I received an email from Groupon the other day, asking me if I’d be interested in purchasing a local falconry lesson. My immediate thought was “heck yeah” because my first go at it was a total blast and something I’ve been meaning to do again. That’s right – I tried falconry about a year ago and it was pretty amazing.
Birds of prey are an interest of mine that started when I was about 15. Well, that’s not entirely true: between the ages of 8-9 I lived in a house in Iowa with a backyard that opened up to vast acres of land. We used to go on family walks out in the fields and one winter we came across a pair of snowy owls sitting in a tree. Everything about them was beautiful: their giant yellow-orange eyes, fluffy white speckled coats, haunting hoots, intelligent stares. In that moment, I instantly fell in love with owls.
Later, one grey afternoon when I was around 15-16 and living in small-town Saskatchewan, I found myself driving around with my buddy Steven. It was a pretty typical weekend day in our little village: drive around with your friends until you have to go home for supper and then come back out and do it again until someone invents a party where you trade driving for standing. After a few boots around the dirt roads, Steven aimed the car for the highway and we started heading out of town.
We didn’t get far, just a few miles down the road, before we spotted a big moving object off to the side. Steven pulled over and came to a stop so we could investigate. We got out of the car and realized we were looking at a huge brown hawk with a broken wing. There was a roadkill rabbit not far away, so we figured the hawk must have swooped in on the rabbit and gotten clipped by a passing vehicle. We decided to wrap him up in a blanket to keep his wing bound and drive him to the nearest nature conservatory.
I know right about now you think this tale is going to end with one of us losing an eye when we attempt to swathe a wild animal, but actually the poor guy (or gal?) seemed to sense we were just there to help and let us at it. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever held a giant, injured hawk in your lap in the front seat of a car going mock 10 over bumpy roads while said hawk’s beady, unblinking eyes stare directly into your face, which is hovering mere inches above his sharp, pointed beak. If you have, then you’ll understand when I say I was both in awe and scared to death at the same time. At any given moment this mighty creature could have lurched up and ripped my face to shreds, but he was so magnificent I couldn’t stop looking down at him, which felt a lot like tempting fate.
At some point during the ride I decided to name him Walter, after my grandfather who had a similar gaze – direct and somewhat serious. We managed to get Walter to safety, where he eventually healed and was released back into the wild. I choose to believe he lived out the rest of his life happy and injury-free.
As for me: I know I’ll never forget our day with Walter. He’s a big part of the reason I love birds and always stop and stare whenever I see a hawk circling in the sky. And he’s also why I’ll definitely be buying that Groupon – because there is nothing quite like a creature as impressive as a prey bird trusting you enough to let you hold them. Even if it’s just for a little bit of time.