Monday, September 22, 2008

Hawks, Owls, Parrots, Chickens, Turkeys, and Humans

An Eagle Owl at Queen's Farm hisses at a passer-by.
I admit it, the Eagle Owl doesn't show up until later, but I liked the picture and I wouldn't want you to think there were no raptors involved in all this. In fact there are lots of raptors but they don't show up until later so you'll just have to try and be patient during the set-up.

Saturday and Sunday, my daughter Sam, Quicksilver our parrot, and I, along with many other members of the society went to the Queen's Farm County Fair to do a demonstration for the Society of Creative Anachronisms. We go and demonstrate all sorts of things medieval for the folks that come to the fair. The table on the far left is where Silver and I are supposed to be , but we're taking the photograph. The next table is a demo of the lucette. A wooden U shaped item on which cord of all sizes can be made. The next table is food of the time, and then all sorts of wonderful embroidery, and the list goes on. There are demos of long bow shooting, cross bows, heavy weapons fighting, rapier, dancing, singing...

But to tell the truth, I have a hard time staying put between when I shoot the long bow and when I talk about the keeping of parrots medievally. I keep wanting to go look at what all the animals are up to.
For instance, above is a big black rooster with a personality problem. He's picking on the turkey, in fact he picks on everyone and thinks he's invincible.
Remember Black Turkey, he figures into the story later.

In the meantime, a heavy weapons demonstration has just finished and it's time for the Q and A with the crowd.

But look who's followed me home and is hanging out under our tent. Discussion ensues between two people as to whether these are all grown chickens. As in three little chickens and one big one of different varieties. No question it's a mom and three half grown chicks but the people discussing them haven't truly looked at them. They haven't watched their behavior. They've only paid attention to their physical looks which doesn't necessarily answer the question. The answer lies in what they do.

They are sticking to mom like glue and when she scratches the ground for insects they all scurry over to share in the bounty. If they were grown chickens they'd do their own scratching because the "big chicken" wouldn't put up with that kind of theft of effort.

We've got 30 minutes before the Pig Races are over and our next group of demos start so it's decided that some rides are in order. And just like the hen and chicks on a mission, women and the older kids head for them. I'm staying on the ground to guard the hat pile and photograph them. Besides Silver is completely uninterested in riding anything that makes that kind of noise. Interesting to look at though, or so he pretends.

While I use the camera, he sits in a sapling and pretends to be watching. What he is actually doing is eating next Spring's buds off the branches. I suggest he not eat so many of them. He ignores me.

The what-ever-it-is starts up and the pirates scream from the top.

Then it 's back for medieval dances with the kids. Silver and I go back to our table to talk to the visitors and who should show up?

I look up and there are Anna and Jeff Kollbrunner, They are the chief watchers of the Red-tailed Hawk pair, Mama and Papa. And they're here to watch the falconry demonstrations.

FALCONRY DEMOS! And they are just over the fence.

This falconer's birds are well trained.
And I know why the hawks and falcons wear hoods. It's to keep them from becoming overstimulated and uncomfortable. But I've read books about hunting birds who sit on a perch and look around while driving in a car, or are happy sitting in a carrier on the rack above the seats on a train and being perfectly fine. That's years ago in Britain, of course. Somehow I don't think they'd let you bring a hawk on a train here. Rather boring of them actually.
For whatever reason a hood always makes me feel a little sad. Perhaps it is because the human and the bird are supposed to be hunting partners and somehow putting a hood on one partner makes me think they aren't equal partners and one of them may not be enjoying his life as much as the other one is.
Particularly as the bird he is currently holding is a Harris Hawk, a very social hawk, who hunts in family groups.

Off comes the hood and the Harris flies to the peak of the barn. The human begins to swing the lure. The hawk isn't allowed to catch the lure the first few pass through but eventually he gets to nab it. Just like in a real hunt, one isn't always successful.

The "family" that this Harris hunts with are the human and two dogs. Having caught the "prey" the hawk eats the tidbits on the lure. It really isn't a side of beef.

A employee's cart goes by and the already mantling hawk gives him a pointed glare.

Then it's back to the human and back into the box.

Out comes, I think he said, an Arctic Falcon or perhaps it is a hybrid? At any rate, his name is Dynamite and without a doubt his energy and speed are explosive.

Off he goes to the roof of the barn, then looks left. I wonder if that pigeon knows how close to death he is? In fact earlier in the day there was an entire flock of pigeons sitting in the sun on the barn's roof. They aren't there now and evidently this pigeon didn't get the word about the temporary move.

The lure begins to whirl and Dynamite is off the roof and climbing steeply in preparation for one of those famous falcon dives. He too isn't allowed to get the lure first time through so the crowd primly seated in the bleachers gets to see a number of those 200MPH plus dives and they are spectacular.

Then Dynamite grabs the lure with a snap and has a snack.

Back to the human for more and that ends the demonstration. And there is no doubt in my mind that many of the people watching the falconry learned a good deal about raptors they didn't know and will appreciate their prowess in the future. But will they remember that not all raptors are in human care and the wild ones need places saved to live and breed? I don't know.
Then it's time for me to shoot more arrows into targets, talk about how only the very wealthy could keep parrots in the medieval era, have Silver count if he's willing, and talk about the intelligence of African Greys. Then it's time to pack up the portables. Some members will be camping the night onsite, while others, like Samantha and I will be staying with friends who live closer to the demo as we'll need to be back bright and early in the morning.

And that is where we met Oliver. He's a brand new addition to the family we're spending the night with. The pet store who had him had kept him in a back room for nearly a year. Which is quite awful for an animal of intelligence. And besides who will buy him if they don't even know he's there?
That's Bug, his owner. She was one of the pirates earlier. Bug works at the less than empathetic pet store, no doubt for less wages than she should be getting, but nonetheless she saved up the hefty sum that a parrot costs and bought Oliver out of back room bondage.
For which Oliver seems eternally grateful. He loves Bug and has now joined a family of three humans, two guinea pigs, two mice, one fish, and Neesa the dog who is working very hard on remembering that we don't eat family members. Which isn't easy when you're part retriever and have wiring involved, but she's trying and so far so good.

Then everyone goes to bed, including Silver, who is one tired parrot. It's very wearing dodging strange hands all day. Why is it that some humans aren't polite? He's not sure but he knows you can't trust the uneducated ones. He knows when an educated one appears and he'll lower his head to be scratched on the neck. But if the others keep it up someone is going to get pinched--hard. Well some people don't listen and only learn the hard way.

Then it's back to Queen's Farm for another day educating the public.

There's that black rooster with the personality disorder again. This time he's picking on the hen and her chicks. She leads her young into the underbrush. Now we know where she may have lost all but the one tail feather she has left. Or was the perp a raccoon trying to get her eggs?
Life as a free range chicken can be grand but it can also be dangerous. Freedom isn't easy but it's worth it or she'd go live in the chicken house.

I've done my demos and am heading toward the field next door to check on what Mr. Nasty the rooster is up to in the treeline when...

Goodness, there is a woman falconer with a Red-phase Screech Owl on her glove and a row of raptor carriers, complete with a daughter, perhaps 12 or 13 who seems to be a junior falconer.

This is, if I remember correctly, Grumpy Face, who is wide awake, though it's daytime. In some ways she does remind me of Unmade Bed who lives in Central Park. Though U.B. is a Gray-phase Screech.

I'm completely stunned as almost immediately I'm asked if I'd like to hold her. "How did you know that a Red-phase Screech Owl is one of my favorites?", I asked. Lorrie Schumacher, Master Falconer replied, "Your hair of course." And evidentally Grumpy feels the same as she won't turn to the camera but stares fixedly at me.
Boy, that made my day. While I'm standing there, with Grumpy I see another owl poking a face out the window of a box. It's the Barred Owl. "Why isn't she asleep?", I ask. Talon, Lorrie's daughter replies, "Because she might miss something."
This is a very interesting group of raptors with very interesting falconers attached. The Pig Races are ending so I have to scamper back.
After many many folks have passed our way, Silver has decided that he, personally, is not counting for people anymore, nor dodging politely hands attempting to touch his tail, and forget being a living model for the species kept by Romans and later by Romano Celts, that was brought back to Rome by Scipio Africanus after his parrot snatching military forays into Africa.
To put it bluntly Silver had had enough and if he didn't get a break, someone was going to be sorry.

We left the crowds and went strolling towards the gate adjacent to the woods and...WOW!

Okay, I thought...WOW! I don't know what Quicksilver thought but he looked like a deer in headlights. There was a Harris Hawk sitting on the fence, six feet away, checking out the foliage. Thank goodness Silver didn't scream ARRG! and fling himself to the ground. A common parrot reaction to hawks.
The hawk was tethered to the fence in the shade, and no danger . Silver, was saying, "Wanna go on a trip!", which really meant, Wanna go anywhere but here, very agitatedly. What a surprise, poor guy, probably just scared ten years off his life.
A zoned out Silver sits in the Butterfly Garden and stares into space.

But before long he began watching the insects, eating buds off twigs, and eventually began counting to himself , up to six, over and over. (It must have used up all his counting quota because for the rest of the day he firmly refused to count again until he got home. He would only meow and once or twice, said, "Hairbrush".)

Eventually Silver said, "Tired, tired, wanna go sleep." So he went into his carrier for some peace and quiet. Well, peace and quiet punctuated now and again by a very human sounding sigh emanating from the box.
The next time I manage to get away to the gate, there is Lorrie. A young man is holding Mama, the Eagle Owl. Suddenly she bates and Lorrie says "Raise your arm, raise your arm." He does
and Mama is back on the glove as if she'd never left.
And guess who is there yet again? And I do hope he got the shot, but Jeff Kollbrunner and wife Anna.

Mama is hot so the young man runs and gets some water. Lorrie raises up the water bottle, Mama opens her beak, and some goes in. She stops panting. She's cooled off.
Wait a minute that owl just opened her beak so water could be poured into it, didn't she? Isn't that rather unusual? I'm thinking, oh yeah.

Now it's Anna's turn to hold Mama. My, this bird is very habituated to people. Lorrie talks about the fact that Mama who is three, used to splash around in the bathtub with her daughter Talon.

So that's it. Lorrie's raptors aren't imprinted on people. That can cause problems as they'll only imprint usually on one person, the mate substitute. Nor are they completely on the other end, wild and uncomfortable around people and people's things, so they must wear hoods, but rather they are habituated to people. This bird doesn't know me at all but she is allowing me to stroke her feathers. She doesn't enjoy it in particular but she is allowing it.
That's when I see the Black Rooster, and so does Mama, she begins to bate, and she's a big bird. Lorrie, says, "Put your arm up.", and it takes most of my strength but I get it up there, hair flying in all directions, I can't see a thing but Mama is back on the glove.

I get the hair out of my eyes. Well, that was--surprising and exciting. Look at Mama's "ears". Black Rooster came very close to never picking on anyone again.

My daughter Samantha, yes, she's a pirate, asked if she could pet Mama and was told it was fine to pet her feet. Sam who has had it drilled into her head forever that with a Red-tail Hawk you must watch out for the feet ever so much more than the beak, was a little worried about foot petting.

We are talking a serious pair of feet here. When Sam asked about it, Lorrie told her that currently Mama's feet were busy so she needn't worry.

I'd always wondered why a species of Owl would be named Eagle Owl. Finally the answer, it's because of the those big strong taloned feet reminiscent of those of Eagles.

Hooray, for Eagle Owls and their feet!

Then Sam's turn is over and Lorrie answers someone's question. I didn't realize it at the time but she's got her arm around Mama so she doesn't bate. See Mama's ears and facial expression, I now recognize what it means. It means--I want that black rooster dead. I want him DEAD.
Sam and I head back to the medieval world and Lorrie and Talon get ready for their second falconry show of the day.

I arrive back at the falconry field, see the medieval tent just through the gate, just as Mama finishes up. The young Harris comes out and Mama goes back to her carrier. No lag, good theatrical timing.
And guess what? Nobody is wearing a hood. And Lorrie has told all the people to get off those silly bleachers and come on down so they can see what is going on close up.
The spectators line up on both sides and the bird flies between them. They square up four men and the bird adjusts. People are thrilled and boggled. They're so close they can feel the wind from the wings.

I watch and I think.

Living with one's hawk family as well as living with humans, is similar to the circumstances that create urban hawks. Particularly those who come from nests perched on buildings and who fledge into well peopled areas. Mom and Dad don't mind people all that much so why should they?
And this is even more the case with Harris Hawks than with Red-tails conceivably as they hunt in family groups and supposedly have a more social system in the first place. The juveniles don't leave the family group until they are three years old and are ready to start a family unit of their own.
Though the Red-tail pairs in NYC tend to hang out with one another year round and young are seen well into the following year so they may be far more social than scientists have cracked them up to being.
Though Harris Hawks are the one's who use each other to get the best view of the terrain possible. Say, one hawk stands on top of a cactus, then the second stands on her, and the third on him, until they run out of family members. The top hawk scopes the area. One hawk may flush prey and the others double team the results.

Speaking of which, did you ever wonder how you recognize a raptor who hasn't been flying very long? He's the one who is, sideways in a tree holding on for dear life, or upside down, or spread winged without a perch swaying in the breeze.

This young Harris Hawk is newly hatched this season. His parents raised him, and he isn't falsely imprinted on humans. But his parents are habituated to humans and therefore so is he. They are all in the family group with seems to include the falconers. It's fascinating. They don't come across as partners of the falconers, they come across as family of the falconers. As do the owls. That is ever so much nicer for everyone, don't you think?

The puppet that fooled the Red-tail into making a grab for it. (Saturday Mailbag...September 21, 2008) Photo courtesy of Jeff Domke
And last but not least, even the simple act of watching the wildlife pass through your yard can be a behavioral bonanza. Here's an example--
From Lana W from East Peoria, Illinois.

My husband, who is disabled and is at home all the time, said we have a flock/herd/covey - I don't know what you call a bunch of turkeys, but they always seem to follow the same path early
every morning, right past our giant dog Bo's kennel, and off into the woods. Bo doesn't even bark at them.
My dad (in Macomb, Illinois) sees as many as 16 walking through his yard some days, one male and the rest are his "ladies". He also has a mama deer who brings her twins up into his yard every day, sometimes several times a day, to run and play. They probably can't do much running and playing in the woods.
Dad says they run and chase each other, jump straight up in the air, etc. He gets more enjoyment out of watching them. The other day one of the twins (they still have th spots, so must have been born late this season) went right up to a rabbit in the yard, and they touched noses and just stared at each other for a few seconds. Then the deer jumped straight up in the air and ran off lickety split. I look for them every time I'm there, but so far no luck. A few years ago there were triplets that did the same thing.

Lana how did you know I love the group words for birds and look for any excuse to point them out? In this case, a group of turkeys is called a rafter or a militia of turkeys...though flock is just fine too.
First question, why do you think that Bo doesn't bark at the turkeys? Being I don't know Bo, I don't know if he just isn't much of a barker. Or perhaps he used to bark but now he's so used to them he doesn't anymore. Or is their another possibility I haven't thought of?
Your Dad makes a good point, it probably isn't exactly easy to get your fawn running and jumping done in the woods with an understory and brush. And thanks for the detail about the spots. Yet another example of those late fawns we've been talking about.
And now we have the second example of the White-tailed Deer's fascination with different smells to the point it overcomes their natural wariness. The fawn just goes right up and snuffs the bunny. Come to think of it, isn't that how Bambi meets Thumper, by sniffing him? Or is that my imagination?
Donegal Browne


Sally said...

Great story Donna-and great pictures. :)

BTW, I think the scruffy cardinal boys are starting to fill out and look less unkempt this week.

Donegal Browne said...

Thanks Sally,

Excellent news on the scruffy boy Cardinals! Sounds like they are just having the unattractive transition molt. Karen Anne has some birds at her feeder that have gone from scruffy to looking downright mangey to use a mammal word. I sent her photos of them on to the Horvaths for some insight into the problem.

Sally said...

That's my cardinal all right, in Karen's photo, but he is looking a bit finer this week!

Yojimbot said...

Great post...your hair is the exact color of the red phase!

Donegal Browne said...


It really is hilarious isn't it?