Do you remember the tale of Ethan Hawk?
About a year ago, right here on this page?
He was a falconer’s bird — a young red-tailed hawk — gone wild. His owner, Marcus Xiong, tried to recapture him, but no go.
It’s a year later, but I’m ready to admit to a pair of errors; first, he was a she. Second, her name was Sammy, not Ethan.
I’ll let Marcus catch you up on that story.
“Sammy was a wild captive bird of the year. I flew her too late in the evening, too close to roosting time.”
And that was the end of that relationship. Sammy had no love for the glove. Xiong couldn’t find her the next morning, but Jeff Henry did. Henry, who lives on Ruby Lane, spotted Sammy, not Ethan, perched on a flower pot in his neighbor’s yard. Jeff typed an email post that led to a reply and then to a lost pet site that led to a phone call that resulted in a visit from another falconer who thought he knew the bird’s owner that led to a newspaper article that linked Marcus Xiong to Jeff Henry.
Whew! Tough work tracking a wayward hawk!
“My co-worker said he saw the newspaper, got me the address,” Xiong said.
Jeff and Marcus then spent hours trying to track Sammy down without success.
“I saw her once across Riverview about two months afterwards,” Xiong said. “She’s not real wild, but she won’t come down. She’s getting back to nature.”
It’s what wild hawks do; they hunt all on their own. Word is Sammy is doing just fine. She made it through her first winter, which is the biggest challenge any juvenile hawk faces.
What falconers do is apprentice. It takes two full years. So, Marcus got himself another hawk — a male. He didn’t last long enough to name.
“I spotted another bird in January of this year, and got him in mid-January,” Xiong explained.
“I kept him until early May. I released him because it was hard to bring him down to my glove. He didn’t like coming back.” Strike two winging.
But in order to finish the first year of his apprenticeship, Marcus needed to have the bird for four months. Time for bird number three, because the third bird is the charm, right?
“The state regulates, we can’t keep older birds,” Xiong said. “They’re more susceptible to training when they’re young.”
Trapping season opens in August, after young hawks are fledged and hunting on their own. So, in mid-September of this year, Marcus got Lucky. That’s what she goes by.
“We can name her Lucky.”
Raising a young hawk does require a modicum of good fortune. The bird has to be willing and trainable. But ultimately the falconer works hard to make the relationship work. A hawk isn’t like a dog. It doesn’t come when called, whatever you choose to name it. It’s more like a cat. It brazenly ignores its name when called.
Without rigorous training — and a constant parade of hand-fed treats like venison, rabbit, and store-bought rodent or quail — the bird eventually reverts to its wild natural state.
And here it is, a year later, and Marcus is in the second year of his apprenticeship, and he’s feeling … well, lucky.
“She’s doing pretty well,” he said. “Right now she’s free-flight-flown, comes to the glove, comes to the baited lure. She’s a good bird, she’s willing to come down. She caught a mouse, a salamander, and a snake. She came pretty close to killing a squirrel and a pheasant. I haven’t tried rabbits, but I think that’d be a bit easier.”
Eventually, Lucky too will be set free. Xiong will release her, in good health, back into the wild one day.
“I’ll keep her until spring, or I might keep her until next fall.”
And maybe, as a master falconer, he’ll graduate to another hawk or a falcon. For all the work, he finds raptors that comes to his arm alluring.
“It really fascinates me, how you can get a wild bird to come to you and get it to hunt,” Xiong reflected. “I said ‘One day I want to try that!’”
And if first — or second — you don’t succeed, get Lucky.
Betchkal is a free-lance writer who lives in Eau Claire.