Recently at the National Sporting Library and Museum, bird lovers were able to get up close and personal with two beloved species we normally can only glimpse at and admire from afar with one of the country’s top falconry and bird of prey experts, Master Falconer Mike Dupuy.
Within the quiet of the room as we waited for Mike to begin his presentation, we could hear the ringing of little bells from the wooden carriers and 3-sided perches set in front of the main room containing the birds. “Angels getting their wings” Mike wryly said, referring to the old classic film with Jimmy Stewart, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Thus began a fascinating afternoon learning about Mike’s life, how his passion for falconry developed throughout his life, and the various aspects of keeping, breeding and hunting birds of prey, a sport over 4,000 years old. Research projects, breeding of endangered species, and education and public speaking are a full time job for this once Fortune 50 company executive.
Apollo, a Gyr/Saker Falcon, was the first to be shown, followed by a young baby falcon, and a Harris Hawk. With Apolllo perched on Mike’s left handed glove, securely wrapped with a tether, (bells ringing from the bands on his legs that are permanent) we moved to the museum’s outside patio to watch a demonstration of catching prey, but it was too warm a day. It did, however, give many guests an opportunity to don a glove and hold Apollo for a photo op. He also brought out the Harris Hawk, a beautiful dark brown, chestnut red medium-large in size.
Some interesting facts: Eagles, hawks and falcons have the best daytime vision in the animal kingdom. They can see eight times farther than humans, up to almost two miles, and have bi-focal vision with an additional fovea (humans have one). Falcons have an additional UV cone that enables them to see color more brightly and it is believed the UV light helps in identifying shapes and textures. At night, however, the silent owl rules the skies.
Why the Ford Falcon automobile was misnamed: Falcons can reach speeds of up to 240 miles per hour while diving, knocking out their target cold.
Can you tell the difference between a falcon and a hawk? One clue is the silhouette of its wings: falcons have a pointed wing tip; hawks’ wings are rounder, and their feathers spread in flight.
Raptors only kill to eat and feed their young. We learned about “flying weight” (birds are more or less apt to hunt depending upon how full or hungry they are); how temperature affects their flying; and the Pavlovian ways of training young birds to hunt freely and return to their handler to hunt another day. Wistfully, Mike told stories of hunting with his birds that went well. Sometimes the bird flies too far, or becomes the target of another raptor. The silencing of these little bells can be devastating to a falconer. Such is the way of life.
We joyfully overstayed our visit, and left with a better understanding of these magnificent works of avian art. Hopefully, Mike will return to the NSLM in the fall when the air is crisp and the birds are hungry! For more information about Mike Dupuy Falconry, visit his site: www.mikedupuyfalconry.com