pastures knee high with grass to hawk for young sparrows. Then soon turn to more challenging quarry for the sake of exercise and sport. Push your bird for more difficult flights before the easy stuff becomes too much of a pattern; just ensure that success is often involved.
Both our tiercels turned out to be good at long distance flights. Before their second week of catching game, while both birds were quite young, we began hawking large field birds. These would be pursued and caught at great distances. Flights of 200 yards ending with a grab occurred on a daily basis. Of course many were snatched up as soon as they flushed. In an average evening's bag of 5 birds, at least 2 would have been chased and caught way out there. These flights were not the flap and glide variety. They were the sustained pumping, hot pursuits that would take your breath away.
The sticky heat of early September combined with Missouri river bottom mosquitoes made for some nasty hawking. The overgrown Johnson weed pastures were fairly swarming with grasshoppers. The backlighting of the setting sun gave the eerie and yet ironic appearance of a light snow flurry with the insects buzzing through the choking humidity. Of course the sparrows were there in a predator's role, just like us. We had already bagged a couple sparrows when the first field bird flushed; it took off in a streak just above the purple and yellow weed tops. The tiercel flashed off the fist and really kicked in the afterburners! They screamed out a fast hundred yards and then abruptly banked to the right. We had a broadside view as the Coop steadily gained and finally sucked up the bird in another fifty yards! These extended chases built stamina and muscle in our hawks that we never imagined possible!
The Fat Hawk Myth
Muscle can only be developed when your hawk is above flight weight and exercised vigorously. Yet such flights are only mediocre in quality, with the best falconry to be had by a hawk exactly on weight. A bird flown at flight weight can only maintain muscle mass and may lose some muscle. I decided to fly a bit high for two days and then return it to hunting weight for five recklessly violent days of hawking. Flight weight is not synonymous with muscle mass. Many fat, heavy hawks only have a fraction of the chest muscle that these imprints have at hunting weight. The idea of flying an accipiter high in weight is ridiculous. You want to fly your hawk in a state of high physical condition, not high weight. Would you rather fly an obese subject or an Olympic athlete? Fat hawks are incapable of pursuing game with the same intensity of a hungry, athletic accipiter. Only the bird's internal desire to pursue can cause it to give its most. You need serious workouts for the ultimate in fitness and performance. In such a state of super-fitness, a bird's me-tabolism is much accelerated. This offers many benefits, such as being able to feed large amounts of rich energy-laden food and still make weight the following day. A hungry hawk with high blood sugar levels is indeed a fearsome predator. It is easy to continue daily hawking over the long run if you're catching a lot daily; enthusiasm stays high in both your hawk and you. The dashing, explosive side of accipiters is something you'll want constantly after having seen a tiercel Cooper's or any accipiter in peak condition showing its full potential.
Fitting the Pieces Together
Since your accipiter is being hawked each and every day, it will gain experience rapidly. I highly recommend letting it gorge on one kill a day in the beginning. However, as its skill increases, the time afield will decrease. They just get too good too soon at footing and chasing. It becomes necessary to take multiples in order to exercise your hawk fully. The hawk's complete athletic potential cannot be realized unless your raptor is pushed beyond its present limitations. Your tiercel should transfer to the lure off kills very easily due to all your earlier training. This is when you begin to realize the enormous potential of your accipiter.
Precious little of this material is actually original thought. For many years, falconers have been training accipiters with many of the techniques outlined. The recipe's success is based upon combining key elements into an interconnected sequence which results in a balanced imprint. If a person were to omit any single element, the learning experiences would not connect and the bird would be "out of balance." Inconsistent and temperamental are both good descriptive terms for an incomplete imprint. Daily hawking will do wonders for both the athletic and the attitudinal sides of your hawk. Since he has no aggression whatsoever, even very young children can walk through grass with him perched on their fingers. Your Cooper's won't care and the child will be delighted! By and large your accipiter will not care about much of anything really. Nothing will ever really bother him, due to constant contact, lots of hunting, and the strong foundation you created while raising him.
The Recipe is a lot of work, but is the closest thing I know of to producing a "sure thing." This method is not intended to make other techniques obsolete. There is a place for every formula. This is for the person who wants the top 1%. It is designed so that anyone can create the ultimate hawk. This method isn't designed for the falconer with more than one bird; intensity is everything. It is designed for the falconer who is willing to sacrifice the time and effort to get the very most from their bird.
The Importance of Telemetry
Though this story is extreme, it does exemplify the necessity of telemetry perfectly. We had a point and a flush and were now following a tail-chase; make that a telemetry chase. The flight left the forest that we were hunting; it continued over a ridge and into an adjoining valley. After a long search, I found myself standing on top of a huge brushpile with the signal coming from straight down. After a bit of digging and crawling, Tracy Dewitt and I were able to retrieve our lost hawk and its bobwhite. Fortunately the bird had been waiting for us to show up before eating (Training method explained earlier). So off we charged for more hawking and eventually the final feed-up. We returned to the house and weighed the bird. The small amount of food needed to bring him exactly "on" for tomorrow is fed from the lure. Both tiercels were trained to return at night to a lure exposed by a flashlight beam. This was the natural result of hawking the fields to the very edge of darkness. Remember the "topping off" food fed from the lure each night? Place your hawk up high, on a doortop for instance. Turn your lights off and the flashlight on and you're training the bird for night retrieval. Short winter days are no longer a problem.
Night hawking starlings is where this training really pays off. While possible we hawked the tiercels in well lit areas, but these spots soon fizzled out. One of our bittersweet discoveries was that huge roosting flocks could be chased off in a week's time. This happened to four separate roosts which held many thousand starlings each. In the beginning each roost provided up to twelve catches a night. But that rapidly dwindled down to a single catch because the flocks were so terrified they just refused to return. This was bad news for us, but great news for the companies in whose trees we were hawking. They had hired pest extermination companies with cannons and sirens and paid high dollars to eliminate the pesky starlings. None of those tactics were effective, and they had been considering cutting down the trees. They enthusiastically invited us back! Imagine... you and several thousand of your closest buddies all sleeping in one tree, when Dracula shows up! The screaming is very loud with them all going totally berserk as one after another gets waxed.
Chris Patterson and I had brought our tiercels to the best lit roost site. It was a canyon-like area between two industrial buildings. The two story white stucco walls were lined with short pine trees literally teaming with starlings. The single security light gave it an arena-like atmosphere as did the audience of night employees working there. The show they had waited to see was the Cooper's barely skimming above the asphalt at high speed and shooting forty feet up into the night sky, all to snatch a starling out of the seething ball of flushed birds. Our eagerness to hunt at this location was heightened as most of the flock immediately returned to the same tree! The flights showed up dramatically against the white stucco backdrop as the hawk repeatedly returned to us with his catches. The audience stood with us directly under the sole light source and on the only pale grassy area that wasn't paved asphalt black.
With our four mega-roosts gone and still not enough daylight left for field hawking, we turned to unlit roost sites - true bat hawking! Of course we weren't hunting bats, but rather with them. We found those roosts by watching where the mile-long strands of starlings ended up at sunset. It was important to wait for total darkness as they could be flushed easily if the Coops were seen. By now the hawks were very sound oriented. It was a simple thing to hike through the woods, put the Coop on top of my head, and clap a bit. This stirred the starlings up and off the hawk would go. Literally leaping into darkness -- we could only see inky blackness. The tiercels were un-doubtedly colliding with many tree branches down at our level within the forest. We've often wondered about increased ambient light aiding our hawks at a higher level within the treetops. Eventually the hawk would make his way up to the canopy within the tall cottonwoods. The starling chatter was soon joined by the rapidly descending scream of a caught bird. We'd usually just have to follow the screaming to the grounded hawk, rob him, and have another go at it.
After you've completed flashlight lure training, night hawking might seem to be a no-brainer, but problems can occur. Once we had a very close encounter with a Great Horned owl. The hawk was lucky enough to escape on the initial strike. However by the time my shouts had driven the owl off, the Coop was panicked. Each time I got near him, he would bolt another hundred yards or so deeper into the forested hills. The 5 degree temperature was not making life pleasant either. Finally several hours of telemetry games successfully yielded me one very keyed up hawk and two frostbitten toes of my own.
Another difficulty arose while hawking some ornamental trees outside a theater. Chris and I had been slipping our tiercels at greater distances each time. It was always fun to watch the hawk as it weaved its way among the parked cars and through the broken strings of people before shooting up into the leafless trees.
The sleeping starlings typically got whacked pretty hard on the first few slips, but then became more wary with each catch. On this particular flight he zipped along a lengthy line of teenagers headed for the movies. None of the kids noticed our feathered missile as he flew knee high and not more than two feet away from them. He was effectively using them as cover to conceal his approach. Unfortunately the starlings spotted him just as he started his vertical climb. Of course they flushed early. Having the reptile brain that he does, he just kept going up and up into the darkness. Finally the screaming told us that he'd snagged one. The problem was that as he came down with it, he landed on the pebbled roof of the two story theater. This led to an unreal comedy act as I climbed over Chris and along the architecture of the building, up the wall, and finally to the hawk...Whew! I'm getting too old for physical stuff like that!
A problem that never occurred was the hawk's wanting to roost. The birds had fine response coming to the flashlight lit lure, and typically everything went well. Usually when a problem occurred it was in retrieving the hawk with quarry. A most painful incident occurred at a tremendous roost site with grackles, starlings, and red-winged blackbirds all arriving in great clouds at sunset. I only intended to catch a single bird this evening. But I couldn't resist all the avian temptation. Had I waited for darkness it would have been quite straightforward and simple. He chased first one flock and then another. The flying was terrific, but he wasn't connecting or even coming close. With darkness falling, his "bat hawk" side began to take over. He perched high in a giant sycamore and was taking passing stabs at doves zipping by. With each miss he'd return to his tree perches. A flock of dark birds made poor judgment in passing through at too low an altitude. He was all over them in a flash and had the whole flock dumping just as he iced one above a briar patch. He then dropped straight down with it (just like he was trained to do). Now these briars were taller than I am and infinitely meaner. The patch was probably seventy yards of the thickest, thorniest briars I ever cared to encounter. It took an hour of crawling on my stomach, bleeding, and cussing to finally arrive at the hawk. Keep in mind it was long since dark, and he wasn't making any bell noise or eating because of my absence and "training". So with telemetry, I crawled up to the silent hawk and laid there scratched, poked, and bleeding while he fed up. Fortunately it didn't take quite so long to escape from the thorny trap. These less than perfect nights, thankfully, were rare.
More commonly everything went smoothly and was quite enjoyable. The Cooper's enjoyed some unexpected advantages while night hawking. Typically prey flushed at night flew slower and with hesitation. The Cooper's, on the other hand, flew with normal reckless abandon. All in all, it was a very successful way of hawking. Night hawking maintained fitness during a time in which there was no available daylight for traditional hawking.
Hunting quail with the tiercel Cooper's is a lot of sport. Our two tiercels seemed to be a wee bit smaller than average. Chris' brainy tiercel never seemed to let any escape; it would invariably have one foot wrapped around the quail's head and neck. My tiercel lost plenty of quail. He once caught and lost the same quail three times. That quail lost some feathers, but sure gained some experience! The tiercels did catch plenty of quail with a really high percentage of dog points ending in success.
The acceleration speed of quail is formidable! If the quail could be relocated after being tail-chased and pressured, it was a goner. Don't get the misconception that quail hawking is a pushover - it isn't! Quail have a tremendous array of escape moves, from bailing into tree canopies to going underground. A quail will do whatever it can to shake its pursuer! Quail hawking is one of the finest sporting experiences a person can have with the tiercel Cooper's. When fleeing from the Coops, a quail will scream bloody murder! The melodic chittering brings out the best in both the raptor and its trainer. This style of hunting is one of the pinnacles of my falconry experience.
Tim Sullivan, Keith Thompson, and some other friends were out to see some quail hawking on a cool January morning. We had been watching the vizsla quartering the field, running the edges, and basically working the land. Finally we got a point! I slipped in carefully and praised her, rubbing her back, and making the shushing sound that now both the dog and hawk key on. Boy was the hawk primed! We passed some minutes quietly talking as the dog stood staunch and sucked in quail scent. It was a calm, cool feeling of impending excitement. The anticipation was killing Tim, who was almost begging to flush the quail. Keith stood still as this was old hat to him. He was steady, like an old dog that knows the game. Eventually we caved in to Tim's pleading. It didn't really take much. I eased in with the now frantic Cooper's hawk. He was standing tall and trying to stretch even higher. All his feathers were slicked down tight like glass with the ever-present bobbing head. Four quail flushed with the second one up taking the heat. We chatted while the hawk ate his fill and the vizsla strutted around crunching her quail head.
While game hawking over several years, we have been able to make some comparisons. I admit to having strong feelings for my dashing tiercel, but I must confess that I feel the female Cooper's is probably more lethal on quail. Sharp-shins are certainly more efficient with sparrows than the tiercel Coop. The tiercel Cooper's has two strong points. The first is charm: what a neat sized raptor he is, and so very much a character. The second is versatility. He is a much better all around hunter than the Sharpy or Goshawk, more effective and efficient. Traditional literature makes many speed and ability comparisons. All too often these comparisons were made of less than perfect specimens. Through clean imprinting, variables such as personality defects, management problems, and fitness are removed. The individuals I used for my comparison are model predators without any of the old hang-ups to detract from their performance. This leads to some new conclusions regarding potential.
Sharp-shins are the best up close and in tight situations, but have less speed when compared to the other two on a long haul. Both sexes of Cooper's are faster than Goshawks, yes even on long chases. The tiercel Gos is quicker both near and far than his counterpart. These observations were made of incredibly hyper-fit subjects who were catching lots of game every day. To put things in perspective though, the slowest of the bunch, the female Goshawk took 18 quail on the initial covey rise in one season and has taken multiple jacks and quail in the same day. The speed comparison is interesting, but not truly important. The size and strength to hold onto quarry really is the determining factor as to who can catch what. They're all quite fast.
The tangible, countable qualities of these three species are all about equal. Of the three, the Cooper's is easily the most difficult to train, primarily because they are so unforgiving of human error. Both Sharpys and Goshawks are simpler birds to deal with. With regards to recipe trained birds, the percentage of successful slips for the "three" seems to hover around seventy percent. Intermewed hawks have consistently shown themselves to be superior to their juvenile counterparts. There appears to be no real advantage of having one species over another if you have the appropriate prey base. The discriminating falconer will value qualities inherent in each bird's unique character and personality. It is only inevitable that others will continue to improve upon existing techniques. Innovation and development will constantly improve our sport and add to our enjoyment. The accipitrine group as a whole are beginning to become more understood. Through solid, clean imprinting their complete physical and mental potential is being realized by more and more falconers.