Posted by: lifeonislandtime | August 11, 2015

Ancient sports

I could’ve had a falcon….
Falconing is a 4000 year old sport. It’s still popular in Britain. Our anniversary present to ourselves was a falconing experience at a castle outside Edinburgh. 
We parked at the lot indicated by the “falconry parking here,” (see, we follow directions well!). As we got out, Trav commented that he could hear the birds. I was ahead of him (my side of the car was closer) and I went around the corner of the wall and was confronted by an eagle on its perch watching me come toward it. On each side of the path, on knee-high perches were birds. Barn owls, red-tailed Hawks, Peregrine falcons, swainsons hawks, little tiny (grumpy) owls, a very angry kestrel (he was hilarious! His name was Spike) and his mellow mate, Spud. Sitting on the tallest perch in the spot of honor was a large Raven. His name was Jake, and he enjoys people. 
Our day started with “gloving up” and learning how to catch a bird. It’s not tough. Hold the back of your gloved hand toward the bird and it lands. Our first hawk was Boudro, a Harris’s hawk. We walked a little path while he flew overhead, going tree-to-tree, his bells letting us know where he was. Every few hundred feet, we’d stop and he’d come to glove to get his treat (don’t ask what the treat was. Suffice to say, it’s not biscuits), chill for a few minutes and a quick picture, then off again. We did this all around the castle, where there was a wedding, and men in kilts, and bagpipers. To note: the barn owls are trained to deliver the wedding rings if you wish when you get married at the castle. 
Next we came back and met all the birds. We learned about how Americans have messed up on naming hawks and what they actually are named. We spent some time chatting with Jake the Raven while our guide got the treats ready for our next bird. Jake had his meal, and was trying to find an appropriate place to bury it, and every time one of the handlers would come near, he’d pick it up so they couldn’t take it away from him. 
We also met the birds not on the perches, including a Russian Steppe Owl, a Siberian Owl, a Snowy Owl, and a crow. To note: many of the birds at Dalhousie are used in film and TV. The Siberian Owl was used in Harry Potter, and Jake the Raven is in Outlander (Showtime TV series filmed in Edinburgh) and in a BBC series. His brother is one of the Ravens at the Tower of London. Our guide said Warner Brothers wanted to use their Snowy owl for Hedwig in Harry Potter, but they talked the studio out of it. Apparently Snowy Owls are nasty birds. They kill other birds (including each other) and don’t fly well. He said the Snowy was the only bird that scared him a bit. Warner Brothers decided to CGI their Snowy Owl instead.
We were now ready to fly Spike, the angry little guy from earlier. Tied up, he consistently tried to fly off his perch, was promptly dropped by his leash, would turn and give his perch a truly nasty look, then hop back onto his perch to sulk. That look coming from an eagle would be terrifying. Coming from a bird the size of a quail that weighs about a pound and a half, it was hilarious. 
When it became apparent he was going to get to fly, he became even more agitated. Bouncing off his perch, trying to go on his own. When he was finally released, he zoomed right over to the perch on the lawn. He was fun to fly because he was soooo fast. He would zip over, get his treat, then zing back to his perch. Our handler said he was one of the few birds that would fly just for fun. 
When we finished with Spike, our guide collected our gloves. We were sad, but our next bird needed bigger gloves. Our next glove came up to my elbow. It was huge. We continued to chat with the other birds while we waited for the bird treats to be prepared. We were intrigued by one of the Falcons who continually would get off his perch and lay in the grass. When we asked, we were told that there was a lawnmower somewhere, and that particular bird did that anytime the lawnmower came out. Jake the Raven had successfully hid his food, then begged a piece of fried chicken from one of the other handlers. He’d laid the skin out on his perch, and cleaned the bone, then knocked it off into the gravel. He was showing off to the other birds that he had extra. They were unimpressed.
Our final bird came from the cages. He was a Eurasian Eagle Owl. He was hugely fluffy, sweet-tempered, and slightly lazy. On one flying pass, he didn’t want to leave my wrist. He was super comfortable, and just wanted to chill with me. I was ok with that, except that he weighed over 8 pounds! He was neat to fly because of his 6-foot wingspan, and how he glided onto your hand.
We finished with him, then got pictures with the Russian Steppe Eagle. She was funny, because she didn’t want to cooperate, so she just went limp and hung from her jesses. He finally got her to cooperate, and we got some good pictures. Then, we got to hold Jake the Raven. He was cool, and made nice noises for me, but wouldn’t talk. 
In all, a fantastic experience that we’ll remember for a very long time.



  1. Ohhhhh I love this one too!  Especially Spike!  xo j From: Living Life on Island Time To: Sent: Tuesday, August 11, 2015 12:27 PM Subject: [New post] Ancient sports #yiv0258173138 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv0258173138 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv0258173138 a.yiv0258173138primaryactionlink:link, #yiv0258173138 a.yiv0258173138primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv0258173138 a.yiv0258173138primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv0258173138 a.yiv0258173138primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv0258173138 | lifeonislandtime posted: “I could’ve had a falcon….Falconing is a 4000 year old sport. It’s still popular in Britain. Our anniversary present to ourselves was a falconing experience at a castle outside Edinburgh. We parked at the lot indicated by the “falconry parking her” | |

    • Spike was our favorite too! So much personality! His pictures are great!

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