Over the weekend, I had my first lesson in bird handling. While we previously met these birds of prey during a “Raptor Experience” a couple months ago, I am now learning how to handle them so I can assist during educational programs.
The first thing I learned was how to grab a handful of chopped mice and shove it into a training pouch. This is one of those things that really makes you want to go “Ewww!” Especially when you get chunks with tails and faces attached.
First task accomplished, I now get to watch how to properly enter an enclosure. First and foremost, there is a sort of foyer area enclosed in chicken wire that you must enter and close behind you before opening the door to the birds quarters. Second, you don’t actually walk in with the bird in there. Rather, you put a nice fresh chunk of mouse on your glove, stand behind the door, and hold your arm out for the bird to land on. This way, you don’t have to worry about being “footed” in the face. The bird lands nicely on the glove and starts eating, giving you time to secure its jesses.
The jesses are the equivalent of a collar for a dog. They are leather thong things that go around each leg of the bird and hang down a couple inches, allowing a leash to be hooked to them that can then be secured to the glove. They allow the handler to keep the bird from flying off, essentially. I am warned that securing the jesses can be a vulnerable time and that Cody, the Red-tailed hawk, is known for footing people if they get their hand too close to the glove while securing the jesses.
I also learn that “footing” means talons seizing flesh. Not a fun thing to experience, but something that happens to varying degrees of seriousness ranging from scratches to talons driven through cheeks. None of which really sounds like something I want to try.
We fly Theo, a Barn Owl, and Kayse the Black Vulture in addition to Cody . I practice holding my arm out to make an appropriate target, as well as securing the jesses when a bird lands on my glove. It looks simple, but I am befuddled by how to wrap the jesses between my fingers without getting the bird’s foot caught. Fortunately, they are patient with me.
Since I don’t have pictures of the birds, I decided to do some more night sky shooting tonight for my morning post. I’m feeling a bit lazy after yoga class and just shoot from the balcony. I kind of like the roof of the balcony I caught in the frame in the wide angle shots. I also switch lenses and grab a few shots at 560mm. I did a little more experimenting with HDR and was disappointed I couldn’t get a properly exposed moon into the shot. I guess I will have to try again.