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

Today, new falconers have a wide variety of species to choose from. But choosing your first bird of prey isn’t as simple as deciding which dog or cat to keep. As with most purchases of an exotic species, there is a lot to consider and you can make your life and especially your birds’ lives a lot easier by starting on the right foot.

Choose a bird for beginners and stay away from birds that are generally smaller in height. The smaller the bird, the more difficult the new falconer will have trying to get the bird to the right weight. The bird’s metabolism is also something to consider, as some species can be very challenging for the inexperienced falconer. Realizing if a bird is not developing properly or is starting to get sick is something that an experienced falconer should naturally perceive. A slight variation in weight in smaller birds can be a warning sign that a new falconer may not notice or may not fully appreciate the implications.

So which birds should you target as before? Well, here is a favorite of modern falconers;

Harris Hawk (Parabuteo Unicinctus)

Undoubtedly one of the most commonly used birds in falconry today, this beautifully colored falcon is very social, easy to reach for gloves, has a very good temperament and is relatively easy to train. Harris hawks exhibit sexual dimorphism, where the male is approximately 40% smaller than the female. Therefore, it must be taken into account when choosing equipment, as the sizes of the ankle, hood, swivel and other elements will vary according to the sex of the chosen bird.

Harris Falcons are great hunters of smaller prey such as birds, lizards, small mammals and large insects. They originate from Chile, Argentina and the southwestern regions of the United States. Inhabiting semi-desert climates, Harris’s Falcons are also regularly seen hunting in groups of 5 or 6 birds at a time (and sometimes up to 14), allowing them to take much larger prey. So owning a male and a female can be very exciting when it comes to hunting, as the falconer can experience birds working together against their chosen quarry.

Really nice and a great bird to start with. Expect to pay anything up to £500 for a bird – their popularity has not gone unnoticed by 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 does not tend to work well with dogs. Also, if your Harris sees a large Horned Owl, watch out because all hell can break loose! These owls hunt the hawks at night, and Harris has the advantage during the day, when the “sky wolves” (as they are sometimes referred to) attack the Great Horned Owl together.

Red Tailed Tail (Buteo jamaicenis)

The name of this bird has thrown a few people off to begin with. Known widely in the falconry world as the red-tailed hawk, it is actually a buzzard. Here are the basic facts;

Length 43-65cm

Wingspan 120-150 cm

Weight 1-2 kg

It is native to the Central and Northern States of the USA, as far south as the West Indies, hence the name Buteo Jamaicanis. Feeding on small mammals, birds, and reptiles, the red-tail from northern states will tend to fly south in the winter.

The red-tailed hawk is a popular choice for falconers. The 65 cm bird is a decent size and a well-trained bird shows great courage and enthusiasm when hunting its prey. As with most birds of prey, red-tails must be regularly flown to build and maintain the high level of skill necessary for effective hunting. These “hawks” usually live about 6-8 years in captivity and can be aggressive, especially those that have been highly trained. Still, a great first bird, especially for falconers who want to hunt regularly with their bird.

Females will pay up to £450, a male less. However, this is money very well spent!

Whichever bird you decide to start with, please don’t underestimate the time, care and application that a new falconer needs for this sport. If you cannot devote enough time or resources to owning a bird of prey, please do not be tempted. Too many of these beautiful animals are lost or released into the wild, fending for themselves or mistreated. Please understand the level of commitment required before starting and make your decisions wisely. If you’ve never flown a bird before, I recommend investing in a beginner’s course. At the end of the course you will know whether this sport is for you or not, and you will learn a lot firsthand from an experienced falconer.

happy hunting

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