Lopezians come face to face with raptors

  • Sat Jan 1st, 2011 5:50am
  • Life
Falconers show a Cooper’s Hawk (right) and an American Kestrel (left).

Falconers show a Cooper’s Hawk (right) and an American Kestrel (left).

Lopez Island Conservation Corps recently sponsored a visit from a group of young falconers.

They came to share their birds with the community and to chase down the introduced European hare and starlings. The afternoon was set aside to give Lopezians an opportunity to meet and learn about the birds and their people.

Among them were three Red-tail hawks, a Cooper’s Hawk, and an American Kestrel. Young and old seemed delighted to come face to face with these bold creatures.

While the kestrel performed aerial stunts around the group, the falconers spoke of their passion and aswered questions. They explained that falconry is more about raptor conservation than pet birds. The reasoning is that the mortality rate of wild raptors in their first winter is extremely high, estimates range from 70-90 percent. Therefore a common practice among falconers is to catch juvenile raptors in the late summer or fall, assist and hunt with them through the winter, then release them the following spring or summer. Thus the birds are able to rejoin the wild population as mating adults. Not only are they healthy and strong when released, but they often have been trained to hunt larger and more diverse prey, opening up new food sources like rabbits.

The falconers and LICC’s Amanda Wedow, Charlie Behnke and volunteers spent the rest of their weekend tramping through soggy rose thickets and fence lines in hopes of flushing a hare into the path of their feathered friends.

Rabbits are common, but they are fast and quickly seek safety underground. Though there were many flights and close calls, the birds left Lopez empty taloned this time.

The LICC hosts monthly events open to the public in the fall, winter and spring, and will resume its youth program in the summer of 2011. For more information contact l.i.c.c.team@gmail.com