Why is This Bird Wearing Leather Bracelets?

No, That’s Not Bird Jewelry

If you’ve ever been to a birds of prey show or seen a falconer game hawking with its falconry bird, then you’ve probably noticed those leather bracelets and leashes attached to the bird’s legs (tarsus) called anklets and jesses.

At first glance, you might think these standard falconry tools are hurting the birds.

But rest assured, these tools are used by raptor handlers and rehabilitators for birds that will be released back into the wild to keep birds safe.

Anklets and Jesses

Jesses are thin, long strips of leather used to tether a hawk or falcon in falconry.

They’re attached to removable anklets fitting comfortably, but securely just above what would be the bird’s ankle.

The jess passes through the grommets allowing a falconer to keep control of a bird while it’s on the glove or in training.

And keeps the bird secured on a perch outside its aviary.

In other words, anklets are like a dog’s collar, and jesses are the dog’s leash. (Thanks to Betsy Peyreigne at Christine’s Critters for this analogy).

Magma Gets a New Pair of Anklets

Pictured here is Magma, a beautiful molting red morph Eastern Screech-Owl.

He’s getting a new pair of anklets from Christine Peyreigne, falconer and wildlife rehabilitator of Christine’s Critters.

Magma gets his old anklets removed, and then new anklets are placed on and grommets are crimped on to hold the jesses
Magma gets his old anklets removed, and then new anklets are placed on and grommets are crimped on to hold the jesses

Magma is a non-releasable owl born with a backward wing.

So he can never fly and is a permanent education ambassador at Christine’s Critters.

Like most falconers, Christine opts to buy kangaroo hide and make her own anklets custom-sized for her birds of prey, and buys her jesses from falconry outfitter Northwoods Falconry.

Watch to see Christine change Magma’s anklets.

Keeping Birds of Prey Safe

Wildlife rehabilitators and falconers use jesses and anklets to keep birds of prey safe when the bird perches on their glove outside the aviary or when their raptor is out in the field.

Neither causes injury to the bird.

In fact, the intent of using anklets and jesses is to prevent the risk of the bird deciding to chase something it shouldn’t rather than keeping the bird from getting away.

Magma is safe and content after getting his new anklets and jesses
Magma is safe and content after getting his new anklets and jesses

Falconry birds are routinely set free as part of the sport of falconry.

The bond between the bird and falconer serves as a natural leash rather than a leather rope.

Falconers, and wildlife rehabilitators, like Christine, want to keep their birds safe.

And it’s not always desirable that a bird of prey take flight on its own while on the glove or on its perch.

So don’t fret the next time you see a bird of prey wearing what looks like are bird bracelets.

It’s all part of the sport of falconry to keep these beautiful birds safe.

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