Peregrine Spring: A Master Falconer's Extraordinary Life with Birds of Prey - Nancy Cowan (2016)

Part I. OWNED BY A HAWK

Chapter 8. Moving to the Right Place

Flying Injun was getting to be so much fun, I hated to miss even one day. I was working full-time at an aviation company based at Manchester Airport ten minutes from home, so I was still able to get in our daily flights by coming home at lunchtime. One day, Injun almost became a menu item for someone else’s lunch.

I would arrive home, hurry to find my hunting vest, tuck some chick pieces into a side pocket, grab my lure, and rush out to retrieve Injun from his mew. On weekdays the neighborhood parents were at work and the kids were all in school, so our street’s cul-de-sac was a quiet, private spot to do our noontime flights. On this particular day and as I had every preceding day, I stood at the end of my drive to cast Injun off my glove. He flew to the rooftop of the house next door, as he had done so many times before. The moment he began his ascent, a wingtip brushed my cheekbone as a red-tailed hawk sailed over my shoulder. My first thought was, How did Tabasco get out? My next thought was mingled with sheer fright as I realized this was a wild red-tail in close pursuit of my Harris’s hawk.

Blissfully unaware of his stalker, Injun landed on the roof and turned to face me. The red-tail seemed timid about landing on a man-made structure and veered off instead to land in a copse of trees in the neighbor’s front yard a mere fifteen feet from my bird. This probably saved Injun from immediately being eaten by the larger and extremely predatory wild hawk. I pulled the lure from my game pocket and threw it down to the pavement at my feet. Like a rocket, Injun dove off the roof for it. As soon as he was on it, I grabbed one of his jesses and began running. Poor Injun! I had one jess in a vice grip, while he held the dragging lure with his free foot. He was literally doing splits and made it clear he was not happy about being carried upside down as though he was a child’s stuffed toy.

I reached the corner of the backyard and thought, This is silly. A wild red-tail is not going to chase after a human, even if the human is dragging what it expected to eat for lunch. That’s when our red-tail, Tabasco, hit the bars of his mew window with a resounding bang and let loose a blood-curdling territorial scream. I did not need to turn my head to look around. I knew the wild hawk was right behind us. I raced to Injun’s mew as fast as I could. By the time I got him safely inside, the wild hawk had disappeared. My heart stopped its pounding, but I could still feel the tip of the wild hawk’s wing brushing my cheek when I closed my eyes. It was likely the red-tail had been stalking us for days. By flying Injun daily at the same time and place, I may as well have set the table, inviting the wild hawk to dine.

From then on, I adopted what racing pigeon fanciers do and flew Injun at different times of the day. Fortunately my employer didn’t mind if I took my lunch hour at ten, or one, or three o’clock in the afternoon. By constantly varying the flight time, Injun and I never had an uninvited lunch guest again.

Our subdivision neighbors in Londonderry had been very tolerant about the fact that we kept four raptors on our property, but the surrounding wooded areas were being developed into more subdivisions and light industry parks, so we decided to move to the country. Our criteria for the perfect place set the standard high. Finally we found what we wanted: a big, old house on twenty-eight acres with a huge garage, workshop, two barns, and a greenhouse in the tiny town of Deering, New Hampshire.

We had seen snapshots of the house and were attracted immediately by the beauty and history of the place. The house was built of brick in the late 1700s and had four massive chimneys. On our first visit, we saw something that had not shown up in the photographs. Every chimney was topped with a large statue of a phoenix bird with its wings spread. As we were admiring these statues, a big red-tailed hawk swooped low over our car and flew through the yard. Jim looked at me. “I think we came to the right place,” he said. It was Fate. Any difficulty in having the house inspected, dealing with the tempestuous seller, or negotiating the sales agreement smoothed itself out like magic. Besides movers, we hired a flatbed tractor-trailer truck to transport our raptor mews the thirty-five miles into the countryside.

As soon as I could take a break from unpacking and settling in, I took Injun out for his first flight at our new home. He flew up to one of the tall chimneys and sat calmly beside one of the phoenix birds. My husband’s words were true. We had come to the right place.

Jim and I continued our habit of hiking for miles with raptors on our gloves over the trails and logging roads of Deering. Once the locals found we did not mind them asking us questions about the birds as we walked the byways, we began to be well known. We were offered the use of neighbors’ fields and timbered properties for flying. A local couple whose son-in-law was a falconer in Massachusetts gave us the run of their old, overgrown orchard, which turned out to be a woodcock cover. Injun and I never caught any of these very fast birds, but each chase after the elusive “timberdoodle,” as they are called in New England, was an adventure in itself. And every adventure resulted in a stronger bond with my hawk.

Up the road a few feet from our house was an area known as the Overlook, which was a big field looking out over a huge vista of sky and the hills to the west. Injun and I made plenty of trips there for lure flying. Jim and I took a membership at a small game preserve, Chase Farm, only a few minutes away, mainly to work the pointing dogs we had at the time. At Chase, Injun became a seasoned hunter.

After several months of living in Deering, everybody knew that we were a bit different. We became used to hearing, “Oh, you are the bird people!” The UPS delivery man ceased asking what was inside those large, heavy boxes marked “Perishable.” Instead, we would hear a cheery “Dinner’s here!” as he dropped the boxes containing frozen quail off at the door.