Seeing Eye to Eye with a Harris’s Hawk

Holding a Harris’s Hawk

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Birds of prey are one of the most majestic creatures on the planet, so being able to hold a Harris’s Hawk is a privilege not afforded to many people, except falconers, and those who rescue birds of prey.

Quoting Helen Macdonald, author of the book H is for Hawk, discussing her love for goshawks, she says, “Hawking is just an optimistic and deeply privileged thing to experience.”

Milo is a beautiful Harris's Hawk, and a retired falconry bird
Milo is a beautiful Harris’s Hawk, and a retired falconry bird

Holding a Bird of Prey

One day this August Dan and I became indoctrinated into this exclusive club when we had the privilege of holding a beautiful Harris’s Hawk.

His name is Milo, and he’s a handsome retired falconry bird.

Milo is an older bird, but regardless of his age, this is a fierce bird of prey.

I wasn’t sure if I was holding the bird, or if the bird was holding me by controlling me with bird telepathy.

Harris’s Hawks are Majestic Raptors

Holding a stunning bird of prey, a foot from your face on glove, and looking into their eyes is the most fantastic feeling.

I’m not going to lie, at first, it’s intimidating.

Dan says his heart was racing and he was afraid of holding Milo.

Then once he was seeing eye to eye with the bird, he felt a great sense of calmness.

He was in awe of this majestic raptor, realizing he was holding something so powerful.

It hits you that you’re holding a raptor, a descendant of a dinosaur!

Think Archaeopteryx, Velociraptors, and Oviraptors.

We all have some pretty incredible humans in our lineage, but none of us were dinosaurs!

Reneé of intoBirds holding Milo. The first time you hold a bird of prey it's intimidating realizing you're holding a fierce raptor on your arm
Reneé of intoBirds holding Milo. The first time you hold a bird of prey it’s intimidating realizing you’re holding a fierce raptor on your arm

Harris’s Hawks Have Striking Markings

At first holding Milo, I was wondering if he was going to take his fierce talons and jam them in my face. (Luckily I had sunglasses on).

Then I got comfortable and I’m imagining the things this majestic bird sees soaring high in the sky on its rounded wings and fanning out his tail gliding in the air.

When it’s time to hunt, these birds quickly transform into dashing and powerful hawks aggressively pursuing prey in agile flight, even cutting through dense brush.

So I’m holding this fierce hawk on my arm that inhibits the arid Southwest, and I can’t help but appreciate its striking bold markings of dark brown, chestnut red, and white with long yellow legs, and yellow markings on its face.

When Dan holds Milo, he enjoys seeing the bird’s beautiful feathers glistening in the sunlight, while keeping a watchful eye on Milo’s enormous talons!

It was a rush.

Milo is simply breathtaking.

But let’s rewind.

Dan of intoBirds sees things eye to eye with Milo
Dan of intoBirds sees things eye to eye with Milo

Checking Item Off Bird Bucket List

How did this stunning bird of prey end up on my arm?

Dan and I have never held a bird of prey before.

Handling injured birds of prey and taking them to an animal rescuer doesn’t count.

So while visiting Christine’s Critters, a birds of prey rescuer and rehabilitator in Connecticut, she asked if we ever held a bird of prey.

Christine was the catalyst for checking another item off of our bird bucket list.

If holding a bird of prey is something you dream about doing, we don’t recommend you go out in the wild and attempt to hold a hawk.

That can be dangerous, for you and the bird, especially without training or wearing special leather raptor gloves.

And the right supervision.

RELATED: Female Falconer Gives Injured Birds of Prey Second Chance at Life in the Wild

Turning Your Arm into a Perch

Those special gloves that raptor handlers, including falconers, and birds of prey rehabilitators wear turn their arm into a suitable perching surface for the bird.

And it protects the handler from the bird’s sharp talons.

In this case, it was my “newbie” arm that needs protecting.

I need my arm. It’s connected to my hand, and without my fingers, I can’t write any more posts.

Under the right supervision, as we were, bird handling is quite easy.

Especially when you’re handling a bird of prey like Milo, a retired falconry bird comfortable with human contact.

Reneé of intoBirds gets comfortable holding Milo
Reneé of intoBirds gets comfortable holding Milo

First, I put on my glove, extending my left arm outward, so it’s horizontal like a comfortable perch.

The approach to the bird was slow, so we didn’t spook or stress out Milo since this was our first time meeting.

Then I grabbed Milo’s jesses (thin straps used to tether a hawk), holding them down tight with my thumb and wrapping them around my fingers while making sure there isn’t enough slack for Milo to fly away.

But enough slack so he can sit comfortably on my arm.

Now that I have a firm hold of Milo’ jesses, it’s time to pull Milo onto my arm.

Or more like, he hopped onto my arm, and it was magic.

Respecting a Harris’s Hawk

Milo weighs just 1.3 lbs, but my mind tricked me into thinking he weighed so much more.

You respect a bird when it’s on your arm, knowing it can flap its wings and soar into the sky.

While the humans are left tethered to the ground.

Birds have the most fantastic gift!

We were staring at each other. Sizing one another up and down.

Holding Milo was a stress-free experience for me.

Milo Take the Bate

After Christine took Milo from my hand, now it was Dan’s turn.

Milo hopped onto Dan’s glove, and everything was going smoothly.

Dan was in awe of Milo, and the bird’s ability of turning his head back and forth in such an effortless manner.

Then Milo bates, outstretching his nearly four-foot wingspan.

Bating is when a bird excitedly beats its wings as if to fly away.

But Dan handles it like a pro.

Even as the bird’s wings are flapping, Dan is unfazed, waiting patiently for Christine to place Milo back onto his arm.

Milo bates on Dan's arm
Milo bates on Dan’s arm

Remember, Dan is holding Milo’s jesses, so he’s not going anywhere.

But he did feel the power of Milo’s talons as he gripped onto Dan’s arm.

Dan was quickly developing a newfound respect for Harris’s Hawks.

Moment of a Lifetime

Holding a bird of prey is a fantastic experience.

It’s a moment of a lifetime, and with training, time, and practice, you gain the confidence to handle other wild raptors.

We’re so appreciative to Christine for this unforgettable experience.

The Harris's Hawk is one of the most popular birds used in the sport of falconry
The Harris’s Hawk is one of the most popular birds used in the sport of falconry

About Harris’s Hawks

The Harris’s Hawk is a handsome hawk of the arid Southwest, and formerly known as the bay-winged hawk or dusky hawk.

The bird is known in Latin America as peuco.

It was named the Harris’s Hawk by John James Audubon after his friend and fellow naturalist Edward Harris.

The Harris’s Hawk’s scientific name, Parabuteo unicinctus, ‘parabuteo’ means buzzard-like, and ‘unicinctus’ means ‘once girdled,’ referring to the belt of white feathers on the end of their tail.

Harris’s Hawks are medium-large birds of prey that breeds from the southwestern United States south to Chile, central Argentina, and Brazil.

These hawks are more sociable than most birds of prey, and you often see them in groups of three or more perching close together on poles or giant cactuses.

The Harris’s Hawk is one of the most popular birds used in the sport of falconry today.

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