First Rabbit!

WARNING: This post may contain graphic language/imagery.

Today was another milestone in my life as a falconer: first rabbit! I went back to the field near the Hayground School in Bridgehampton with my dad and we brought along my grandmother and a friend of mine. We got out of the car and I put Atlas up in a small tree before heading out into the field. Within three minutes, my friend had flushed a huge rabbit, but it quickly darted under a dumpster and we knew then that we wouldn’t be able to get him out unless we had a Jack Russel or a Dachsund. Not to be discouraged, we continued walking through the field, beating the briar patches and scanning the field for rabbits. After about another ten minutes of this, Atlas left the tree he was in and started moseying along in the direction of another clump of large bushes about 10-15 yards ahead of me. I thought for sure that he was just changing his perch and moving forward to get closer to us. After he got about halfway between me and the bushes, he took a sharp dive into the brush and I heard a short but loud sound that was somewhere between a scream and a yelp.

Lunch

Lunch

I rushed over to find Atlas with both of his feet securely around the head of a nice sized rabbit; it weighed just about as much as he did. My sponsor had told me that if he were to catch a rabbit, the first thing I should do should be to put my gloved hand around the rabbit’s head, grab its hind legs, and pull in opposite directions quickly and firmly to separate the spine and kill the rabbit in a more humane way than the hawk would – by eating the flesh around the neck until either the rabbit died from pain, bleeding out, or a broken neck. Unfortunately, because of the way Atlas had his talons dug into the rabbit’s head, I wasn’t able to access the head and I had to wait for him to get finished off nature’s way. I then took the rabbit home and dressed it. I also thought that I had to skin it, so I went ahead and did it, but I found out from my sponsor later that it isn’t necessary to skin the rabbit unless the rabbit is for human consumption. Oh well.

IMG_2668

Yikes.

It is important to let your bird gorge on his first several kills. If I were to steal his hard-earned meal right out from under him on our first few hunting expeditions together, he would learn to associate a successful hunt with his prize being stolen from him, and he would be much more reluctant to perform well during the hunt. The New York State Falconry Examination Manual recommended allowing your bird to gorge on at least its first ten kills. However, unless you are planning on using the meat yourself, it is ok to allow the bird to gorge, no matter how many times it has taken game. Atlas ate through the rabbit’s neck until the head was almost completely detached from the body and then pulled the head away from the shoulders. He proceeded to eat all the meat off of the skull and upper neck, leaving a bloody cranium behind. He then moved onto some of the shoulder and chest meat and the front legs before stopping. He wasn’t incredibly hungry and it was surprisingly easy to lift him off the kill. I took some quail in my fist and held it under him. As he started eating the quail out of my fist, I grabbed his jesses and lifted up into his chest, bringing him off the rabbit. I then grabbed the rabbit and stuffed it into my hunting vest before returning to the car.

Check out that full crop! Raptors eat every part of their prey and the food goes into their primary stomach, called a crop, where the digestible material is separated from bone, fur, and feather. The indigestible stuff is then compressed into a pellet and then cast up by the bird later.

Check out that full crop! Raptors eat every part of their prey and the food goes into their primary stomach, called a crop, where the digestible material is separated from bone, fur, and feather. The indigestible stuff is then compressed into a pellet and then cast up by the bird later. In the wild, raptors can go several days without catching anything, so when they do, they stuff themselves completely full and their crops fill up to enormous sizes, as you can tell by the picture.

I was really proud of Atlas on a job well done and I was, in large part, relieved. It is not a completely rare occurrence for a falconer to have a “mouser” – a bird that is somewhat smaller than typical members of its species or is a particularly lazy hunter, preferring to perch by roadsides and take small rodents, such as mice or voles. This term typically applies to Red-Tailed Hawks, as far as I know; falcons do not rely on rodents as the main part of their diet and the most common accipiter in falconry is the Goshawk (don’t quote me on that). Falconer’s typically avoid Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-Shinned Hawks because of their small size, which makes them more likely to go after small rodents. Falconers try and avoid having mousers and catching a rabbit is almost like a badge of honor. It tells other falconers that you are a “serious falconer” and you go after serious game, and it makes them more impressed with your bird than if it were to only catch mice. I was glad that Atlas wasn’t a mouser and I wouldn’t have to be embarrassed when other falconers asked me what type of game my little male Red-Tail was taking. Hopefully this wasn’t the last rabbit I’ll get, and there’s a whole three months left in the season, so I’m feeling optimistic.

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7 thoughts on “First Rabbit!

  1. Raymon

    Your style is unique compared to other folks I’ve read stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this page.

    Reply
  2. Robert Serini

    I just found your blog after watching a vid on YouTube. I read every page tonight! Seeing as its now mid-March, & you haven’t posted anything this year, I was wondering, sadly: Are you finished blogging about Atlas?

    Reply
  3. Amedeo Joe Siano

    Hey Sam,
    great video and blog.
    I was wondering,, Are you a member of NYSFA? if so, will u be going to the field meet?
    Amedeo Joe Siano

    Reply
    1. skramer13 Post author

      Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it this year because I’m at college in California, but I’m hoping to meet some falconers here and maybe go to their field meet.

      Reply
  4. Madison

    Hey Sam! Your site is incredibly inspiring. I am really interested in falconry, though my school is starting senior projects really late and I don’t think I would be able to find the time to work everything out before the deadlines. Where are you going to school in California (if you don’t mind me asking)? I live in California and am actually really hoping to be accepted to Cornell. I’m hoping to become involved in falconry there.

    Reply
  5. Tara Corey

    Hi Sam,
    My son, Daven, has also just read My Side of the Mountain and it has inspired him to learn more about Falconry. He has been researching for the last couple of weeks. Even prior to this book, he loves reading about animals and interacting with them (he is almost 12). We came across your post (we live in Shoreham) and were wondering if you had any connections or suggestions on how to learn more. We know about the exam and requiring a sponsor but have know idea where to look on Long Island. Any help and suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks,
    Tara

    Reply
    1. skramer13 Post author

      Hi Tara,

      Thanks so much for reading and reaching out! I’m so glad your son is interested in falconry. There’s a couple places you can start. One would be to request an information packet on falconry from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which I believe includes the study guide for the exam and a lot of helpful information on what all is involved in being a falconer and getting a license. There are also some great books out there, some of which can be hard to find, but many other people have blogs that talk about what being a falconer is like.

      As far as finding a potential sponsor goes, there are a couple places you could look. The DEC sent me a list of all the registered falconers who are at the general or master level, which allows you to be a sponsor, but I can’t remember if this was part of the general info packet or if this was after I had passed the test. You could probably call them on the phone and ask if they can send you that packet, at which point you could just start cold calling people on the list who live near you (the packet says what county and possibly what town each person lives in). Alternatively, you can go to the New York State Falconry Association website. They have a page about becoming a falconer and they seem very willing to try to set up people with interest with potential sponsors who live near them. You can look up the director for your region and see if they can help you find someone.

      Also, I’m fairly certain that you must be at least 13 in order to get a license, so it may be another year or so before Daven can really get started. I’m sure you and Daven have gathered this from what you’ve read so far, but falconry is taken very seriously by those who practice it and it is not at all similar to having a domestic pet. Even though I was 17 I was quite intimidated by my bird the first day or two. Anyone who would be willing to sponsor Daven definitely wants to see that he is serious and willing to learn.

      Best of luck tracking down some sponsors, and if I can be of help in any other way please let me know! Feel free to directly email me at sam.h.kramer13@gmail.com if you have any other questions.

      Best,

      Sam

      Reply

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