Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Great Day for Falconry!

Today at the library, we had three very special guests! My friend Chris Karraker and his wife MaryJo, as well Chris's Red-tailed Hawk, Mjolnir. I invited them to the library when I last saw them in April, to help me kick off our teen Summer Reading Program ("Spark a Reaction") --and Chris was really excited to come in and help me out!

Not everyone is pictured here, but we had a great turn out!

We also used today's programs a great way to use our new Reading Garden area. It was a good spot to get outside; and the weather was just right --not too windy, not too hot or cold, and just the right amount of overcast so that we weren't getting too much sun. The only issue we had with it being such a nice day was the amount of motorcycles and ATV's taking advantage of the nice weather, so it was a little noisy at times.

Chris, showing us his copy of My Side of the Mountain.

Chris started out by explaining how he first learned about Falconry, which is one of the oldest sports in the world. Falconry originated in about 2000 BC, in the Mesopotamia region. Chris learned of the sport when he was about 12, when he read Jean Craighead George's My Side of the Mountain, and his interest was peaked! It wasn't until much later though that he began to seriously contemplate the undertaking of the sport. In order to become a falconer, you must find a Sponsor, pass a 105-question exam, and register with a few wildlife bodies, such as the DNR. Since Chris hunts in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, he is registered in both states.

After explaining some of the basics of what it takes to become a falconer, Chris walked us through the story of capturing his first bird --whom we would momentarily meet. Falconers can only catch immature birds, for several reasons, one of which being that they are not yet part of the breeding population. Chris showed us one of the traps, which would contain mice or gerbils. The bird will, when approaching, hopefully get caught in one of the thin wires --that, while probably annoying, won't actually hurt the bird. As an apprentice falconer, Chris is allowed to have one bird; either a Red-tailed Hawk or an American Kestrel. Once he moves on to a General Practioner level, there are other varieties that he will be able to work with. While teaching us about the traps, Chris was sure to remind us that --unless you are properly licensed, capturing wild birds of prey (and most animals!) is extremely illegal, so don't try this at home without proper permits!
Chris showed us one of the wire-built traps, and how it works to catch birds.

Mjolnir is out of the Giant Hood!

Chris then took Mjolnir out of his "Giant Hood", the large brown box that he travels in. Chris also had him in his regular hood, so that he wouldn't be startled by the crowd when he took him out. Normally, he wouldn't wear the hood in the box. He also explained how after first capturing Mjolnir, he put on some essential equipment like several bands and a bell. Mjolnir also wears a backback, on which clips a tracker so if he were to ever get lost, Chris would hopefully be able to find him --something that Chris had to put to good use on Christmas Eve when Mjolnir decided to cozy down into a hollowed out tree with his prey!

Chris invited several of the audience members to pet Mjolnir, who stayed nice and calm with his hood on. When asked if he could release him to see him in flight, Chris explained that because Mjolnir was molting, that he was keeping his weight on the heavy side --which makes birds tend to be a little on the lazy side, so it wasn't a good idea to try and fly him. He may not come back if his belly is full!

Chris told us a little about hunting with birds; Mjolnir tends to go after primarily squirrels and rabbits. He looks forward to hunting with him for another season before he releases him next spring. Falconry is actually very good for birds, because it ensures that a bird will reach adulthood and enter into a future breeding population, should the bird be released later. Some Falconers continue to use the same bird for many years --one Falconer used his bird for 28 seasons!

Later on, Brody asked "Where are his eyes", so Chris took it as the chance to take off the hood! Mjolnir didn't seem too surprised about the large group that he was in front of --and he's a photogenic little bird! He did get a little antsy later on, and Chris put the hood back on him for more closer photos with some of the kids afterwards. A few lucky people that strayed behind to chat with Chris and MaryJo got to hold Mjolnir --a totally unexpected treat!

Totally unexpected! Chris offered to let me hold Mjolnir! It was pretty awesome --not sure how I can top it in the future!

 These pictures and others are posted on the Facebook page! A HUGE thank you goes out to Chris and MaryJo for coming all the way out to us today. The program was great and I think everyone learned a little something new! We hope to have them back in the future!

If you're curious about Falconry yourself, Chris highly recommended reading My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George; the book that got him interested in the sport. In Wisconsin, you can pursue becoming a falconer at 14, and he had other titles he might recommend to a beginning falconer to study such as The Falconer Apprentice by William C. Oakes. If you have any questions for Chris, feel free to contact me at or drop into the library and I'll pass the questions along!

Shayla looks really jealous of her older brother! But the whole family had a lot of fun chatting with Chris and MaryJo after the program --and you can tell that Miah felt his LONG wait for the program was well worth it!

Mjolnir wasn't sure how he felt about being passed around and Brody and Kelly got a face-first experience of how powerful those wings can really be!

But, Once he calmed down and adjusted a bit, Brody got a great photo too!

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