Falconry, Love & Life.

Equipment & Facilities

DIY: Pole Perch

Completed pole perch, and a happy falcon. I used cocoa mat (formerly a doormat) and photographed from above; actual perch is about 64" tall.

Today I finished Atticus’ pole perch, which is where he’ll hang out–unhooded–while I’m around to check on him. I based the perch on the design described in Falconry Equipment: A Guide to Making and Using Falconry Gear by Bryan Kimsey and Jim Hodge. It’s a must-have book for every falconer, but it is lacking in specifics and how-to advice. So I’ll share mine, for what it’s worth.

The pole perch is a highly-customizable piece of equipment that anybody can build without specialized tools. Following is my “recipe”, with notes. With the exception of the stadium turf, everything needed can be picked up at your favorite Big Box building supplier. I happened to go to Lowes.

Materials:

  • (1) 24-in. 1.25″ Galvanized Pipe
  • (1) 38-in. 1.25″ Galvinized Pipe–you can go shorter, but you’re shooting for a shoulder-height overall structure
  • (3) 1.25″ Galvanized Floor Flanges
  • (1) 38″ x 26″ sheet of Galvanized Hardware Cloth (the book specifies chicken wire, but hardware cloth is MUCH easier to work with, and provides more stable walls.
  • (1) 38″ x 26″ piece of either loop-free carpet (watch for fraying), heavy, tight-woven canvas, or other durable, snag-free material.
  • (1) 26″ x 2″ strip of above material, for seam cover.
  • (2) 12″ diameter 3/4″ thick pre-cut plywood rounds
  • (1) 24″ diameter 3/4″ thick pre-cut plywood round
  • (1) Eye screw, about 1″ eye; shank length at least 1″.
  • (1) Appropriate 12″ diameter perch covering. I’m using cocoa mat, but might switch to stadium turf. Note, I am also fiddling with a replaceable covering system using hook-and-loop…I’ll report my findings later.
  • (18-24) Cable ties (smallish, but strong works best to cinch seams together)
  • (12) wide-head screws, approx. 3/4″ long. Make sure heads are appropriate for flanges. Don’t skimp on quality.
  • Your favorite adult beverage
  • Heavy-duty contact cement.
  • Optional: Shorter sections of galvanized pipe, for table-top applications.
  • Also optional: Felt pads for underside of base, so as not to screw up wood floors.

Some of the essential tools and supplies needed for this project.

Tools:

  • Marking Pen
  • Seamstress’ Tape Measure. Waaay easier for measuring hardware cloth than retractable, metal tape measuring devices.
  • Heavy Duty Hand Stapler, Staples. I do have an air stapler, but found that a hand stapler is sufficient, with the added bonus of not chewing up the wood or sinking in.
  • Heavy-duty toenail clippers, or small wire snips (for cleaning up any pointy edges on hardware cloth)
  • Heavy duty tin snips (for cutting hardware cloth)
  • Exacto-knife, box-cutter or other sharp knife (for cutting perch wrap, cylinder covering)
  • Drill, plus whatever smallish bit you have on hand, and driver bit for screws.
  • Small hammer for bashing staples flush
  • Bottle Opener/Corkscrew

The inverted "skeleton" of the perch cylinder, before non-loop carpeting is applied as a cover.

Steps:

  1. If you’re an apprentice, verify this project with your Sponsor. I have some fine-tuning to do, and am not leaving my bird unattended until I know the perch-surface securing system (hook and loop) is safe.
  2. Find center on your plywood rounds.
  3. Drill guide hole on 12″ round that will be the top of the perch.
  4. Install floor flanges on rounds; one 12″ round will have a flange on either side. Remember to stagger screw points.
  5. Connect both 12″ rounds with 24″ galvanized pipe. Be sure threads are properly seated.
  6. Staple hardware cloth to top round, aligning top edge of wire in the middle of the top round. Staple every inch or two.
  7. Use hammer (or smooth rock, or your partner’s iPhone) to be sure staples are properly seated.
  8. If the wire is properly installed, the seam should line up nicely. Your choice if you want to cable-tie the seam before stapling wire to the bottom round.
  9. Once the wire is installed and the cable ties applied, be sure all tag-ends of the ties are flush. Turn in cable tie ends toward inside of cylinder.
  10. Repeat process with cylinder covering material , starting from the top, and aligning material to the top edge of the top round, or a wee smidge below.
  11. Important…if you even think the staples will come loose, i.e. you’re using a thicker material, borrow an air stapler or be certain your staples have a sufficiently-long shank. Do not allow any room for the staples to catch toes/talons, or tempt your bird to pry them out.
  12. Securing the material seam: Bond a strip of material over the seam with a heavy-duty contact cement.  Be sure there is no way for your bird to snag a toe along the seam. Follow instructions for drying; be careful of fumes around your bird.
  13. Attach your perch covering of choice to top of cylinder using contact cement. DO NOT use staples for this part.
  14. Connect cylinder to 24″ base, using 30″ galvanized pipe. Be sure threads are properly seated.
  15. Set stand in its proper location, being aware of distance from walls. Find an old sheet or towel to drape around base to catch mutes. If your bird is larger than mine (a 420-g tiercel Barbary) you might want to put sandbags on the base to add ballast.
  16. Install your bird. Make sure leash doesn’t allow bird to bate more than halfway down the side of the cylinder.  Also…it’s a good idea to observe your bird very closely the first few times you have him on the perch, with an eye out for any snags or problems that you might have missed.
  17. Gloat, and have that drink!

Note the placement of the top edge of the hardware cloth.

It’s important to remember that pole perches do not allow your bird free access to water. Always monitor your bird’s moisture intake, and have his spray bottle or drinking cup handy to offer on a frequent basis.

When placing your perch, consider the following: Birds will bate toward uncovered windows. Ceiling fans cast shadows that freak out birds. Artwork depicting predators, or tv shows featuring predators freak out birds.

You might want to try the following…rather than have the strip covering the seam of your covering, cable-tie a strip of corrugated cardboard or plastic (i.e. Coroplast) to your hardware cloth before you staple it to the rounds. You can then glue or staple your outer covering to this strip at the seam. I’ll try this with the next perch I build, and report back later.

So far, Atticus loves his new perch. The height gives him a sense of security, and he looks pretty smug being at eye-level (if not slightly above) the helper-monkeys in the house. If my cat gets into the living room, he can’t reach the bird, even when Atticus bates; I’ve made sure there’s no furniture from which the kitty can launch.

Honestly, I hate building stuff, but this was a really easy project once I figured out how to find center on the rounds (thanks, Fox, for helping!) Because the pipe fittings can be broken down, this perch can be packed up and hauled along on trips, or modified for different heights. With a little varnish and color-coordination, it’s easy on the eyes, as well.

I’ve seen similar pole perches designed with a lipped tray as a base, in which one can put cat litter. (I’d do this, but of course my cat would just shit in it all day.) Other modifications might include leaving part of the cylinder bottom unstapled, so you can stash leftover Halloween candy or miscellaneous contraband inside. Maybe a battery-operated voice recorder to make your housemates think your bird is telling them to do their dishes. The possibilities are endless…as long as the end result is safe for your bird.

Smug little bird, with a commanding view of his surroundings. Sorry about the crappy cell phone pics!


First Falconry Bunny: January, 2011

There’s gotta be a pile of bunnies at the end of that rainbow, right?

When I headed to Palm Desert last Christmas, I’d only had Tali about a month. She’d pummeled her first pack rat in a local hunt, but had yet to score a cottontail. Having scouted out patches of desert near my Mom’s house down south a couple months before, I’d seen tons of desert cottontails and jacks, so I was confident we’d have a full freezer by the time I returned to Oregon late January.

Ha! Right.

For the first couple weeks, Tali and I spent hours a day on what I began to refer to as “hawk hikes”. We’d drive out to some promising wash, and she’d follow me from tree to tree as I bashed creosote bushes and flipped debris, praying for anything alive to scurry out. It would become a game; she’d follow me for a while, and then she’d take the lead, perching above promising piles of corrugated metal or logjam and squeaking at me to do my part as the flusher.

In all these hikes, the most we bagged was a pair of cheap Foster Grant sunglasses (she was pretty enthusiastic about killing these) and the dessicated remnants of another raptor’s kill. We accomplished much more, however; her glove and lure recall became automatic, and in spite of my utter failure to produce flushes for her, she kept her faith.

Typical “Hawk Hike”

We started playing games of “hide and seek,” where I’d scramble up and behind some boulders, and call to her. She also learned that, if I suddenly sat down for a water, shade, smoke or snack break, that she’d get some tidbits if she flew down to my side. I also got to convince my mom to come out with us for a few “hunts”  a short walk from her house, and for the first time, I think my mom actually understood why I love these damn birds so much. Watching her beat the shit out of the bushes with my bamboo pole was pretty fantastic, too; I haven’t seen her that animated since I was 17, and told her I was going on the pill.

But none of this is really falconry. I needed to get some game under my bird, or risk Tali losing faith in me. And there simply weren’t any rabbits out.

I finally contacted some falconers outside the Coachella Valley to see if I could get some advice on good spots within a few hours’ drive. Within two hours of putting out the bat signal, I learned three things:

  1. The rabbits were highly cyclical in the Valley, and this part of the year, there was a bit of a bunny drought…possibly due to a boom in the coyote population.
  2. There was an excellent complex of fields an hour north, with a Starbucks across the street.
  3. I should have freaking let go of my desert hawking fantasy after the first week, and asked for help from the get-go.

The very next day, triple Venti Americano (with room for cream, please!) in hand, I mudded my truck into that field and assessed the terrain. A line of telephone poles and wire fence bisected the field, and on the far side, I observed in the distance a hag pair of Red tails circling away towards the north. Keep an eye on those two, I noted. To the east and west, the fence line ran for a good quarter mile or so (I suck at gauging distances) and the whole complex was an expansive oasis of green amid suburban development. Underfoot, my Muck boots squished over a sea of fresh rabbit turds, inspiring a huge grin to break across my face. Inside the cab of my truck, in her hawk box, Tali was making a godawful, hungry racket.

Will today be the day? Hell, YES!

I set about the tasks of gearing up–putting on my vest, installing and testing Tali’s telemetry, pocketing her tidbits and lure garnish. I developed a game plan in my mind…flush southward from the fence line, following the bunny trails through the low bushes. If that didn’t pan out, we’d hit the small gully on the other side of the fence, if that hag pair had disappeared from view.

I decided to start her out with a couple tee-perch exercizes, as I’m getting Tali used to riding above me for a higher vantage point. A tee perch is just a mop handle with an Astroturf-covered crossbar, useful in treeless areas such as this one. But Tali ignored the perch, favoring the utility pole behind me.

Fine. Whatever, let’s get going…

I had barely begun beating the brush when I heard my bird utter the most horrific territorial scream. I spun around to see her launch herself westward. She had a look of absolute, utter hateful determination about her, and she was moving FAST, even against a brisk light wind.

Out of nowhere, that hag pair had appeared, perching on a pole at the far end of the field.

Ohhhhh shit. That’s what I was thinking, and I’m pretty sure the resident hawks felt the same as Tali rocketed down their way. The overcast day and the distance prevented me from visually untangling the “who’s who” in the brawl that ensued; in an instant, all three birds were in the air, feathers were flying, and I was in sheer panic.

Then, one bird took off, flying out of the field and disappearing over a housing complex across the road. A second bird settled back on the pole.

And a third dropped like a stone into the grass below.

Ohhhh, FUCK. (let’s be honest here, “fuck” is entirely appropriate in this situation. If you are tenderhearted and you have an issue with the word “fuck”, close your eyes, dear Reader. It’s gonna get ugly.)

Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck,

fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck! ! I yelled, dropping my coffee and diving for my truck.

Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck!

I low-geared it up a muddy slope, unknowingly splattering some kid out with a pack of dogs, trying to earn a buck as the neighborhood dog walker. (To my credit, he was a good twenty yards behind me.)

Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck, I exclaimed, as the pole-perched bird took off in a northerly direction. I couldn’t see jesses or the white breast of my juvenile bird, and I became convinced that Tali was either on her way to Santa Monica, or electrocuted in the grass.

When I got as far as I could go in my truck, I leaped out, leaving the engine running and the door open. Talking Heads blared from the DVD player, barely drowning out the ding ding ding ding of the door chime. I scrambled up the grassy hillside, looking for a smoking pile of feathers along the  fenceline.

I began to cry, as all the horrors of my short falconry career flashed before my eyes…Yakez painfully wasting away due to mis-prescription of de-worming meds. Freyja, circling out of view when she got away from me months before.

I can’t do00000 this annnnnnnny morrrrrrrrrrre!

Finally I saw it. A motionless patch of mottled brown in the deep, wet grass. I braced myself, sucking in my breath, wiping the tears out of my eyes.

You have to check. You HAVE to put your Big Girl Pants on and face this. If it’s not her, you’ll have to grab your receiver and make tracks for that other bird, fast.

I took a step forward, and then stopped. WTF? A clump of brown fluff sprung up above the feathers. And another. And then a clod of red.

I stepped closer, and then…Tali looked over her shoulder, wings mantled and her cere covered in gore. She uttered a happy squeeeeeeeeeeeeee! and then returned to the task of..,.

…devouring a rabbit!

A RABBIT!

OMFG TALI GOT A RABBIT OMFG OMFG SHE’S ALIVE RABBIT RABBIT M*F*ING RABBIT NOT DEAD! RABBIT RABBIT! THIS IS SO F*CKING GREAT! YAYYYY! YAYYY!

I collapsed beside my bird and pulled my shit together long enough to snap the leash to her jesses. I was crying again, but now out of sheer relief and utter joy. And pride. Sure, she had totally blown me off, and technically, this had been a self-hunt (in my mind, like ass-snagging a salmon when river fishing, it sorta loses the shine of victory) but my ballsy bird had run off two resident hags, raided their hunt and killed her first rabbit!

In the short time between her kill and my melodramatic arrival on the scene, she’d nearly devoured the entire critter. It had been a young bunny, but large enough to give her the most enormous crop I’d ever seen on a bird. One leg, the tail and the stomach remained as I began taking photos with my Evo to send to everyone I knew, first and foremost my Sponsor. (Sorry to those of you who were eating lunch, and who have no interest whatsoever in fuzzy piles of guts. Really. Sorry.)

I commenced to rolling around in the grass at hawk-level, whispering proud, sweet nothings to my murderous bully of a bird, laughing and crying like a complete, off-her-meds idiot. Finally, when Tali couldn’t eat another bite, and she had begun to entertain herself with plucking and flinging fuzz off the rabbit leg, I picked her up and carried her back to the truck. She was so blissfully stuffed, she had to lean her wing across my back, and rest her weight against my shoulder to keep from toppling over. Her eyes were squinty, and she was cooing.

Who cares if it was a self-hunt, I told her. This totally counts. We made it. This is what it’s all about… Finally.

Tali’s crop, after her first falconry rabbit. * Four hours* after her first falconry rabbit. Looks like a sassy pinup girl, doesn’t she?

Caught on Tape!

06/07: Just wanted to update this post to note that, now that she’s actually using her pan, I’ve swapped in a much larger tub. She’s becoming a regular water baby!


Fed Up

There are a few terms used in the English vernacular which can be credited towards falconry. “Fed up” is one of them. See, when a bird has hunted and is allowed to fill her crop on food, she won’t be as responsive to tidbits offered by her falconer to lure her to the glove. Therefore, she is “fed up” and done for the day.

I found out today that there is yet another reason why “fed up” is a falconry term. Today I stopped by the regional Migratory Bird licensing office to check on the progress of my paperwork. This office is in a federal building located right smack in the middle of a giant mall complex, already giving the experience two counts against it: One, I don’t do malls. Two, there’s a wee issue about a tax return that I need to clear up. So when I slunk into the lobby and saw a bunch of “Wanted” style posters, I was relieved that none bore my countenance.

I was also greeted by two shiny security guards manning the front desk, and a ginormous x-ray machine. The guards greeted me, and I asked for directions to my destination, explaining why I was there.

“Huh,” one of them said (we’ll call him Uncle Bob). “Not off the top of my head…” The younger one (Little Bob) began flipping through loose sheaves of paper, presumably the directory.

“Isn’t that that lady that smiles?” he asked Uncle Bob. As if anybody who smiles would stand out? Wow, working for The Man might be worse than I’d thought…

“Yeah, Gwenn or something?” Uncle Bob said. He looked pensive.

“Is there a particular office you could send me to?” I squeaked, being as patient as possible.

“Uh, wait–are you registering for the Native American thing? With eagles?” Little Bob asked, brightening. I looked at a freckle on my arm, a little brown speck that pretty much represented the tiny  drop of Pawnee in my otherwise fishbelly-pasty Irish appearance.

“Nn…no, sir. Just the standard first-year apprentice falconry license.”

“Oh. OK.” More rifling through papers, and a couple phone calls later–about a total of five minutes–I was handed the phone; at the other end was Vanessa. The boys came through for me in the end.

Turns out the only thing the very helpful and friendly Vanessa’s waiting for is an expiration date issued by ODFW for my state license. To my relief, she said that the wheels had been greased by the newly-established Sacramento office; California is flush with falconers, and this time of year the Portland-based regional office gets slammed with application renewals. The new federal licensing crew had likely decimated the workload of the local agency, so I have a pretty good chance of being able to trap my bird this side of Christmas. Yay!

I thanked the gentlemen behind the counter and vamoosed back to my car, bound for the airport area to pick up the pre-cut Coroplast sheets I’ll be using to make a bunch of hawk boxes. (This went well–and mind you, I have NOTHING but good stuff to say about Laurie and Scott at CalSak Plastics, 888-302-2122.
From there, I resisted temptation to stop in at IKEA–no, the mews does NOT need a new leather POANG chair–and dashed downtown to dig through the scrap barrels at Oregon Leather Company. I made out like a bandit, claiming some excellent leather for additional jesses, anklets and hoods, and then scurried home with only a few stops that wouldn’t interest anyone who doesn’t have a fascination with printer accessories, produce or self-serve car washes.

In the past few days, I’ve built my BC trap (which merits its own post) braided another leash, joined another apprentice and my Sponsor for a day of trapping (which I’ll probably mash into the BC post) and totally avoided cleaning my garage, which I really need to do before I begin building all these hawk boxes. But I’m hurdling closer and closer to the planned trapping date of September 19 (give or take, depending upon paperwork) and feeling pretty excited about it.

That is, unless the IRS has followed me home without me knowing it. (If Uncle Sam’s minions are indeed reading this, hi there, you’ll be hearing from me soon!)


Mews Interior

OK, enough messing around with Photoshop. Time to cough up some photos of the mews interior. These were taken with a wide-angle lens (12mm) and yes, there’s still some taping to be done on the Coroplast. Perches won’t be installed until after the bird is well-manned, and I won’t know for certain where they’ll be located…my Sponsor and hawk will have more input than I in this matter.

Taken from Doorway

Taken from Doorway

I used corrugated plastic to line the walls. This facilitates cleaning, and is resistant to moisture. Corners of Coroplast are sharp, so at my Sponsor’s suggestion I used duct tape to tape all seams and possible problem spots. I found white 3M duct tape at Lowes. I happen to know where to find pink duct tape, but I restrained myself…

NW Corner/Weathering Area

NW Corner/Weathering Area

Underneath the pea gravel, Yours Truly & Paranoid laid down #8 mesh to contain the gravel and keep out the critters. Then, about 2 layers of chicken wire, underneath plastic poultry netting. That’ll do!

NE Corner

NE Corner

For corners in the Coroplast where I didn’t have reinforcing studs, I used an additional layer of CP folded like angle iron and taped in. Works great. Especially if you go nuts and apply silicone adhesive to everything, including your hair, clothing and pets. Pic above is before installing the reinforced corners…back in the day when I was still popular in my household.

SW Corner and Door

SW Corner and Door

I still need to install doorjambs. Note the EPDM over the bottom sill, to prevent wear on the wood. I do worry about rot, though, and may find a different solution. Also note: Big mess outside the mews. This little alleyway will soon (but not this week, that’s for d*mn sure) be enclosed as a sort of safety corridor to prevent escaping birds.

Sunset over the Weathering Area

Sunset over the Weathering Area

During the day, the bird can watch us slave over the backyard waterfall/pond feature. In the evenings, he can enjoy spectacular sunsets. Room service included.


Bath Pan Blues

Raptor-Hot-Tub-Party2

My bath pan's too small, so I have an excuse to get a hot tub. Thing is, I don't think I can handle all the parties...

After a bit of poking and prodding, I heard back from the ODFW biologist. I wanted to know if he was going to clear my tire perch. Well, he said it’s ok, but my bath pan is only 17″, and he wants me to get one at least 25″ wide. Interestingly, my bath pan is larger than any I’ve found on my local falconry supplier’s website, and everything I’ve read has said it would pass. No problem, I have a mortar mixing tub that’s plenty big, and the inspector’s pushing my paperwork along having spoken his mind, but maybe I can use this as one more justification for a hot tub…

Anyway, I’ve sent in all my fees, including my Federal license fee and my application/fee for a raptor capture permit. Thanks to the recommendation of the falconer whom I replaced on my Sponsor’s permit when he moved up to General, I’ll be using steel-core leader for my bal-chatri trap, which I’ll begin to build tomorrow. (Today was all about Photoshop, apparently, and worky work).

Why is it that so much falconry gear comes from tackle shops? I also picked up 300 yards of 80-lb test Tuff Line LP for braiding leashes, and as you know I’ve also got Sampo swivels. I was VERY tempted to pick up a giant latex tuna lure–a shad, or a squid–for my hawk’s lure, but decided that $30 was a bit too spendy. My bird will likely get a flip flop, or I’ll make something out of scrap leather and shot.

The mews roof, by the way, is being tested by some unseasonably heavy rain this week. I’ve been offered some corrugated metal by a good friend of mine, so I’ll haul it over in the Yeti sometime this weekend and slap it on. I want to finish the fascia as well, and a few other doo-dads before I’ll feel better about the whole thing.

So…now it’s waiting time. Could be weeks, hopefully not months before all my paperwork goes through. Keep your primaries crossed for me.


The Homestretch!

I’d have liked to title this post, “Inspection Passed!” but in truth, the inspector wants to do a little asking around before signing off on my tire perch. So, the day after the deadline, I feel like the mother who has just given birth to a hermaphrodite…kind of waiting around a bit for some verification before being able to yell “It’s a GIRL!” or “It’s a BOY!”.

In any case, it’s just a small glitch, and even if the ODFW biologist (whom I’d met previously as a volunteer, and who cheered me on during my exam back in April) decides he’s not satisfied with my white trash tire perch (I’m coming up with a new term…”Trashhawking”…) I’ll grab a Meng or bow perch off-the-shelf and have him sign off on it. In any case, he said he was impressed with my mews design, and he seemed to approve of my overabundance of leashes, both in variety and in sheer number (I’m up to something like six, and I haven’t even tackled the Dacron yet.)

I’m going to put up a separate page containing all my mews pictures, so you’ll have to be patient little chickens for a little while. Today, I’m totally beat. I’m taking a break from finish work (heck, I worked a 10-hour day at the Day Job) to grab a drool cup, put on the jammies and watch Noah Larsen on public access cable.

Oooh! I almost forgot. The ODFW office for our district is a stone’s throw from my place of employment, so I hopped over there during a break to get my hunting license. I added a deer tag and upland game bird tag, too…going to go after my first buck ever, and one way or another–by Remington or Red-tail, I’ll be going after some blue grouse as well this year. I guess from here on out, I might as well spring for the Whole Shebang license. Ted Nugent would be proud.


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