A Day Out With a Harris Hawk
How does a typical outing with a harris hawk look?
This article talks through a typical outing with a Harris Hawk when hunting for rabbits and addresses some of the realities faced in the field when hunting. Although presented in a story-like style, the events described took place on a farm in North Wales around 2011.
The sun hangs low in the clearest, bluest sky I have seen for a long time, the grass underfoot is crisp with a light frost and when the air hits my lungs it's like breathing ice. It's early in the morning, the songbirds are calling and I'm out on a local farm with my hunting companion Saida, the Harris Hawk, we're searching for signs of rabbits. As Saida flies from tree to tree following me around the fields he is always alert and watching for any signs of movement, however small, that will attract him to his quarry.
An unfortunate name, Saida, he came to me from a breeder who believed he was a small female, in fact, I later discovered that he is actually a reasonably large male. In the world of birds of prey, the female is always larger and stronger, the male, faster and more agile.
On my hip I carry a black box containing two more of my hunting companions, Sid and Slip, a pair of Hob ferrets. Sid is similar to a polecat with grey colouring, a black tail and legs and a black mask across his eyes that gives him the look of a raccoon or a highwayman. Slip on the other hand is a light polecat, his fur is medium blonde all over apart from his tail which is dark brown in colour. Both have their own individual characters, Sid is the dominant male, he's the rascal of the two, always making mischief and getting underfoot. Slip is larger and appears stronger, yet he is more laid back. He is usually the last to get out of bed in the morning and always comes for a cuddle and a stroke when he gets up, yet as a working ferret he is one of the best I have seen.
We reach a hedgerow that I know to have several rabbit holes in, Saida is in a tree above me watching me put Slip into the hole. Now we wait while Slip traverses the hole, if there is a rabbit in there it will smell Slip well before he gets there and move very quickly to somewhere safer. Slips head appears out of another rabbit hole, no rabbits in that burrow. He exits the hole and finds another nearby that he enters. A few seconds later a rabbit bolts from the hole, Saida spots it and almost instantly is airborne. The rabbit dashes along the hedgerow for a few yards and darts into a nearby hole. Saida glides into a nearby tree and waits.
While Saida catches his breath Slip pops out of the same hole that the rabbit ran from, I pick him up and reward him for a job well done. Slip goes back into the box and out comes Sid. I put Sid into a hole near the one the rabbit disappeared into and again we wait.
There is a thumping sound from inside the burrow, it sounds as if the rabbit is giving Sid the runaround. Suddenly out comes a rabbit from a hole just 10 feet away from me. Again, Saida is airborne, this time though he is more determined. As the rabbit aims for a holly bush he catches up and does what he does so well, both feet to the rabbits head, squeeze hard, and suddenly the rabbit is stopped in its tracks. I run over to check that the rabbit is dead, it is important to respect your quarry so I am prepared to finish the job if necessary. It's a clean kill. I sit to the side of Saida and make the exchange with him, some other food in exchange for the rabbit carcass. I attach his jesses, swivel and leash and hold him in the safety position. Sid is out now looking for his treat, I give it to him and back into his box he goes. Tonight I will be eating a rabbit curry, some parts will be saved for Saida, Sid and Slip, the skin will be made into a training lure, there is no waste. It's mid-morning and time to go home. If I was a golfing man, there would still be time for 18 holes, it's not always this way however.