Module C8. Initial training, manning and weight management

Please read these notes carefully!

  1. This is the lesson and assessment module for ‘C8. Initial training, manning and weight management’.
  2. You can study this module on its own, or as part of a larger course – your Raptor Awards Instructor will advise you about this.
  3. The notes and references are here to help you understand the methods used to bring a previously untrained hawk into a peak flying condition where it is responsive to the trainer.
  4. The lesson ‘quiz’ at the bottom of this page will help you demonstrate that you have the correct knowledge to safely handle most birds of prey.  Your Instructor will give you more guidance about demonstrating your competence.
  5. This assessment of your knowledge (lesson quiz) will help provide evidence that you are ready to receive your Certificate from Raptor Awards
  6. Completion of the Assessment Worksheet will also help to demonstrate you knowledge and skills: Assessment Worksheet_C8
Initial training, manning and weight management

The process of taming a new hawk is known as ‘manning’ and the aim is to have a quiet and steady hawk that can be handled easily.

If you are new to keeping Birds of Prey it is tempting to read lots of books and articles, and to ask many people about initial training methods.  This can be a mistake as there are many different ways of approaching this process, and you may get conflicting advice which will only confuse you.

In our opinion, it is much better for the inexperienced keeper to follow the advice of a single teacher or mentor and to stick with one method.  As you become more experienced, and handle more Birds of Prey you will develop your own special tricks for manning and initial training.  Until then it is much better to follow the advice of a single person.

The best approach is to find a good mentor or a ‘falconry school’ where you can attend practical classes.  Please use our map to find practical training classes near you.

In our opinion the two best books for the novice are those by Jemima Parry-Jones and Emma Ford – these are listed below.  The advice given by these authors differs in some respects, so choose one and stick to it throughout.

To qualify for the Raptor Award Certificate you will need to demonstrate your practical skills,  your assessor will need to see you demonstrate your skills during a face to face session.

Recommended reading:

  1. Training Birds of Prey.  Jemima Parry-Jones.
  2. Falconry: Art and Practice.  Emma Ford – Part II

Flying on the creance:

There comes the day when your new Hawk is sitting calmly on the fist, stepping up or jumping to the glove from the block or bow perch, and jumping short distances to the fist on the tether.  Now is the time to move to the use of a long line (creance) for the next part of training.

Controlling the environment:

The very worst thing that can happen when starting your Hawk on the creance is that something bad happens that scares the Hawk causing her to bate away, get tangled in the line or get stuck in a tree hanging upside down by the line.

These early experiences will have long-term effects on your Hawk through ‘Trauma learning’ (N. Fox) that can easily be avoided with care.

Remember that every new sight and new experience is being experienced by your Hawk for the first time.  A man on a bicycle passing by may seem innocuous to you – but could easily set up a behavioural complex that stays with the Hawk for life.

Make sure that these early flying sessions are practiced in a safe and secure environment, and away from unexpected frights.

Introducing the Hawk to new experiences:

It is also worth considering how to introduce your Hawk to new sights and experiences. In general you must ensure that you have thought about the introduction experience, have made efforts to control the introduction, and have the Hawk in a calm state on the fist with a good tiring piece to keep her distracted during the new experience.

Recommended Reading:

  1. Training the Bird of Prey.  Jemima Parry-Jones.
  2. Falconry Art and Practice.  Emma Ford Part II
  3. Falconry and Hawking.  Phllip Glasier Chapter 10


Getting Fit:

Your young hawk has now flown free for the first time.  Your job now is to build her physical fitness and her mental confidence so that she is ready to tackly quarry.

Food, appetite and fitness:

Your hawk is naturally greedy and given the opportunty she will eat far more than is good for her.  She will certainly eat more than she needs to maintain herself at a good flying weight.  It is your job to find out how much she should weigh when fit (carrying muscle rather than fat), how much food of different types she needs to keep her at that weight, and how to vary her food intake according to the amount of work she has done.  You must learn to observe your hawk’s behaviour (responsiveness) and how to feel the muscle mass on the breast and thighs.  These observations are then combined with accurate recording of weight and food intake to build a picture of this particular hawk’s metabolism and feeding needs.

You have already got used to weighing her daily during the initial training period.  Now is the time to see her weight increase as she builds muscle – but guard against her just adding fat and gaining weight though poor management.

In order to build fitness and muscle your hawk will need to carry some fat during the training and conditioning process.  Hard exercise will burn off the fat and build muscle.  Fitness training when the hawk is carrying no fat is less effective at building muscle.

You are aiming to keep the hawk at the highest weight you can – consistent with acceptable responsiveness – whilst gradually reducing her fat burden and increasing her muscle mass.

Dr Nick Fox discusses in detail the way in which raptors utilise food, providing useful diagrams and weight gain and loss charts in his book ‘Understanding the Bird of Prey’  You should study this in some depth.

Food types and quality

The most recent research into raptor nutrition shows that feeding Day Old Cockerels (DoC) as the majority food in a diet is a good way of establishing a basic feeding routine for most raptors.  However, text books more than about 5 years old still tend to portray DoC as a low value food that should be not be relied upon.

There are alternative foods that are easily available in frozen form that can be used to supplement the diet and also used to help bring your hawk into peak condition.  The excellent paper by Neil Forbes – listed below- deals with Raptor nutrition in some detail.  You should read it carefully.  He lists the various food and their relative food value for different raptor species.

If you live in a country where supplies of frozen hawk food are not easily available then you should work out what is  available locally and how to get a good steady supply of safe and nutritious food.

Keeping records:

Dr Nick Fox and many other authors provide sample daily recording sheets that you can use to maintain a long-term record of weight gain / loss, food intake and performance.  It is only by reguar observation of her condition and performance that you can confidently bring your hawk to a peak of fitness on a consistent basis.

Danger signs:

The inexperienced falconer often fails to recognise danger signs in their young hawk.  A common mistake is to bring the hawk to a very low weight in order to get it to respond quickly to food presented on the glove or the artificial prey.  If her response is better at a lower weight then the temptation is to keep her low, when in fact, you should be increasing her weight at every opportunity as her fitness improves.

Jemima Parry-Jones discusses this in her book ‘Training Birds of Prey’.

A hawk that is low in weight can exhibit different behaviours and symptoms depending upon the degree to which she is too low.  A starving Hawk can collapse and become hyperthermic – especially in cold weather.  This is an emergency and you will be lucky to save her life – immediate specialist Vet interention is the only recourse for the inexperienced falconer.

However, before this she will show other signs that you need to watch for.  These can include:

  • When bating off the fist she is ‘moth-like’ with no power
  • Her eyes may not be fully round in shape, or the nictitating membrane may be visible
  • If she is flying she will land low down in trees
  • She may be reluctant to return to you if very low, or she will focus intently on your glove, paying little attention to her surroundings.
  • Her response to presented food may be ‘super-fast’ – showing that she is desperate for food
  • On the perch she will be ‘ruffled’ up trying to keep warm, and she will have little interest in her surroundings

In all cases you should increase her weight for a day or two, before bringing her back to her flying weight.

Dr Fox suggests that a 70% full crop is usually about the right amount to bring a Falcon back to flying weight after a hard day in the field.  Other species requirements will vary.

Recommended Reading:

  1. Raptor Nutrtion.  Neil Forbes. Click here
  2. Understanding the Bird of Prey.  Dr Nick Fox.  Components of weight
  3. Training Birds of Prey.  Jemima Parry-Jones.  All chapters


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