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Hunting with birds

Jordan Jones, a Hudson, Wis., area falconer, holds Lira, a red-tailed hawk he trapped near Interstate 94. Forum News Service photo by Margaret Ontl1 / 2
Lira, a red-tailed hawk shows off talons while perconed Jordan Jones' arm. Forum News Service photo by Margaret Ontl2 / 2

HUDSON -- For Jordan Jones, his fascination with birds of prey and the sport of falconry started at a young age.

"I got into it when I was 17," said Jones. "I became interested in it when I was 12 after seeing the movie, 'My Side of the Mountain.'" After that I said, "I have got to do that."

The plot featured a 13-year-old boy who left home to live in the wilderness. After watching a peregrine falcon overhead, the boy decides to learn to be a falconer.

It would be five years before Jones, a native of Benton, Ark., would get his first bird after he learned a co-worker of his dad was into the sport.

"That was it. I was hooked," said Jones.

His parents' reaction to their son's new sport was mixed.

"My dad loved it," said Jones. "My mom liked the idea, but wasn't sure about having a hawk in the living room."

Jones has hunted with red-tailed hawks and American kestrels, but says getting into the sport isn't easy.

"It is a pretty long drawn out process," he said. "Falconry is the most regulated hunting sport in the country."

The North American Falconers Association says it takes seven years to reach the master level.

The process includes a two-year apprenticeship and testing.

"You have to build a house and facilities for your bird," Jones said "All of your equipment has to be inspected and you have to find a sponsor, a falconer, with at least two years of experience. He is the go-to guy. You also have to trap your own bird."

Trapping the juvenile bird is the first step in a process that, according to Jones, ultimately extends the bird's natural life.

"Of all the red-tailed hawks born, 80 percent of them will die before they are mature," said Jones. "You go out there and you give them several more chances to survive. They gain a lot of experience (hunting for food) without the risk of starvation."

Once the bird is trapped you bring it home, strap on the anklets, to which tethers, or jesses are attached.

"This is a whole new world for them," said Jones. "That first bite of food starts the whole process. Each day, you double the distance they have to come for the food. You have to weigh the food and the bird every day. It is like an athlete, to maintain a balance of hunger for food and enough weight for strength and energy. You have to do this as long as you have the bird. Generally you keep a bird for one season."

This season, Jones has a juvenile red-tailed hawk named Lira, which he trapped last fall, along Intererstate 94 near Hudson. Lira is Jones' ninth bird.

"I try to take her out each day," said Jones. "Anybody interested needs to know that it takes two to three hours a day for hunting. It provides exercise and mental stimulation for the bird."

Jones lets the bird hunt on property where he has permission the landowner. He walks below using a walking stick which disturbs mice and rabbits, which Lira can then hunt. She brings the catch back to Jones.

Jones is studying field biology at University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has interned in Cape May, N.J., with the Raptor Banding Project and worked at the American Eagle Foundation in Tennessee, which maintains an eagle sanctuary.

"I have tried to explain this before," said Jones as to why this is his passion. "To have a relationship with a wild animal and having that animal do what it does in the wild and allow you to be a part of it is kind of poetic in a way."