Birds of prey are one of the most majestic creatures that Planet Earth offers. Some of the more common birds of prey are owls, hawks, and falcons. All of these are predatory species that prey on small mammals, such as mice, shrews, and rabbits.
In this Instructable, I will be teaching you the basics of bird handling, specifically raptor handling. At first, it is definitely intimidating to have a red-tailed hawk perching on your hand, less than a foot or two away from your face. However, with time and practice and with this Instructable, you will be confident enough to handle most wild raptors.
The entire bird handling process may take up to 10 to 15 minutes for a beginner. However, with experience, this process often takes less than 5 minutes.
1. Birds of prey (owls, hawks, falcons)
2. Glove (leather, tough cloth)
3. Jesses (leather strips)
4. Cage (or bird habitat/exhibit)
5. Bird perch (a place where bird is standing)
Step 1: Having a Supervisor
First of all, safety is one of the most
important things when handling any wild animal. A recommendation for beginners is to have a supervisor who has extensive knowledge on bird handling. It is useful to always have someone else in case anything goes wrong.
Step 2: Choose Which Bird of Prey
The next step is to find out what type of bird a person is handling. Birds of different species have very different personalities and react differently to beginners and strangers.
Smaller birds tend to be less dangerous and are often good practice for a first time at bird handling. An example of a small bird of prey is the Eastern screech owl.
Step 3: Assess “How Wild” Status
Somewhat related to the previous step, this next step is to assess the “how wild” status of the bird you’ve chosen to handle.
Is this bird often handled by others or is it a recently captured bird?
Injured or diseased birds are often the most dangerous and it is recommended to avoid these, especially for beginners. For first timers, it is best to handle a bird that has had plenty of human contact and is normally okay to being handled by different people.
Step 4: The Approach
Now that you have selected the bird you will handle, it is time for the approach. At this point in time, you should have a glove on each hand. The gloves should be leather or a material that is thick enough to handle the talons of a bird of prey.
The approach should be slow, as to not spook or stress out the bird. As you are approaching the bird, it is good to vocalize that you are approaching. Make sure you are not being loud or making a noise that might make the bird uncomfortable.
Examples of vocalizations could be saying the name of the bird or talking to the bird, saying that it’s okay that you are there.
Step 5: Handling the Jesses
Next, grab the jesses in a way where your thumb is holding down the leather strips up against your fingers or palm. Make sure there is not too much slack for the bird to fly away, but also enough slack so that the bird can accommodate itself on your hand.
Step 6: From the Perch to the Hand
Now that you have a hold on the jesses, you can begin to pull the bird onto your hand. There are different ways on how to motivate the bird onto your hand. Some handlers pull up on the jesses, touching the breast of the bird as you pull up on the jesses. Others pull away from the perch in a horizontal manner, allowing the bird to hop on your hand.
A lot of times, the bird will grip onto the perch, not wanting to go to your hand. Use personal discretion on how hard you pull. Larger birds can handle a lot more pressure on the jesses compared to smaller birds.
Step 7: Moving Around With Bird on Hand
Now that the bird is on your hand, make sure that your hand is vertical, so that it acts as a comfortable perch for the bird.
Movement should be slow if you are walking around with the bird. Also, make sure you continue your vocalizations; especially if the bird is looking stressed or agitated.
Make sure that the distance between your body and face is reasonably distant to avoid any
Step 8: Baiting
There is a possibility that baiting might happen. Baiting is when a bird tries to fly away from your hand. This is when the jesses come into play.
Hold onto your jesses tightly. The bird should fly back onto your hand by itself. If it doesn’t, use your other hand to help bring it back up by lifting up the bird by its back.
Avoiding this from occurring is crucial, since it is a stressful process for the bird.
Step 9: Returning the Bird to the Cage
The approach back to the cage must be slow. The hand must be parallel to your body so the bird is facing you. The tail of the bird will be behind the perch and the bird will gently hop back onto the perch and the bird should not fly away.
Step 10: Retrying the Return
In case the bird turns around and jumps into the cage, the bird should be handled again. When the bird jumps into the cage, it can be dangerous and it could hurt itself. By handling the bird again, it trains it to not jump from the hand into the cage.