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

Part I. OWNED BY A HAWK

Chapter 7. Injun on “Suffering Fools”

To use an old expression, Injun did not “suffer fools gladly.” He could be the perfect gentleman when a small child came up to us, but sometimes when we were volunteering at crowded events, his gentlemanly behavior would be less predictable.

Injun was my assistant when I lectured on land stewardship and wildlife management in my volunteer assignments with the UNH Extension Service. Usually this meant meeting crowds face-to-face without being in a protected, roped-off area. I always tried to get a wall or a large display board at my back, but sometimes this was hard to do. Injun would be just fine until an adult with more curiosity than tact would step in behind us to reach out to stroke his back. A stranger touching Injun’s back was tantamount in his mind to an attack. I was constantly on the lookout to prevent this from happening, but sometimes, despite my best efforts, the person would persist in reaching for my bird. If I did not get the opportunity to warn them off, Injun would do it for me. He would glare, crouch as though he were about to leap in an attack, and give his inimitable scream, getting the miscreant’s attention very quickly.

Because he and I had visited so many schools, Injun had become quite used to children, enabling me to step into large groups of kids without his ever becoming upset. Children were instinctively much more considerate of Injun’s “space” and this helped, too. But let Injun meet up with an adult he considered invasive or impolite, and he was not tolerant at all. Even worse, let an adult react with any derision, and an equal reaction was forthcoming from my bird. I have never been sure how he sensed this, but I saw the resulting actions on his part time and time again.

Injun’s feelings on this subject were demonstrated clearly the day a photographer came to take pictures of our birds. The man had been out driving one day when Jim and I were walking, each with a raptor on our gloves. He was a news photographer for a paper in a neighboring city and asked to come take photos. We agreed and, on the appointed day, he took some lovely shots of the birds as we held them. Then he wanted action photos. I got Injun ready to fly in our backyard and tried to explain to the man how he could obtain the photos he wanted. He did not pay much attention to me. He had his own plans.

First, I lure-flew Injun, but the man kept stepping into the line of flight, so Injun had to keep replanning his flight trajectory. I could see my bird getting annoyed. From his perch in the tree, Injun would turn towards the photographer and flash in and out of being sharp set. It was a warning. The photographer was totally oblivious. Injun hesitated on the lure several times, and I knew it was because the photographer had moved again into the line of flight. I tried to explain, but was met with the challenge, “Well, is your bird going to fly or not?!” Finally I stepped under the tree in which Injun was sitting, and he dropped immediately to the lure now that the stranger was out of the way. The photographer got a superlative shot of Injun flying to the lure barely two feet off the ground. But, still, this man was not happy. The fellow was a very talented photographer, but he was unsatisfied and remained adamant that he had to get that one-in-a-million, flight-in-action shot.

He asked me to set it up so that Injun would fly across our backyard from a perch in a tree and to my gloved hand. So I cast Injun off my glove to the tree and walked to the desired location. The photographer moved in directly between us, his camera at the ready. I started to explain that Injun would drop from his perch to come gliding across the yard to me, but the photographer wouldn’t listen. “Well, you know, if you will lie down on the ground under his flight path, you should be able to catch him in action as he passes you,” I told him.

“No, I want the bird coming right at me,” he responded, remaining upright in the middle of the flight path. I shook my head, returned to my station, raised my glove, and blew the whistle. Ask and ye shall receive.

“Jesus Christ!!!” the photographer shouted, now lying on his belly and as shaking and white as if he had seen a ghost. He had almost jettisoned his camera when he flung himself to the ground. Injun had dropped from the tree and started directly for me. With this fellow in his way, Injun had kept himself higher above ground than he normally flew when in a glide, at about five and a half feet. The photographer was probably five feet, ten inches tall. Instead of avoiding the photographer, as he easily could have done, Injun went directly for the camera. At the last second he bobbed up and over to clear the man’s head before swooping to land on my hand. What this guy had seen in his viewfinder had taken the starch right out of his shorts. I knew that was exactly what Injun had intended to have happen!

“Uh, did you get the picture?” I inquired innocently.

“No!” came his short reply. The fellow hurriedly picked himself up and packed his gear. Clearly, photo ops had ended for the day.