Impromptu Cooper's Hawk
Submitted by Rick Reisdorph
Chapter: II: Initial Training
That first night she weighed in at 522 g with her hood and jesses on. Day 2. On the following night I did some more manning. She settled down within a few minutes and bated very little, preferring to glare at me instead. I offered her some quail in which she showed immediate interest. Within ten minutes or so she began eating. She was defensive, jabbing her head down to rip off a bite and quickly coming back up to burn holes in my head with her aggressive stare. She began to relax a bit and took a few bites without being quite so worried about me. She started to show signs of losing interest so I removed the food and hooded her up.
Day 3. We returned home from our trip and I resumed her manning/training that night. She sat on the fist nicely soon after being unhooded. She bated occasionally of course but the bates were few and far between, and short-lived. She ate with little coaxing and was soon taking tidbits from my fingers. She ate so readily each time I offered food I decided to see what she would do. I set her on my knee and offered my fist. She stepped right up and ate immediately. I tried again, this time after setting her on her perch. She stepped up nicely again. I put her back and asked her to jump eight inches to the fist. She leaned hard but wouldn't do it. I let her step on the fist for a couple of bites then set her back and asked her to jump again. This time she hesitated for awhile then jumped to the fist. After a few bites I set her back on the perch, and called from eight inches again. No hesitation, right to the fist. I fed her a bit more and hooded her up.
Over the course of the next few days she progressed quickly. On Day 7 I introduced her to the lure and within a few minutes she was very comfortable flying 3-4 feet off her perch to "kill" it and eat. I lost some time because I was forced to travel for three days but overall her training proceeded nicely.
Let me pause here to discuss her behavior. About a week into our new relationship I noticed a particular behavior that was a warning sign that I didn't take seriously enough. In fact the first time I saw her do it, about a week out of the trap, it was subtle and I was only peripherally aware of it. It became much less subtle in time. After I called her to the fist and she ate what was offered, she turned to me and put her head down slightly, and stared at me, for just a moment. Then it was over. I continued the training session and nothing came of it. The next time I had hold of her jesses, thankfully. She first stared forward at nothing with her head lowered as only an accipiter can do. Then, she slowly pivoted her neck and head until she was staring me right in the eyes. Then, just as my brain was screaming, "OH CRAP", she launched for my face. Or tried to. As I said I had a hold of her jesses so again nothing came of it. I know this is what many people don't like about accipiters. But it is one of the things I find fascinating. That bold attempt at blatant, all out intimidation. There is no mistaking their intent. They are saying, quite simply, "I am going to kick YOUR ASS!!" A little unnerving, but cool.
I have seen plenty of this behavior in accipiters before. It's what they do. But what took me by surprise was that a passage bird was doing this a week out of the trap. Now I'm not the brightest guy in the world but I'm not an idiot either. So I was ready for it after that and I managed to avoid any unpleasant events - for awhile. One morning, 10 days after I trapped her I flew her to the lure on the creance in the back yard. I called her once for a small meal then called her up to the fist. I was going to call her again from a longer distance so I went to set her back down on the deck, about 20 inches off the ground. I wasn't expecting any trouble - she had already come to the fist, found only a tid bit, and acted fine. I set her down and she transferred to the deck for a half second. Then within the span of about an additional second she launched up to my face, bounced off and was right back where I had set her - head down and pissed. That was the last time she got me. Passage bird or not, she was way capable of eyeas-like aggression. I was convinced. She retained this behavior through the first season. Each time I retrieved her from the mews, once on the fist (and thankfully well secured by the jesses) she would give me the look and lunge.
On Day 27 I decided her first free flight was long over due. We went out to one of our fields. According to my own custom I started with the creance. I set her on a fence post and called her to the lure from about 20 feet. She came with determination so I unhooked the creance and repeated the exercise from 30 feet. Same result. I decided to see what she would do on a quail.
The next day we flew on another quail. This time she was ready. So ready in fact that when I launched she attacked the launcher as the quail took the opportunity to make its escape. By the time she understood what was happening the quail was a good 50 feet away. She blasted off and started closing the gap. After about 100 yards the Coop had almost completely closed the gap and the quail dumped. She had it a second later.