Falconry program focuses on birds of prey

Sedosa the Harris's hawk
A young visitor to the Beaver Creek Wildlife Education Center's 20th Anniversary Bash holds Sedosa the Harris's hawk, part of a program by the Ohio School of Falconry. (Kathy Cattrell, Beaver Creek Wildlife Education Center, photo)

Sedosa the Harris’s hawk was a big hit. She flew onto the fists of nine visitors whose names were drawn at the Beaver Creek Wildlife Education Center’s 20th Anniversary Bash on June 25. 

Joe Dorrian, executive director of the Ohio School of Falconry, conducted a program that day on the sport of falconry, which involves “getting up close and personal with raptors,” he said. And that’s what the audience did with Sedosa, Shelly the peregrine falcon, Quinny the European barn owl, Savannah the African augur buzzard and Henson the Eurasian eagle owl. He was named for puppeteer Jim Henson because he looked like a muppet baby when he was little. 

School of Falconry

Quinny the European barn owl
Joe Dorrian, executive director of the Ohio School of Falconry, shows Quinny the European barn owl to visitors at the Beaver Creek Wildlife Education Center’s 20th Anniversary Bash. (Kathy Cattrell, Beaver Creek Wildlife Education Center, photo)

The Ohio School of Falconry is about teaching the sport of hunting with birds of prey, Dorrian said. But it is also aimed at educating people about the conservation of those birds and the wild places where they live. 

It was only the sixth school of falconry in the United States when it was established in 2014 at Camp Mary Orton in Columbus. There are now two other locations, at the Izaak Walton League of America in Medina and the YMCA’s Camp Kern between Dayton and Cincinnati. 

The sport of falconry is practiced on every continent except Antarctica. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared falconry a world heritage sport, meaning people of all cultures have a right to practice it. The sport requires a partnership between the falconer and the raptor in the pursuit of wild game. 

“The relationship is built on trust,” Dorrian said. “As the raptor is trained, it develops trust in the human.” 

Long history

The sport is between 4,000 and 6,000 years old, beginning in either Japan or China.

 “Back then it was a means of subsistence; it helped put food on the table,” Dorrian said. Plus, it was more efficient than using the weapons available for hunting at the time. “A bird of prey was better than a bow or a spear for hunting,” he explained. “An arrow or a spear can only go straight. A bird of prey can turn and chase a rabbit or pheasant in whatever direction it goes.” 

With the advent of firearms, birds were no longer the best way to bag prey. It was then that falconry became a sport. 

Falconry moved from the Far East because of Genghis Khan and his march west. He employed 200 to 300 falconers, each of which had two or three birds hunting at all times in order to help feed the khan’s soldiers. 

Falconry was introduced to Europe and the Middle East after the fall of the Roman Empire. After firearms became accessible there, it became a sport of royalty. 

There were falconers in North America dating back to the 1600s, but not many. Early colonists wrote in letters how happy they were that they didn’t have to be royalty to afford a falcon or a hawk. 

Now the number of falconers in the United States remains pretty constant at just under 6,000, Dorrian said. The sport became legal in Ohio in 1983 and there are currently 120 falconers in the state, he said. 


The Ohio Falconry Association was created as a non-profit organization to lobby for the rights of falconers and to help train new ones. To become a falconer, one must serve a two-year apprenticeship under a general- or a master-class falconer. 

In Ohio, apprentices must train either an American kestrel or a red-tailed hawk. The kestrel, North America’s smallest falcon, is only the size of a mourning dove and feeds on small birds, mammals and reptiles. It can also become prey for larger raptors because of its size. 

Perhaps that’s why almost all apprentices choose the red-tailed hawk, Dorrian said. They eat mostly mammals, including rabbits and squirrels, as well as pheasants, bobwhite and other birds. 

With the help of the sponsor, the apprentice must trap a juvenile, then train it to hunt. It takes about four weeks for the bird to complete its training. That includes learning to fly back to the apprentice’s glove, where it knows it will be fed. 

The bird must also learn to follow the falconer, who flushes the game. Yes, the human is like a dog, flushing game for the bird, Dorrian said. 

In Ohio, the raptors are taken out four to five times a week all through hunting season, Sept. 1 through March 10. 

“The birds fly free all the time,” Dorrian said. “They can fly off at any time, but they stay because they realize life is easy with us, and they’re well cared for.” 

They’re trapped after they’ve been on their own for a month or two, trying to catch mice or voles or other small prey — and not always succeeding, he said. 

With the falconer, they get fed meat every time they return to the glove. And they learn to catch bigger prey, like rabbits, pheasants and ducks. They’re allowed to eat whatever they catch, as much as they want. The falconer then freezes the rest to feed at a later time.

 “The birds eat everything on the prey, even the head,” Dorrian said. “Nothing is wasted.”


Unfortunately, hawks and other birds of prey have a very slim chance of survival in the wild. 

“Of all the babies that were hatched this year, 90% will be dead within six months, mostly because of man-made hazards,” he said. 

They’re electrocuted on power lines or hit by cars. They fly into windows or fences, or eat mice or rats that have been poisoned. Cats often try to catch the young birds. 

Even if they don’t succeed, “one scratch from a cat infects them with pasteurella bacteria to which they have no immunity. It kills them within 24 to 48 hours,” Dorrian said. 

Since falconers trap the birds as juveniles, “they’re basically guaranteed to survive their first year,” he said. “They’re usually released back into the wild after a year or two, but now they’re better equipped having learned to catch bigger game.” 

Sponsors teach apprentices how to trap and train the birds and to make the equipment they will need, including a glove made of leather. The glove only goes 15 inches up the falconer’s arm, so the bird actually perches on the human’s fist. Anklets and leather jesses or straps are also needed, along with appropriate facilities and perches for the birds. 

Some visitors to the wildlife center may have been surprised to see owls at a program on falconry. 

“Hunting with owls was just legalized, but it’s not easy. Owls are the least intelligent of all raptors,” Dorrian said, almost in a whisper. But that didn’t make Quinny or Henson any less adorable to those who got up close and personal with them at Beaver Creek. 


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Barbara Mudrak was a reporter for 25 years, mostly with the Akron Beacon Journal, and recently retired from teaching English and news writing at Alliance High School. She can be reached at editorial+barb@farmanddairy.com.



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