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 who 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 possible.
Theron was trapped in the wild as a juvenile in December 2013, and he hunts with Christine for rabbits and squirrels daily throughout the hunting season.
He’s a releasable raptor legally held for falconry and doesn’t participate 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 if 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 we want to drop his weight on days when he’s fat, and he gets 20-30 grams.”
Theron is treated like an athlete and doesn’t eat fattening foods. Instead, 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 flies off, anything on him doesn’t hinder him.
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 several Red-tailed Hawks are 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. More Red-tailed Hawks are soaring above, and Theron keeps looking at them.
Then in a split second, his focus changes, and he locks in. He dives to the ground to hunt something.
Theron nails a mouse. He’s still a wild animal even 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. So 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.
So 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 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 quickly bonded with Theron.
Theron will be her falconry bird until she graduates from college. “After that, 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, so Christine uses this as an enticement to coax him 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.