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

Part I. OWNED BY A HAWK

Chapter 6. Goshawk in the Bedroom

As Injun and I continued building our relationship, Jim was moving ahead with his own falconry ambitions and dreams by acquiring the tiercel (male) goshawk he named Cadet. Once a falconer has become a general falconer, he is allowed by law to remove an eyass, or nestling, goshawk from its nest. In the wild, mortality in young hawks is terribly high. By taking the smallest and youngest from the nest, not only is that eyass hawk’s survival ensured, but survival of the remaining youngsters is greatly enhanced now that meals would not be divided among so many eyasses. There are many rules regarding the procedure. First, you have to obtain the landowner’s permission. Second, there has to be more than one young bird in the nest. And third, the tree is then fitted with a metal sheath surrounding the trunk to secure it from any four-footed predators that might follow the human scent up to the young, flightless hawks.

The logistics of acquiring a young goshawk are even more complicated. You have to find someone with the ability and the equipment—such as metal spikes used by linemen and loggers—for climbing straight up trees. Then, all of the nestlings have to be banded, and the trunk sheathing materials have to be carted into the forest. All this is managed while dealing with a pair of enraged parent hawks. (Goshawks are large hawks that are terrifically aggressive—and vocal—when they consider their young to be in danger.)

We set about the project professionally. The climber we hired had been warned to wear both his thick leather motorcycle jacket and his helmet. He brought along his younger brother to carry the necessary gear. With a New Hampshire Fish and Game official directing, our climber climbed to the nest and soon lowered a bucket with three nestlings, which were quickly banded by the official. Jim was allowed to take the smallest of the nestlings to raise as a falconry bird. Meanwhile, the parents were “professional” as well in their defense of the nest! When the climber received an extra-hard thump on his head, he didn’t realize a hawk had struck him.

Everything was done very carefully. The other two nestlings were placed back in their nest, the parents started to calm down, the climber descended with no further damage than a scratch on his helmet, the tree trunk was covered per regulations, and Jim went home with a young goshawk.

The fuzzy young goshawk became quite tame and oriented to us while living in his box in our bedroom, which is the whole point of taking goshawks as eyass birds. They are very high-strung creatures whose existence is based on instantaneous reactions. The females are quite nervous, but double that nervousness and you will have a better understanding of a tiercel (or male) goshawk.

It was fascinating to watch the little guy develop as dark feathers began to poke through his fluffy fuzz. But with the feathers growing out, the goshawk began to find his wings and to attempt scaling the wall of his box. It was at this point Jim had to leave on a weeklong business trip. “What will I do if he starts flying?” I asked him nervously. After all, this wasn’t my bird.

“Oh, he won’t be able to fly much,” Jim replied. “Just spread out a tarp around the box in case he reaches the top to perch on the side.”

Sure enough, the moment Jim left, the goshawk began fledging in earnest. I returned home from work that day to find Cadet triumphantly perched upon the rim of the box. To protect the wall-to-wall carpet from the random droppings inevitably left by a well-fed goshawk, I spread old bedspreads and tarps on the floor. When I came home the second day, he was perched on top of the portable TV on Jim’s bureau. I used up our tarps and pulled out all my old beach towels to spread in strategic locations. On the third day, Cadet was on the top of the curtain rod, and there were one or two splashes of “hawkchalk” on the curtains. Out came the old sheets.

His flying practice was going great guns, and he had no problem using any spot in the room as a perching place. The bedstead, the windowsill, and my dressing table were all prime and desirable locations, it seemed. By the fifth day, everything in the room was draped in something, and I was out of anything more to spread. Added to all this, I could count on finding Cadet at least once a day stretched out for a snooze in the middle of my bed. I worried if I did not arise before dawn, I would wake to find I was sleeping with a goshawk. After five days of this, I was mightily sick of sharing quarters with a free-flying goshawk.

When Jim came back from his trip, I greeted him with the news. “Your bird can fly. He has been flying all around the bedroom all week. It is really messy and needs to be cleaned up. Time to move him outside to a mew!”

“Tomorrow I will put on his anklets and jesses. Then I will put him in the mew” was Jim’s response.

“If that goshawk sleeps in the bedroom tonight,” I said, my voice level, “you will find yourself sleeping alone with him.” That very night Cadet got his anklets and his trip to his new quarters, and the bedroom was thoroughly cleaned of hawk droppings. It was wonderful to once again sleep in a goshawk-free bedroom.