Craig Bamford holds a saker falcon at the Royal Gauntlet Birds of Prey show at the Medieval Fair Friday, April 5.
A group of bird rehabilitators impressed and informed audiences with nearly a dozen species of Oklahoma’s avian wildlife at Norman’s Medieval Fair Friday through Sunday.
The Royal Gauntlet Birds of Prey, an organization of licensed falconers and volunteers based in Coweta, Okla., made its 17th trip to Reaves Park to educate fairgoers, collect donations and share their passion for their recuperating raptors, said Bob Aanonsen, Master Falconer.
Aanonsen and his team of volunteers put on a 30-minute show on the Camelot Stage of the fairgrounds three times daily Friday through Sunday. Vested in medieval-themed threads, Aanonsen discussed biology, ecology and conservation while the various species of owl, hawk, and falcon soared across the audience to and from their handlers.
“It’s so much different than seeing them in a zoo because you’re virtually two inches away from this bird,” Aanonsen said. “They all have their personalities, and they’re different, every single one of them.”
Peregrine and saker falcons, sharp-shinned and red-tail hawks and great horned and Eurasian eagle owls were featured in the show, and several other species were kept at the Royal Gauntlet’s tent in the northwest area of the fairgrounds.
The American kestrel, rough-legged hawk, ferruginous hawk, red-shouldered hawk and Northern harrier are also classified as birds of prey by their keen eyesight, hooked beaks and sharp talons, according to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
The team has taken in 23 rescues this year from all over Oklahoma that have sustained injuries from predators, hunters and cars and contracted diseases from insect bites including West Nile virus and even malaria in the past, Aanonsen said.
“It’s kind of a slow year,” Aanonsen said. “Usually we’re probably up to around 90.”
Jessie, a 3-year-old Harris’ hawk, proved the instinctive independence of the raptors during the group’s first show of the weekend. Her name is from a Latin root meaning “to seize,” Aanonsen said.
In one demonstration, Jessie flew well beyond the hooked arm of trainer, Shannon Cole, to perch on a tall tree several hundred feet above and behind the audience of the outdoor stage.
“She has quite the attitude, but we have learned to work with each other,” Cole said. “She makes my life complete along with my husband, although I like her sometimes better than him.”
Within a couple minutes, Aanonsen lured Jessie from the treetop with raw bits of food.
However, it’s always a possibility that the birds don’t return to the trainer’s gauntlet, the Kevlar glove protecting the trainer’s forearm from 200 to 700 pounds of talon pressure depending on the species of raptor, Aanonsen said.
Gaining trust through training is part of the rehabilitation process, Aanonsen said.
“What we do first is get them healthy, and sometimes that may take just a few days,” Aanonsen said. “Before we ever release a bird of prey back into the wild, we have to condition it to sit on the glove, accept food from us [and] fly back after a hunt if the hunt is unsuccessful.”
The most rewarding aspect of rehabilitation is a successful release back into the wild, which is why the team hunts with the birds, Aanonsen said.
The volunteers act as the “hound dogs” indicating and retrieving prey for the birds as they hunt, said Cole, who has been a volunteer for four years.
“Once … we think they can manage themselves in the wild on their own, then we can release them, so they can become a productive part of their society in nature,” Cole said.
Although the raptors have evolved into modern society, their roots in medieval times reach back about 12,000 years, Aanonsen said.
“Falconry had its zenith during medieval times because King Henry [VIII] ordained it such,” Aanonsen said.
Falcons indicated nobility in Europe after Marco Polo brought them from his travels in the Middle East, and its heyday was between the 11th and 15th centuries, Aanonsen said.
source : oudaily.com