Why the Harris Hawk?
If you were to do a survey of all the falconers’ birds in the UK, you’d find the Harris Hawk would be the most numerous. In fact, Steve’s Harrises (Dougal and Murray) make up 20% of his Inspired Falconry team! But the Harris Hawk is not native to the UK, so why is it so popular with British falconers?
An introduction to the Harris Hawk
Previously called the dusky hawk or bay-winged hawk, the Harris Hawk was given its name by renowned 19th Century artist and naturalist John James Audubon, who named it in honour of his friend and financial supporter, Edward Harris. Harris was a wealthy philanthropist who accompanied Audubon on ornithological expeditions and encouraged his publication of the fabulous ‘Birds of America’ reference book that made Audubon famous.
Given Edward Harris’s support and collaboration for Audubon, it seems entirely fitting that Audubon gave this particular hawk Harris’s name, as the Harris Hawk’s unique quality is its co-operative and social nature. It is the only bird of prey that routinely lives and hunts in social groups – other birds of prey are usually aggressively solitary, particularly when they hunt.
Harris Hawks in the hunt
Harris Hawks choose to hunt in family groups of 2-7, typically led by the dominant female. In the wild, Harris Hawks are to be found in the southern USA, Central and South America, where they adapt to terrain as varied as desert, mangrove and forest. Their particular hunting style uses their long legs and loose-feathered, highly manoeuvrable wings to deliver a quick burst of energy and fast, jinking flight and they make efficient and effect ‘still hunters’ – diving into cover from a standing start. Operating as a team, a family of hawks works together to flush out prey from low-growing scrub and dense bushes, often driving it into the path of a waiting hawk. They share whatever they catch, typically rabbit and other small mammals but also insects and rodents.
So why the popularity?
The Harris’s ability to co-ordinate to drive their prey into a trap demonstrates their intelligence and co-dependency; they are quick to learn so (in most cases) easy to train. The male hawks are a good 'starter' size, not too intimidating and very enjoyable to watch; the females have a great presence, however, and are good huntresses for the keen game hawker. It is a combination of these qualities that make Harrises an excellent choice for the falconer and - therefore - the most popular bird of prey used in falconry today.
Full of character, Harris Hawks enjoy company, puzzles and attention and Steve has found them engaging and interesting birds to train and to fly. With their friendly, curious manner and ability to manoeuvre in tight spaces, Harris Hawks are an ideal bird for wedding falconry and ring deliveries and Murray has even been involved in an engagement here at our base in Hammer Inn near Crail!
Your own Hawk Experience
Want to experience a Harris Hawk's smart moves yourself? You can learn more about the Harris Hawk by doing a hawk experience with Steve. He’ll introduce you to these wonderful birds and you’ll handle and fly them on our flying ground, which flanks a small wood. You’ll be able to see how the hawks look to Steve for their instruction and watch up close as they demonstrate their fantastic aerial dexterity with standing-start catches in the air and, with luck, a jink through the pines.
Our hawk experiences are for a minimum of two people and last approximately 45 minutes. Typically, your hawk experience will include:
- an introduction to the art and sport of falconry
- a handling session
- a flying session
- plenty of time for photographs
Good to know:
“Highly recommended. Spent a wonderful afternoon with Steve and the birds this afternoon. Steve has such a natural respect and rapport with his birds, it is truly inspiring to spend time in their company.” P.J.
“Had a great time, the Hawks were friendly and happy to land on my arm :) I found the discussion as we went along very interesting and informative. It’s good to know the birds are well looked after and loved, it shows in the way they behave. Thanks for the memorable time with the Hawks.” C.A.
- http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/harriss-hawk extracted 07.01.2018
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Harris%27s_Hawk#intro extracted 07.01.2018
- Diana Durman-Walters The Modern Falconer Swan Hill Press (1994) ISBN 1 85310 368 3
If you have any questions about our hawk experience or want to know more about the fascinating and versatile Harris Hawk, please let us know in the comments below.