Intobirds recently spent time flying with a beautiful male Red-tailed Hawk named Theron.
Theron is not just a wild bird of prey, he’s Christine Peyreigne’s falconry bird. And she hunts with this trained raptor in pursuit of wild game.
Christine is a licensed general class falconer and owns and operates Christine’s Critters Inc, a Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education non-profit in Weston, Connecticut whose mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and release as many injured birds of prey as they can each year.
Theron was trapped from the wild as a juvenile in December 2013, and he hunts with Christine for rabbits and squirrels on a daily basis throughout the hunting season.
Theron flies completely free when hunting and is trained to fly back to Christine.
He’s a releasable raptor legally held for falconry and doesn’t take part in many educational programs.
During a warmer, sunny day in February when we met with Christine, she brought Theron to a field close to her house so he could fly.
Christine and Theron follow the gun hunting laws because Theron is considered a weapon.
Flying with a Red-tailed Hawk
First, Christine activates Theron’s telemetry tracker with a magnet in case he flies away. The tracker will tell her where he is.
Bells are on Theron permanently so she can hear him from far away.
Most of Christine’s neighbors are friendly about her falconry, and she says it gives her a viable excuse to trespass with Theron.
And at times she’s like the little kid whose baseball rolls into the neighbor’s yard.
“Excuse me. I need to get my hawk back.”
Making Flight Weight
Before Christine flies Theron, she weighs him to make sure he’s at the right weight to fly.
“Theron eats 80 grams of food a day to sustain him completely. But on days when he’s fat, we want to drop his weight, and he gets 20-30 grams.”
Theron is treated like an athlete and doesn’t eat fattening foods. He eats lean foods, but he does have days when he gets to relax.
As we make our way out into the field, Christine points out that if Theron flew off, anything on him doesn’t hinder him in any way.
She sets him free, and he immediately flies up into a tree. She says he knows to be keyed in on her.
Christine whistles. “Theron sees something up there.”
Red-tailed Hawks Soaring Above
She whistles again. We hear the rattle of Theron’s bells. She says he’s okay, and just a bit nervous around strangers.
We hear his bells again and she whistles. Theron looks up, and there are several Red-tailed Hawks soaring above, and we listen to their cries.
Christine gets close to Theron.
In the past, she says hawks have come down and knocked Theron out of the tree to show him that this is their territory.
Christine whistles again four more times. Now more Red-tailed Hawks are soaring above, and Theron keeps looking up at them.
Then in a split-second, his focus changes and he locks in. He dives to the ground to hunt something.
He nails a mouse. He’s still a wild animal even if he’s in captivity.
Christine goes to Theron as he polishes off his lunch as the Red-tailed Hawks swirl above him.
Their presence prevents Theron from flying this day.
He’s small in comparison to them. Theron is 700 grams, and these hawks are 1000 grams.
Just then a Red-tailed Hawk swoops in very low. Now there are five Red-tailed Hawks and two Turkey Vultures flying above us.
Christine grabs Theron. He knows he’s safe with Christine.
There will be no free flying today with the hawks above.
Instead, Christine and Betsy fly Theron in an exercise called creance flying.
Creancing involves attaching leather straps (jesses) to the bird’s lower legs and then attaching the jesses to a long line that can be up to 300 feet in length in an open space to give him fight time and training.
To the untrained eye, this process might look somewhat like flying a “bird kite.”
Theron flies back and forth several more times.
Christine says it took two weeks for him to fly back and forth for food, and she bonded with Theron very quickly.
Theron will be her falconry bird until she graduates from college. “I might keep him because he’s an awesome bird and doesn’t mind captivity.”
Theron flies back and forth from Christine to Betsy with each holding a tidbit of food (bait) to entice him to keep going.
Betsy looks at the last piece of bait on her glove and jokes, “This goes in the things we do for love category.”
“He’ll do this all day. He loves the lure (full meal) when he sees it.”
Just then he flies up and over to a branch and gets snagged.
Luckily, Theron didn’t have his lure yet, and Christine uses this as an enticement to come out of the tree.
It’s time to put him back in his transport box so he can feel safe until the other hawks soaring above fly away.
Our day of flying with Theron was over, but during that time we were able to see for ourselves the dangers these birds of prey must overcome from their own species.
So the next time you see a bird of prey soaring high above, look at this beautiful predator with great appreciation for all it must endure each day to survive.