Birds of a feather flock together. Sound familiar? Surprisingly, most species of birds aren't quite as team-oriented as the saying goes. The Harris Hawk, however, is not your typical bird of prey. These majestic birds work together to capture their food, dividing it equally amongst themselves. To see this firsthand, head out to Hadley, Massachusetts. Located in the Berkshires, the New England Falconry allows visitors the opportunity to handle and free-fly a trained hawk.
If you have ever wondered what it is like to have a raptor fly on and off your gloved arm, we highly recommend this exciting once-in-a-lifetime experience. We met with Chris Davis, a master falconer and breeder as well as founder of New England Falconry. Davis is the first master falconer in the United States permitted to offer hands-on falconry education. If you are a beginner, a 45-minute introductory session is available. During the class you will learn how to handle and fly a trained Harris hawk. “We start by feeding the hawk on the glove so the hawk relates the glove to food,” Davis explained. “The birds learn through repetition and short term behavior modification.”
Those unfamiliar with the hunting habits of hawks may be curious as to what happens after the bird has found its prey. “They kill the prey with its feet and use their beak to pull it apart,” Davis said. “The hawks have eight times better sight than people and they are most active in the evenings because they can see ultraviolet light." According to Davis hawks can see traces of urine, which give off a glow. The birds follow this glow while hunting.
However, not everyone may be comfortable handling these powerful birds. Non-participants are welcome to watch and learn ($15) while other group members interact with the hawks ($65 for the introductory class). New England Falconry also offers an extended session, including an additional hour and a half ($130 for participant, $30 for non-participant). After gaining some more experience, guests are encouraged to enroll in the three-hour hunting lesson during game season (mid-October through mid-March), which costs $225 for the first guest and $150 for each additional participant.