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Lancashire Falconry

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My Harris Hawk Training Routine

Before you get your bird it is a good idea to prepare a training routine. Thereís more than one Ďrightí way to train a bird, you need to pick which way suits you the best and stick to it. Also keep a diary of her weight, behaviour and what she has achieved. Repetition is the key!

Because Iím training a Harris Hawk I need to avoid the bird seeing me as a food source to prevent imprinting and screaming. The hawk should see me as a source of opportunities to hunt for its own food. To do this I need to get her hunting as soon as possible and after the initial training avoid feeding her myself. The bird will get most of its tidbits by moving away from me.  

Hereís my training routine

Day one

Pick up the bird at teatime. Put on the anklets, leg bell and jessie's at the breeders after giving the bird a thorough examination. Check her eyes, mouth, beak, legs, feet, talons, wings, tail, feathers and vent.

When home get her out in a secure dim lit room. Weigh her and note it, spray her with anti mite then put her on the bow perch on the lawn and leave her to get used to her new equipment, being tethered and her new surroundings. Before dark put her in the aviary on the bow perch, place carpet under it to protect her feathers when she bates. If itís sunny put her straight in the aviary instead of the lawn so she doesnít get too hot. Donít offer her any food at this point. She might not sit on the perch, sheís never seen one before.

First week

She will stay tethered to the bow perch in a open front aviary for the next 10 days so when I start to train her she will be used to her equipment, being tethered / restricted, and familiar with her new surroundings and me.

When she was in the aviary with her parents she had access to food whenever she wanted it that ends now. When I start to train her she will only be fed once a day during a half hour flying session. To get her used to feeding for a 30-minute period, each morning she will be offered as much food as she wants on a feeding draw, but the food will be tied onto the draw and removed after 30 minutes. Before the draw is inserted the whistle is blown so she starts to associates the whistle with food. The food is removed after 30 minutes to condition her appetite. She will learn that food is only available for a short period each day and what she eats has to last her the rest of the day. She will also learn that food follows the whistle. She will be offered food twice a day until she realises whatís happening and feeds, after that once a day. Avoid getting into a routine where you open the shed door get the food put it in the aviary. This may cause her to think the door has opened food is coming, you want her to associate the whistle with food not any other noises so vary the timings. At no point should she see you with any food or at feeding time. If she takes a few days before she feeds donít worry it will knock a bit of weight off her and she will start to learn what hunger is.

 

Second week

By now you should know roughly how much food she is eating each day. Donít feed her on day 10 morning. She gets no more food now until she feeds off the glove. She will only be fed chicks and rabbit with vitamins during the training so it will be easier to control her weight

 

Day 10 / Start of training

Day 10 evening pick up the hawk and hood her in the aviary. Weigh her and record it (- the hood) in your diary. Go to a quiet part of the garden slacken the hoods braces wait for 10-20 second then remove the hood, by delaying the removal of the hood it will prevent the bird in the future pulling her head back as you loosen the braces, this must be done each time.  When she bates help her back onto the fist, do this until she is stood settled on the glove no matter how long it takes, whistle and offer her a large slashed piece of rabbit and see if she will eat. If she bates lift her back up. Its better to do it outside thereís more going on so itís a bigger achievements. Always weigh the food so you know how much sheís had and how it affects her weight.

Donít look at her at all, look past her, stay relaxed and move slowly. When sheís looking around twitch the meat so she looks at it. Give her 30 minutes to eat  then put her back in the aviary or on the lawn.  If she doesnít feed try the next morning and then the evening until she does, hooding and noting her weight each time. When she eventually takes a bite let her have a good feed then man her for as long as you can. She gets no food until she eats on the fist.

 

Manning / Hood training

Once she feeds off the fist manning should properly start. To begin with sit quietly with the bird on the fist when she has settled and stopped bateing stroke her chest with the hood. Then put it on. Leave it for a few seconds then take it off. Put it on again, occasionally do up the braces then undo them and wait awhile before removing the hood. Increase the length of time the hood stays on for over the next few days. While the hood is off introduce her to something new slowly walk around with her, show her the ferrets, dogs etc take her inside then take her onto the street. Only progress when your bird has shown she can cope with what sheís being exposed to. If she starts getting very unsettled hood her, let her settle then take off the hood again. Spend a while with her on the fist just watching TV or reading so she gets used to being with you. Stroke her all over with a feather to get her used to being touched. Always show your bird there's nothing in your hand before putting it up to her feet so she wont be tempted to grab you thinking you have food. In manning session away from home introduce her to thing you will come across out hunting like farm animals, vehicles, tractors, rivers, woods etc.

 

The day after she feeds on the fist

To avoid screaming never get your bird onto the fist in the aviary with food. Go in slowly and low and pick her up, she will eventually stop bating. Hood her and weigh her. Put a piece of meat on the glove, whistle, remove the hood and let her feed. She may think that she can't get anywhere from the bow perch through bating, It could put her off coming to you so use a low T perch in the training from now on.  With the end of the leash tied to the glove place a piece of meat on the glove just out of the birds reach, whistle and tap on the glove, this signal must be given each time you call her from now on. This is a big step for her so give her a while. She will lean forward trying to reach it, she must not be aloud the food unless she jumps. When she jumps, as she eats the meat on the glove toss a tidbit to the ground. The hawk should jumps down to it and learn that the glove is a good place to find food from. Repeat the exercise but increase the distance slightly. Hide the food in the glove and then call her, if she wont jump tilt your hand for a moment to show her the food is there, as she lands on the glove toss a tidbit on the floor. I am trying to get her to jump to the bare glove and then fly away from me for the reward to avoid the bird seeing me as a food source and prevent imprinting and screaming.  Do this until she comes the length of the leash. After the initial jump and when she starts to get the idea, If she doesnít come within a minute or so finish on the last thing she did and then man her. Extra manning should be done with the bird at this point. In the evening put her into the travel box to spend the night.  The next morning put her back on the bow perch. Do this each night to get her used to the box and being picked up. 

A few Harris hawks bate from their owners because they learn they only get a rewards when they are called back to the fist. The above way, the bird gets a reward from being on the fist. 

 

After sheís Jumped to you

Always start with the last thing she did the previous day. Once a routine is established, all thatís needed is to increase the distance of the flights using the creance and increased the length of time the bird sits on the fist before the tidbit is served. Occasional tidbit can be offered on the glove. Only call her 6-8 times during these training session. Remember it is better that she comes a short distance quick than a long distance in her own time. Wait 30 seconds for her to come, if she doesnít come reduce the distance and cut her food for the day. When she lands on the fist she can be walked about so she can find her own food, which you can hide behind bushes logs travelling box etc. Always fly her into the wind and have a foot on the creance line for safety. When she is coming a distance over 25-30 feet training should be done away from home. If the hawk is coming before you call her itís could be a sign her weight is too low? The plectrum with bell and telemetry mount can be fitted at this point ready for when you fly her free, If it was fitted with the rest of the equipment she might have pulled at it and pulled out her deck feathers. She should be a lot steadier now. Fit the telemetry when flying on the creance so the bird gets used to it and if the worst thing happens your covered.

 

The rabbit lure

If your bird grabs hold of a live rabbit on its back she will get dragged about until she get hold of the rabbitís head. During dummy bunny training to help your bird learn this before it actually takes on a fit healthy rabbit, when your bird catches the dummy bunny, keep shaking it until the bird grabs hold of its head then stop and let her have the reward which should also be placed on the bunnyís head. 

When the hawk will come 50 feet instantly on the creance, the next step is to shown her the dummy bunny. When you drag the bunny shout ďHoĒ she should go for it, shake it gently until she grabs the head then stop. Move in slowly and low with a tidbit on your glove, once she's had the tidbit and reward from the bunny throw a tidbit to the side just out of her reach and keep hold of the bunny. When she lets go of the bunny to get the tidbit put the bunny in your bag without her seeing it as she eats. When she gets used to chasing, you joining her on the catch and the trade off you can start using a real dead rabbit. Have ready a lot of rabbit tidbits in your bag. When she catches the real dead rabbit give her a moment to pull at it then move in slowly and low with a tidbit on your glove. Help her to get food from the carcass and also use the bits from your bag, donít let her see you getting the bits from your bag make out they are coming from the rabbit. When sheís almost had her rations and she starts to release her grip cover the rabbit with your bag and throw a tidbit to the side and do the trade off. Your bird should look forward to you joining her on a kill as she thinks you will help her get the food quicker.

 

Flying free / Hunting

There is no need to do any more training after the bird has been introduce to the bunny, or fly the hawk free before hunting.  Go to a place which holds plenty of game. Test her response on the creance from a high perch, if her response is good. Take the creance off, put on the flying Jessies and try and find her something to chase. The rest of the training can be done during hunting. If she doesnít catch anything finish on the dummy bunny which can be set up in bushes and pulled as you beat the bush so the bird starts to learn to expect quarry to be flushed by you. So far she has only flown 50-100 foot in a straight line, she will need to learn flying skills now, turns, flying in wind, landing in trees etc, which she will do by herself. If she is out of position for a flush, she will soon learn the error of her ways.  Her fitness level must also be worked on. On days where itís not possible to fly, jump ups must be done to build up the hawkís fitness levels. See Jump ups below.

This is were the hunting weight of the bird has to be assessed, a Harris hawk will chase a rabbit and at the last second throw up in the air or if they miss, sit and watch the rabbit run away. These symptoms are an indication that the hawk is over their true hunting weight.  To catch rabbits consistently a Harrisís hawk must fly hard, crash into bushes, and rebound in pursuit after a miss.  If it doesnít do these things itís too heavy, its weight must be dropped. If she does try at first but after a few flights doesn't look like she is trying that hard it is more likely to be down to fitness not her weight.

When your bird makes her first kill dispatch it then take your time help her feed from it and give her a good crop. After the first kill, try very hard for an unbroken string of kills on successive days. After she had 10 kills she can start making multiple kills and be introduced to other hawks. Tidbits at this point should be a lot smaller then the initial training period tidbits.

 

Following on

Always walk into the wind and ensure there is a suitable landing place in front of you. Cast the hawk into a tree or on a post and head towards the next landing place. As you hear the bird flying towards you from behind whistle and offer her your glove, when she lands give her a tidbit. Put her back in a tree and do it again. Put her back in a tree but don't offer her the glove when she come and only whistle when she lands in front of you then offer the glove and give her a tidbit. Carry on like this but slowly increase the amount of times she flies in front of you before whistling and rewarding her. Occasionally get her to turn mid flight before she lands and give her a reward, this will help when you need to turn her in instances when she is heading towards busy roads etc

  

The swinging lure

The swinging lure is useful for recalling a hawk which is a long way away or one which is lost. It should be introduced after she is flying loose and after she is chasing the dummy bunny well. Begin the same way as with the dummy bunny but give a constant whistle signal and put a large amount of food on it. If you do need to use it the bird will defiantly come expecting a big easy meal when it hears a constant whistle. Donít over use the swinging lure it is for emergencies

 

Self-hunting

If you haven't got a dog, to prevent your bird self-hunting she must think that you produce all the quarry so you need to work hard every clump of grass, bush, log pile etc must be bashed. Letting your bird look for food herself is teaching her to self-hunt.

 

Ferreting

Itís a good idea to position the ferret hutch so the hawk can see them during the day and get used to how they look and move etc. When you first go ferreting the bird must be held on the glove. The ferret should be put down the hole in front of the bird so the hawk can watch whatís going on. When a rabbit bolts the bird should be held until the rabbit is heading away from the warren other wise disaster can strike, the rabbit may go into another hole, the hawk will land on top of the warren and the ferret will come out looking for the rabbit and walk straight into the hawk. After a while and a few bolted and caught rabbits the hawk will realise the ferret is producing the rabbits and will start to ignore it. Once the hawk has accepted the ferret as part of the hunting team it can be put up a tree to get an advantage but care should still be taken, the rabbit might stop at the entrance of the hole and the ferret grabs hold of it just as the hawk does.

 

Lamping

The best time to start lamp training is when it starts to get darker earlier. By now the bird should have caught a few rabbits and learnt to get hold of their heads. If lamping were done before this point the hawk would get dragged about and kicked a lot and not being able to see whatís going on properly could put her off hunting at night. Training starts exactly the same as training in the day. Get her to feed on the fist with the lamp, then jump to the fist  then fly to the fist increasing the distance she flies each time. Once her response is good and sheís built up her confidence flying at night she can be taken lamping to a place that holds plenty of rabbits. A good night must be picked with a slight wind to cover your noise. Always walk into the wind to avoid the rabbits picking up your scent. The dummy bunny can be used at the end of the night if youíve been unsuccessful. Her weight may have to be reduced slightly at first, her response should be the same as when sheís hunting in the day, flying hard, crashing into brushes, and carry on chasing after a miss. Farms with sheep wire fences should be avoided when lamping.

 

Jump ups

Have lots of tiny tidbits in your bag. Place the bird on the lawn, with the creance on if she is not fully trained. Hold your fist almost directly above her so she will have to fly vertically to get to it. Call her to the fist with a tap on the glove and a whistle. When she lands on the glove toss a tidbit to her starting position on the floor. She will fly back down. Repeat this but donít always give her food, lower your arm down to the floor when she doesnít get a tidbit. When her beak opens she is getting tired give her a few more jumps then give her a rest before carrying on, If she starts to gape again straight after a rest she is really tired. The fitter she becomes the more she will be able to do. A fit strong bird can easily do 200+ jumps in one quick session.

 

 

Weight control and taking your birds weight too low This is especially important for the beginnerís

You need to be able to recognise if your birdís weight is too high and also too low. If your bird wonít do something it doesnít necessarily mean their weight is too high. A bird that is too low will behave the same way to one that is too high. Because of the lack of energy they will be unresponsive when called, ignore game or chase quarry then after a short distance land while the quarry is still visible. The key to weight management is to keep a diary of your birdís weight and observe their behaviour from the start of their training. Other factors like fitness levels, injuries, quality of food, outside temperatures and weather also affect your birds behaviour and performance and all need to be taken into account along with weight.

 

Diary Example for a  FHH

Mon 23           2lb 4 1/2oz    Took a long time to come to me, fed 1/2 a chick  (too high drop weight)

Tue 24            2lb 3oz         Came instantly, followed on well, chased a rabbit but threw up in the air as the rabbit got to cover, fed 2 chicks (flying weight)

Wed 25           2lb 2 1/2oz   Came instantly, followed on well, caught a rabbit after crashing into nettles after it, fed her a full crop of rabbit (hunting weight)  

Thu 26            2lb 5oz         Manned at home, no food (too high drop weight)  

Fri 27             2lb 3 1/4oz    Came instantly, followed on well, didn't see any game so finished on the dummy bunny  fed 2 chicks (flying weight)

Sat 28           2lb 2 oz         Came instantly, followed on well, almost caught a rabbit but it got to its warren, fed 1 chick (hunting weight)

Sun 29           2lb 0 1/2oz    Terrible response, wouldn't follow on, fed 5 chicks (too low increase weight)      

 

Symptoms of being too low include, weight loss despite eating their usual or a higher portion of food, eyes not fully opened, lack of energy, hanging upside down in trees and begging behaviour. These are also indications of  illnessís so if you see any of these signs you must act immediately and get advice from a vet.