An Unexpected Pleasure

“Would you like to hold Cody after the program?”

My answer to the question took about three-tenths of a second to formulate, plus that long again for it to come out of my mouth. 

“Yes, please–I’d love to!”

Those who know me might not believe it, but I honestly wasn’t expecting to be asked.  It would have been great if I was, but I certainly wasn’t anticipating it.

“It,” in this case, was being asked to stand and hold a red-tailed hawk for photographs after my friends from Wings to Soar gave a birds of prey presentation at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge, just outside of Decatur, Alabama.  Would I like to be a part of what they were doing? There was no doubt about it.

A quick aside: John and Dale of Wings to Soar are a team of environmental educators who present wonderful birds of prey programs all over the country.  Their presentations are chocked full of information, and are highlighted by a number of free-flying birds. If you ever get the chance, definitely check them out.

The program was nearly over, so I headed back to the room Dale and John were working out of to pick up Cody.  Cody is a male red-tailed hawk that they’ve had for several years. He’s a non-releasable bird that was originally found in Wyoming (I’ll let you guess the city), and he’s one of their free-flyers.

Now, I’ve never worked with Cody before, but I did know a couple of things going into this situation.  First, I have a few years of training and experience working with a number of different birds of prey, from the diminutive American kestrel to the Eurasian eagle owl, the largest of the owl species.  

I also knew that Dale knows her birds.  She knows their temperaments and their quirks.  I know she wouldn’t put her birds–much less me–into a bad situation.

All that said, Cody is a red-tailed hawk, so I was more than respectful of him.

Things were going fast.  I slipped on the falconry glove, with its three layers of leather constructed to protect my hand from the bird’s talons.  

Talons: the business end of a bird of prey.  

John took Cody from his travel enclosure and with a practiced move brought him quickly to my waiting fist.  I took the offered leash, clipped it to the ring on my glove, and allowed Cody to step up to his new perch.  

He looked at me from a range of about 12 inches, his dark eyes peering out from beneath the supraorbital ridges of his skull, his head canted slightly to the left.  I looked back at him, trying my best to appear benign and non-threatening. As I placed the leather of his jesses between my middle and ring fingers, he stepped high with his left, and then his right, leg.  He was settled, I was settled, and it was time to head out to the waiting guests. 

I love doing presentations like this because they give people the opportunity to do something they rarely ever get to do: See these incredibly beautiful birds up close, with nothing between them and the raptors but the occasional camera lense.  I’m in awe of these birds myself, and I love to share the experience.

The next 15 minutes were filled with questions, many photographs, and a large flying insect near one of the overhead can lights that seemed to beg for Cody’s attention.  He was a champ, though, and a pleasure to work with.  

As the crowd thinned to just a few who couldn’t bear to leave, I walked with John to get Cody back to his enclosure and waiting meal.  The hand-off was smooth, Cody was safely tucked away, and my excitement level was starting to come down. Another few minutes of conversation, and my other bird-loving friends and I were headed out the door toward home.

I am thankful for the opportunity, and–while I won’t expect it–I hope to do it again some day.

 

10 thoughts on “An Unexpected Pleasure

    1. It was, indeed, amazing! I sometimes find myself distracted while working with birds (I haven’t had an experience yet to teach me otherwise), but not today.

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  1. Birds freak me out! I love them from afar, and spend a lot of time trying to spot them with my children. But I can’t even imagine myself holding one. Even my niece’s parakeet has to stay caged when I visit. I can carry on a lovely conversation with the bird, and enjoy watching it in the cage. But on me? No thanks!

    Sounds like it was an amazing experience for you though!

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    1. I understand why birds sometimes freak people out, but I love working with them. It is an incredible experience and I never get tired of it. Thank you for your comments!

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  2. So cool. Your writing showed your commitment to education and to the birds. I loved the description and technical terminology (It made me want to know MORE) in this paragraph:

    “He looked at me from a range of about 12 inches, his dark eyes peering out from beneath the supraorbital ridges of his skull, his head canted slightly to the left. I looked back at him, trying my best to appear benign and non-threatening. As I placed the leather of his jesses between my middle and ring fingers, he stepped high with his left, and then his right, leg. He was settled, I was settled, and it was time to head out to the waiting guests.

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    1. Thank you for your kind comments! I love teaching others about birds, and I’m always thrilled with how eager people are to learn about them. One of my favorite things to teach is the word “plumicorn.” Plumicorns are the feathers that look like “horns” on top of some owl species. If I’m with an older crowd, I’ll go a bit further and say that the “plum” part of the word is from the French for “feather,” and the “corn” part is from the Latin for horn. Like me, most folks like to learn something new!

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  3. What an experience! I love raptors, and am lucky to live in a place where I can see birds of prey shows every year. They are such beautiful birds, even with their terrifying “business ends.”

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