Eskimo Kisses

Theo shows off his impressive wing span

Theo shows off his impressive wing span

Each of the birds at Wings to Soar has a distinct personality.  Yet, all of them seem to have a special bond with Dale.  I don’t know exactly how to describe what a bond looks like when it comes to these mighty hunters, but there’s a level of trust and calm that the birds have with Dale.

Using his ridiculously long wings, Theo looks like he could glide forever

Using his ridiculously long wings, Theo looks like he could glide forever

I suspect the birds would be far more agitated being handled by me if Dale weren’t nearby.

Whatever the effect Dale has on the birds and vise versa, there are times when I’ve noticed her expressing what can only be described as a motherly affection for the birds.  For example, once during an educational program in an open field, a train came through blowing its whistle and scaring the bejesus out of Theo.  Theo was flying with a light line hooked to his jesses to prevent him from flying far, but he did take off and fly as far towards the trees as possible.

Theo with arced wings mid-flap

Theo with arced wings mid-flap

Dale had to go retrieve him from the middle of the field.  I swung the camera around and followed Dale for a bit.  When she retrieved Theo, the two of them bent their heads towards one another in some form of secret greeting.  It was like they were reconnecting after a fright.  Theo immediately appeared to relax.

Theo reaching for the glove

Theo reaching for the glove

On Saturday, when it was Theo’s turn to fly, that affection came through loud and clear.  Theo didn’t seem particularly motivated to fly.  After flying to me a couple of times, he wasn’t into modeling for my camera, probably because he had a full belly.

Theo making a mid-flight adjustment in response to Dale moving

Theo making a mid-flight adjustment in response to Dale moving

To coax him into flying, Dale stood close to his perch and then backed away so Theo would get a longer flight in.  This didn’t work so well the first attempt–Theo was obviously confused as to why Dale was running away and tried to land on her glove at her side.  The only thing to do when a raptor is trying to land on you is to give them the glove–you sure don’t want them to land anywhere else!

Theo gets lined up with the glove an come in for the approach

Theo gets lined up with the glove an come in for the approach

The second time Dale tried this approach, she started running away sooner and ran faster.  As she approached the distance Theo normally flies, she turned back towards Theo, but kept backing away.  Theo performed some impressive maneuvers in his attempts to avoid colliding with Dale as she changed speed and direction.  I wish I’d been set on video–I swear I saw Theo fly backwards at least twice.

Theo looks like he's all set for a landing, but Dale is still in motion

Theo looks like he’s all set for a landing, but Dale is still in motion

In the end, they did a graceful mid-air eskimo kiss just before Theo readjusted one more time to land on Dale’s glove.  The amount of effort Theo made to get to Dale’s glove spoke volumes about what this owl feels about his momma.  The smile (just visible through the feathers of Theo’s wings) on Dale’s face as she nearly collides beak-to-beak with a Barn Owl speaks volumes about Dale’s own feelings.

Theo and Dale rub noses before Theo manages to back up and land safely on the glove

Theo and Dale rub noses before Theo manages to back up and land safely on the glove

It’s hard not to smile when you see Dale working with these magnificent birds.

Back home, Tisen hung out with Twiggy, making themselves comfortable on the couch

Back home, Tisen hung out with Twiggy, making themselves comfortable on the couch

That Hawk Don’t Hunt

Screeching to a mid-air halt, Cody prepares to land gently on the glove

Screeching to a mid-air halt, Cody prepares to land gently on the glove

While training Cody on Saturday, one of the things I realized was that I had lost my healthy respect for the fierceness of his talons.  I was holding Cody on my glove when it suddenly struck me, “Oh yeah!  He has incredibly strong grip strength and really sharp talons on those feet!”  It was as if I had completely forgotten that raptors can accidentally injure their handlers pretty easily if said handler isn’t paying attention.

Mid-air ascent--after riding the ground effect, Cody rises to the height of the glove

Mid-air ascent–after riding the ground effect, Cody rises to the height of the glove

Fortunately for me, Cody and the other raptors I get to work with are accommodating and don’t intentionally try to harm people.  Perhaps even more fortunately, the realization struck me as Cody was working his way up my arm, but in time for me to adjust so he headed back out toward my hand and away from the end of my glove.  I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have one stray talon sink into the soft part of my arm–I’d like to keep it that way.

Ground effect--Cody floats on the bubble of air close to the ground

Ground effect–Cody floats on the bubble of air close to the ground

Having recalled the inherent danger in handling raptors, I stayed a bit more on my toes as we flew Cody.  Cody is about as sweet as it gets for a Red-tailed Hawk.  He ended up in captivity after being found starving.  He was taken to a falconer for rehabilitation.  The falconer attempted to teach him to hunt, but no matter what prey he encountered, he wasn’t interested in hunting.

Coming in for a landing--Cody touches down

Coming in for a landing–Cody touches down

Cody’s story reminds me of a story from my childhood about a bull named Ferdinand.  Ferdinand wanted to sit in the pasture enjoying butterflies and flowers rather than fight with bull fighters.  I don’t remember how the story ended exactly, but given that it was a favorite of mine, I would guess Ferdinand ended up happily wiling away the days in a pasture where he could be his gentle self.

Another float into the finish--I love the way Cody flares to a stop before landing on the glove

Another float into the finish–I love the way Cody flares to a stop before landing on the glove

This also parallels Cody’s story.  While Cody may not be interested in killing rodents, he’s happy to hang with the people who care for him.  He watches attentively as we work with him.  He seems curious–he clearly knows his usual training routine has been changed.  I suspect he remembers me, but I can’t offer any evidence that this is true.  He looks at me like he finds me interesting, but he doesn’t seem upset by my participation in the training process.

This is a back-view of Cody flaring to a stop

This is a back-view of Cody flaring to a stop

We fly Cody for a while and then Dale flies him without me so I can see if I can get some good shots of Cody in flight.  Cody is naturally photogenic.  Of all the birds, he’s the one I always end up with a bunch of great shots each time I shoot the birds.  However, he’s looking slightly less well groomed on this particular day.  He seems to have molted one of his tail feathers.  Almost like a missing tooth in the middle of a bright white, well cared for smile, the gap is hard to miss.

After the flare, Cody uses any remaining momentum to float gently to the glove

After the flare, Cody uses any remaining momentum to float gently to the glove

We try not to stare–no point in making Cody feel self-conscious.

This is Tisen's idea of "flare"

This is Tisen’s idea of “flare”