flying a hawk – manchester, vt

This post goes all the way back to May when we were in Manchester Vermont when I attended a planning session at The Equinox. No one would ever say that I’m an outdoorsy-nature type, but for some inexplicable reason after combing through the activities list at the Equinox, I was filled with one wish. I wanted to fly a hawk at the British School of Falconry.

Upon arrival the handler will give you a tour of the barn and its inhabitants. You also check the board for weigh-ins (above). This allows the handler to see who’s hungry. A hungry bird is motivated to work in exchange for food. A full bird, not so much.

After a bit of instruction, you’ll be given your glove which is when things start to get real.

Next step, you’ve got a hawk on your hand, with its leather straps secure between your fingers. The birds also have radio transmitters in case they decide to make a break for it, but they ‘re looking for the easy meal and are waiting for the trainer to leave a return reward – a little morsel of meat- on your fist.

You do have a bird of prey that is directly eye-level, occasionally pointing a fierce looking beak right in front of your face. It’s intimidating, but mostly exhilarating to see these birds up close.

As it turns out, D is better at casting hawks.

You’re flying a hawk (not a falcon) for a reason. These Harris hawks are incredibly well-trained. They put up with clueless visitors who have no idea how to cast or communicate with them, inquisitive close-up stares, cameras… Follow the rules and they are not spooked.

The hawk perches on in the side of your hand. You make a fist with your thumb straight out and keep your thumb upwards towards the sky. Every landing is extremely gentle and graceful on your gloved hand.

Towards the end of our session we got a taste of the next class, the hawk walk. In it, the hawk flies along the treeline and follows you, returning (when called) to your gloved fist.

Don’t worry! This is just a decoy used to show how quickly the hawk can strike its prey. You never want to come between a hawk and its lunch!

Photography note: if there are no ‘spectators’ in your group, this is definitely a point and shoot kind of camera gig. I was so thankful to have my G10 because there is no way you can shoot with your dSRL on manual and have a hawk on your other arm. The handler will also take a few photos for you.

Now that I finished writing this post, I remembered what started the whole bird of prey obsession.
Mordecai in The Royal Tenenbaums. I love Wes Anderson.

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  1. That’s a good question, Connie. I’m not sure about petting the hawk. I had my point and shoot camera in my other hand the whole time. But I won’t lie, I didn’t want to spook it and I also did not want my unprotected hand anywhere near that beak! They have lightning fast reflexes. The hawks are amazingly tolerant and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was possible, but you’d have to ask the handler. If you’re ever near Manchester VT…. it is an amazing experience!

  2. Connie Matheson

    Hello Elizabeth,

    I’ve been reading your very interesting blog… I love to eat and cook so that explains why I happened to be on your blog … I like your sense of humour … I have a question … Just curious. Were you allowed to pet the bird?

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