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

Part II. A TALE OF TWO PEREGRINES

Chapter 16. Suspicious Characters

The realization that government and conservation agencies would entrust a wild peregrine into our care and make efforts to speed our qualification process brought my mind back to when Jim was trying to push forward legislation for falconry. Obviously the perception about us had changed since then, but the memory of being regarded as “suspicious characters” was still fresh. I think every citizen, aware they are being watched by a federal agency, feels some form of dread despite being guilty of absolutely nothing.

When Jim had first contacted the North American Falconers Association about entering a falconry bill, officials of the organization told him we would be investigated by government agents and would receive phone calls from paid government snitches with enticements to commit unlawful acts such as trapping and selling birds of prey from the wild. The calls and overtures from agents would be part of a “sting” operation to entrap us. We thought the association officials were exaggerating. They weren’t.

As soon as Jim entered his bill, we realized we were being monitored. A covert sting conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service called “Operation Falcon” had occurred not long before. Although this operation was touted as a success in the immediate press releases from the government agencies, it ended with only a handful of convictions for a few relatively minor charges. Simply, there was no black market trade in raptors such as had been put forth, and questionable tactics were used to attack falconers who had never broken any laws at all. During the process, falconry birds were confiscated from their legitimate owners, never to be redeemed.

These actual results of Operation Falcon were not broadcast, but we became conscious that an arm of the government might be eager for a big score. We had no idea which agency that could be, but we were the most available “perpetrators” on which to pounce for no other reason than Jim’s lobbying to make falconry a legal hunting activity. The phone calls we frequently received proved the warnings from NAFA.

Sometimes the caller would offer to “help” with Jim’s efforts to legalize falconry. Always the topic would evolve into a request “to get me one of those para-grines.” The implication was that a peregrine could be gotten outside the law. Ridiculously the same individual did most of the calling, although he took on various personas (and some ludicrously bad accents) to disguise his voice. I grew up in the South, so a sorry attempt at adopting a southern drawl is something I recognize.

“Mister, I don’t smoke and I don’t chew, and I don’t go with boys who do!” I finally snapped into the receiver one day after enduring a round of these attempts to lure us to break wildlife laws.

“Huh?” the caller was startled into saying.

“That means,” I explained emphatically, “neither my husband nor I do, or plan to do, anything unlawful. And neither of us wants to have anything to do with anyone suggesting unlawful behavior. I am really tired of your stupid calls and your stupid accents, so why don’t you give it a rest!” I slammed the phone down.

Next we started getting house calls. Jim had extended an invitation to a man who said he and his sixteen-year-old son were very interested in birds of prey. They were anxious, the man said, to meet Jim to learn about falconry in the state (which did not yet exist) and to become falconers themselves. We were in for a surprise when they arrived at our doorstep. The “father” was well-groomed and was wearing a suit and topcoat. The “son,” who looked more like twenty-six than sixteen, also wore a suit and a topcoat. Jim invited them in to talk about falconry, its legislation in New Hampshire, and his plans to become licensed and obtain his first hawk. Jim’s mew was not yet completed. The pair expressed curiosity about the building, so Jim took their home phone number and promised to invite them to see the finished structure.

Once the mew was completed, Jim handed me the paper with the number and asked if I would call the father and son to let them know they were welcome to come see it. Oddly, when I dialed the number, it rang once or twice then switched to another line. After two more rings and a long pause, a woman answered, and I relayed Jim’s invitation. I heard other phones ringing in the background like it was an office I had just called rather than a home. Was the woman who answered reading from a script? I wondered.

On the proposed day, the “suits” arrived again, and Jim took them out to see the newly built “hawk house.” Our first mew, like all those we have built since, was simplicity personified. We adhered to the guidelines for size, drainage to allay any problems with moisture retention and mold, an opening for sunlight and air, and perching so the bird has a good view and can be out of the wind. Jim explained all this as he showed the pair around the mew. The pair professed their interest, as they had never seen a mew before—or so they said. Jim commented that other falconers’ mews must be vastly superior to ours.

“Oh, no,” the “son” blurted out. “Compared to the other mews we have seen, this is a hawk palace!”

The “father” shot a look at the “son,” both men clammed up, and they bid hasty good-byes while Jim invited them to attend the coming legislative hearing. We never saw or heard from them again. In fact, after Jim’s bill passed, we hardly got any more “gonna get me a para-grine” calls.