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Starting a Journey in Falconry: Starting the Training Process.
Some Key Terms You Will Find Helpful
Anklet: The leather strap which goes around the bird's leg. The jesses are attached to this. Sometimes also called a bracelet.
Bind: To grab and hold; a bird can bind to quarry, a lure, or the falconer's hand.
Bob: Up-and-down head movement showing interest; thought to be for judging distance to an object.
Creance: A long line or cord attached to the bird while training. Ten yards is going to work for most situations, but for free flights to verify that your bird is ready to be taken from the creance, many recommend 50 yards in length.
Jess: raditionally, these are leather strips which go through the anklets so the falconer can hold the bird and attach the leash. Modern jesses are of many types of material including parachute cord and various braids.
Leash: Traditionally leather, this is what attaches the bird to the perch or falconer's glove. Modern leashes have taken many forms and many materials are used.
Lure: A fake quarry used to train a bird. For training birds to feathered quarry, a feathered lure which looks like a bird is used, sometimes even mimicking the wing beats. For training to rabbits, birds such as Red-Tails are not terribly picky and will respond to almost anything they are trained to.
Quarry: The game that you are hunting such as rabbit, pheasant, crow, or quail.
Starting the Training.
So you have your bird manned, he's eating from the glove and hopping to the glove. It's time to move on to the training so you can get out there hunting with your new hunting partner. Your sponsor will probably have you start with short flights from the perch to glove while on the creance, just a couple of feet away and moving a little further away each time.
Your bird may look at you like your stupid, I know ours did. We got this look of you have been feeding me without me having to go far and now you want me to do what? That's right, your bird is bobbing his head and looking at you like he wants the food but he's not moving. Don't worry this is new to him, and he will get it.
This why hopping to the glove for food is important during the manning process, so he knows what you want. He knows that he his food is there and to get it he must come to it. Essentially you are teaching your bird to come to you at distances here. So that when you are free flying and hunting you can call him back to you, back to the glove. He has to build a trust in you that you will produce food, this means he will eventually rely on you to flush quarry.
So you have him flying to you 5 ft away, that's great.. Now that he is doing this you need to look at his response's could they be better, is slow to respond? If this is the case he could be overweight, not hungry or still just trying to figure it out.
While on the creance you will also introduce your bird to the lure. The lure is a tool used to simulate quarry that you will throw out on the ground and wiggle around. It may take your bird a few times to realize that he needs to come to the lure (you should have tied some type of food to the lure) that there is food there. This will essentially simulate him making a kill during hunting. The lure will become an insurance policy that your bird will come back to you if he's in a tree and doesn't want to come down to the glove. You will always have a lure with food on it when out hunting so that you can make sure to be able to call your bird back. You will want to associate a sound with the lure for attention this will come in handy when you flush game in the woods.
Every bird differs, some are on the creance for a couple of weeks, some only a week and others only a few days. So now you have your bird flying up to 50 yards to you for food, he's also coming to the lure like a pro and you think your ready to move to free flying and hunting but he's panting after one or two flights... Your bird needs to be conditioned, he needs to build muscle and stamina just like you or I do in order to climb that mountain side. That is what the training is all about it.
Every bird needs to be conditioned. The amount of muscle mass they have will help determine how well they fly, how long they can hunt, their weight and the amount of food they need to get them through 24 hours. Conditioning his important to the health of the bird and the ease of training and hunting.
As we recently found out our bird was great at hunting and flying and following us through the woods waiting for us to flush quarry, but he wasn't well conditioned. When I say he wasn't well conditioned, I mean we didn't know that he was tiring out quickly and didn't have the stamina to get up high in the trees to be totally effective in his hunting. Our bird would tire easily and because we are learning as much as any apprentice is we didn't understand why this was happening until another apprentice pointed it out and helped us understand what was going on. I am sure you are asking why our sponsor didn't notice this and that's because he was not present at this hunt.
So we have had to take a few steps back and condition our bird. Even though he is beyond the creance we have to go back to that and start building up his muscle and stamina. He will have to what is called jump ups and we have to get him back in the woods to start working on what they call laddering up to help improve his condition.
So let me tell you about jump ups. Jump ups are important and should be done during the early training process. Jump ups are were you stand above the bird and call him to the glove from the ground, where he has to fly up to the glove not across to the glove. This helps him to build his muscle and stamina, once this conditioning starts to have an effect you will notice that he won't be panting and exhausted as quickly.
Laddering up the trees is where the bird works it's way up higher and higher in the tree. They have to be taught this because is will ensure a more successful hunt in the event they miss the squirrel they are hunting when it runs up a tree. It will also help build the stamina and condition of the bird. There are many methods to do this with, but one effective one is to put the bird up in the tree, and then use small stones or marbles to make a motion and noise in the tree above the bird so he goes up to see what it is (I advise this being done with extreme caution so the bird is not hit). As you make the noise and motion to get the birds attention up the tree tell the bird up so that in time he will associate the word or sound of up to going up higher in the tree.
Following is where your bird follows you through the woods relying on you to flush up quarry. They do this by short flights from tree to tree following behind you as you walk through the woods. During the lure training process you should have associate a sound like ho - ho - ho with the lure. Associating this sounds gets the birds attention and is helpful when you flush quarry up.
So our bird follows well through the woods, he responds great to the lure. We are working on conditioning him which will also improve his following. Now you have met up with 4 or 5 other falconers to spend the morning hunting your birds and you put your bird up and start to walk and hunt but he doesn't follow well.
What do you mean your bird isn't following well, you don't understand what is going on because he does so well when it's you and him. You feel let down, embarrassed and are wondering what you did wrong. Let my just tell you that you didn't exactly do anything wrong. As we found out recently with our bird, who pulled this stunt. Your bird isn't used to a group of people and the commotion caused by them trying to flush up quarry. He's nervous and not sure who to follow.
We have had to go back a few steps to the manning process to fix this. Now this may not work for everyone but this is what we have done and it's helping. we have taken him to the park, to nature walks where there are people. Those people will see your bird on your fist and naturally be curious and want to ask questions. That means they are walking up to you and around you when your bird is on the fist, when he's training or evening just hopping through the trees to get some exercise. This exposure will help your bird be more comfortable and use to groups of people.
Some falconers have groups of people that they work with, hunt with and even train with so their birds aren't bothered by people around and the noise and commotion around them. However a lot of falconers don't have that and it's usually their bird and them. So go places where the people will find you and ask questions and want to watch. It's encouraged greatly for you and the bird.