Manning a newly trapped hawk is the great pleasure that I most anticipated upon my second year as a falconer. “Manning,” the process by which a wild hawk is acclimatized to humans and handling, is a process of slowly building trust and discipline. The hawk must trust you, at each step, or she will simply refuse to respond to your calls. On the flip side of that, you must be self-disciplined enough to deserve that trust.
I think the appeal for me is that you, as the falconer, are in a vulnerable position. You may not use force, or command the hawk. Try, and she will have none of you. A hawk remembers mistreatment acutely, and even an accidental spook or tangled line can set training back. She is not a domestic dog to be commanded and obey, but she is a wild animal. At each step of training she must choose – to do as you request, or to refuse. Ultimately, when the creance line is removed she will choose to stay and hunt with you, or fly off on her own, and there will be nothing holding her there but her choice.
It begins when she bends to eat from the glove for the first time. It continues when she hops to the glove. And again with her first wing beats to reach you. At last, when the creance is removed and she still flies to you, she has made her fourth choice in training – the choice to stay, for now, with the falconer. She made decide to leave each time you fly her – this is part of the risk, mystique and discipline that is falconry.
It is early morning. We have been working with the hood, hooding and unhooding, striking the braces. I bend for the first time to use my teeth on one of the braces. She turns unexpectedly, and for a moment, her beak brushes my chin. We both pause. For the briefest instant, my pulse increases, the feeling of my throat being exposed to a wild predator rising up from the feral, primeval part of my brain. I freeze, daring not to breath, to move. Then she turns her head again, and my nose is filled with the scent of the feathers on her head; at once dusty and sweet, speaking of hunts yet to come and the wildness of winds too high above for me to reach. I strike the braces and remove the hood. We make eye contact, and a kind of understanding seems to pass between us. She rouses, and we move out to the fly yard to begin creance work.
I wrote this little vignette sometime in my first season, and I thought I’d publish it here in case it entertained anyone other than me.