Your First Bird of Prey – Harris Hawk or Red Tail?

Today new falconers have a huge variety of species to choose from. But selecting your first bird of prey is not as simple as deciding which dog or cat you’d like to own. As with most purchases of an exotic species there is a lot to consider and you can make your life and, most importantly, the birds life a lot easier by starting off on the right foot.

Choose a bird for beginners and steer clear of those birds which are generally smaller in stature. The smaller the bird the greater difficulty the new falconer will have when trying to attain an adequate flying weight for the bird. A birds metabolism is also something to consider as some species can be very difficult for the inexperienced falconer to handle. Noticing if a bird is not developing correctly or is starting to fall ill is something that a highly experienced falconer should naturally detect. In smaller birds a slight variation in weight can be a warning signal which a new falconer may not notice or may not fully appreciate the likely consequences.

So which birds should you target as your first? Well, here’s the modern falconers favourite;

The Harris Hawk (Parabuteo Unicinctus)

Definitely one of the most common birds to be used in falconry today, this beautifully colored hawk is extremely social, comes to the glove easily, has a very good temperament and is quite easy to train. Harris Hawks exhibit sexual dimorphism where the male is approximately 40% smaller than the female. Due consideration therefore has to be given when selecting equipment as the sizes of anklets, hoods, swivels and other items will vary depending on the sex of the bird chosen.

Harris Hawks are great hunters of smaller prey such as birds, lizards, small mammals and large insects. They originate from Chile, Argentina & the South Western regions of the USA. Living in a mainly semi-desert climate, Harris Hawks are also seen hunting in groups of 5 or 6 birds at a time (and sometimes up to 14 allowing them to take on much larger prey. So owning both a male and female can be very exciting when hunting as the falconer can experience the birds working together against their chosen quarry.

It really is a perfect all-rounder and a great bird to start with. Expect to pay anything up to £500 for a bird – their popularity has not gone unnoticed with breeders!

Also known as the Bay Winged Hawk it has a few predators of its own – namely the Coyote and the Great Horned Owl. The threat of the Coyote means that this bird doesn’t tend to work well with dogs. Also, if your Harris spots a Great Horned Owl watch out because all hell could break loose! These owls hunt the hawks at night whilst the Harris tends to have the advantage in daylight when the “wolves of the sky” (as they are sometimes referred to) will attack the Great Horned Owl together as a pack.

The Red Tailed Buzzard (Buteo Jamaicans)

The name of this bird has probably thrown a few people to start with. Well known throughout the falconry world as a Red-tail Hawk, it is in fact a Buzzard. Here are the basic facts;

Length 43-65cm

Wingspan 120-150cm

Weight 1-2kg

Native to Central USA and the Northern States it is also found as far South as the West Indies which is where it’s name Buteo Jamaicenis derives from. Feeding off small mammals, birds & reptiles, Red Tails in the most northerly states will tend to fly south in the winter.

The Red-Tailed Hawk is a popular choice for falconers. At 65cm the bird is a decent size and a well trained bird displays great bravery and enthusiasm when hunting prey. As with most birds of prey, Red-tails need to be flown regularly to build and maintain high levels of fitness required for effective hunting. These “hawks” tend to live for about 6-8 years in captivity and can be aggressive, especially those that have been highly trained. Nevertheless, a great first bird especially for those falconers keen to hunt regularly with their bird.

You’ll pay up to £450 for a female, less for a male. However, this is money very well spent!

Whichever bird you decide to start with please do not underestimate the amount of time, care and application required by the new falconer to this sport. If you cannot dedicate sufficient time or resources to owning a bird of prey then please do not be tempted. Too many of these beautiful animals are lost or released to the wild, left to fend for themselves or mistreated. Please understand the level of commitment required before you start and make your decisions wisely. If you’ve never flown a bird before then I strongly recommend you invest in a beginners course. You’ll certainly know at the end of the course if the sport is for you – and you’ll have learned a great deal at first hand from an experienced falconer.

Happy hunting.

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