My Side of the Mountain – Intro to Falconry

If you’ve ever read “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George than this post is for you. The story about a boy and his peregrine falcon surviving and hunting together in the Catskill mountains. My son recently read My Side of the Mountain and fell in love with the idea of falconry. It has sparked his imagination. When I saw on my tour schedule that I was going to be Sacramento, Ca., the headquarters for the largest hawking club in America, The California Hawking Club, I jumped at the chance to reach out to them and do a video about a subject that my son loves so much. If you didn’t know that falconry existed as a sport or that it is a viable form of hunting than this post is for you..

Marten Benatar, a member of the board of directors for The California Hawking Club and head of outreach for The Center for Reconnecting With Nature, in Sacramento, Ca. gives an introduction to falconry and how to get started.

Below are the steps to becoming a falconer. Although they are specific to California the process remains much the same for all states.

Steps to Becoming a Falconer: via

The eight steps you must follow to become a falconer:

1. Take and pass federal/state falconry exam. Passing grade is 80%. The test is taken at any of the California Department of Fish and Game [F&G] Regional Field offices: San Diego, Long Beach, etc. Schedule ahead and follow the directions in the F&G pamphlet to set up the appointment. Please be aware that some regional offices have insisted that prospective falconers acquire a sponsor before the falconry exam can be scheduled. The F&G headquarters office in Sacramento has assured us that this is not required.

The test consists of approximately 50 multiple-choice and true-false questions about raptor natural history, biology, care and handling, diseases, history of falconry and laws. Study materials are available [see The Apprentice’s Bookshelf]. Don’t be anxious. Most people, if they’ve done their homework, pass the first time. If you fail, you must wait a minimum of 90 days before trying again. In 1994, 64 took the test, 52 passed, 36 went on to become apprentices. Your results from passing the test comes along with the Falconry License Application. Before you can send that back to F&G you need a sponsor to co-sign the application and you need your facilities and equipment inspected.

2. Hunting license requirement. Falconry is defined, by law, as the release of a bird of prey after wild quarry. Hunting, flying free, is the best exercise for the hawk and is the best source of their natural diet. You must have a hunting license before you start hunting. To get a hunting license, you must have taken a hunter safety course, also known as the gun safety course. F&G, gun clubs and many firearms stores, will provide you the name and telephone number of an instructor in your area. Your sponsor will be looking for you to have a hunting license. Do this before you get your sponsor. Note: Hunting is the difference between being a falconer and a “pet-keeper.” The very worst thing you can say about someone in this sport is that they are a “pet-keeper.”

3. Develop a Sponsor. An applicant to be an apprentice must, by federal law, be sponsored by a general or master falconer. Once you’re a CHC member and have passed the falconry exam, the California Hawking Club Apprentice Chairmen will assist you in contacting potential sponsors (the State does not help you in this regard). This is just one of several excellent reasons to join the California Hawking Club. Unless you are fortunate enough to know a master or general falconer willing to sponsor you, you will end up talking to one of the California Hawking Club’s Apprentice Chairmen for the name of candidate sponsors. Those candidate sponsors come from the ranks of the California Hawking Club. They are not obligated to be a sponsor. You must establish that relationship, and being a California Hawking Club member is an important step of that process. Sponsors are looking for apprentices that have done their homework, passed their test, have their hunting license, follow directions, love hawks and are willing to hunt with them.

4. Get your facilities and equipment. You must, by law, have the following equipment: Aylmeri jesses – (including grommets, bracelets and jesses), leash, swivel, outdoor perch, scale [capable of reading ½ ounce (14 grams) or better] and a bath pan. In addition you must have a hawk house large enough so that the hawk will have freedom of movement. Generally an 8’x 8’x 8′ cube is sufficient for a free-lofted red tail hawk. If your home doesn’t permit a hawk house [home owner association, size, landlord, etc.], the hawk may reside at a different address. Not generally a good idea, but much better than not having a hawk. Your sponsor will help [supervise] you as you get this together. If you include a weathering area, it must meet state and federal requirements also. Obviously there’s some technical jargon in this paragraph – please ask if it’s not clear.

When (your sponsor thinks) you are ready for your facilities inspection, fill out the license application, your sponsor countersigns it, and send it in. Shortly after sending in your application the local F&G will call to schedule your inspections. Give them mailing time to and from Sacramento plus a couple of days, if they haven’t called you yet, call them. A new law allows F&G to accept your sponsor’s approval, however this is at F&G’s discretion. As of this writing only in F&G Area #5 (most of southern California) the sponsor is now required to do the hawk house inspection. If you can answer “yes” to all the items on the “The Apprentice’s Checklist” you will most likely pass the inspection. If the Game Warden advises you to fix or correct an item, promise to do so and ask how to get them back out to re-inspect. Most recent experience indicates that if you’ve obviously provided a decent environment for the hawk and have the right equipment, you will pass the first time. The Game Warden or your sponsor will sign off the form and hand it back to you. Except for finalizing the formal paperwork, you are a falconer.

5. Submit Paperwork. Submit required material to state and federal governments.

Send the F&G form approving facilities and equipment plus fees to F&G in Sacramento. Sacramento will forward your application to the US Fish & Wildlife Service [F&W] in Portland. Separately, send your fees to US Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland. Include a cover note telling them that Sacramento is processing your paperwork and to be on the lookout for it. Your license is issued and mailed to you.

6. Trap your bird. After you receive your license, you may trap a hawk during and only during the trapping season, currently October 1st to January 31st. You may take an immature redtailed hawk (also called a “passage” redtail) or a kestrel of any age. Occasionally, a redtail or kestrel becomes available from another falconer and it may be transferred to you. If by bureaucratic chance you do not get your license until after the close of trapping season, it’s going to be a looooooong eight month wait until trapping season. This happened to me (one of the Apprentice Chairmen got his license on February 8th) so we know how frustrating this can be.

7. Submit More paperwork. Whether you trap or get a hawk transferred, you will need to fill out and send in the Federal Form 3-186A to USFWS in Portland along with a map showing where you captured the hawk. The form (with instructions on how to fill out) will come to you in the package from the Feds with your first license.

8. And you are a falconer!

Some words of advice:

  • There is no such thing as a stupid question – no matter how many times you ask it.
  • Follow your sponsor’s advice, direction, and council. You should listen to other falconers, but they aren’t the ones signing your paperwork, and that includes the Apprentice Contacts.




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