Eddie had forked out a lot of money for this day’s adventure and was eagerly looking forward to a new learning experience. According to the blurb, there was to be a brief introductory session, followed by an intensely practical day during which he would handle and fly a bird of prey.
Having visited this place a number of times, Eddie knew that they housed some of the world’s largest raptors: Steller’s Sea Eagles, Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles as well as Andean Condors, Griffons and other large vultures. Thus it was that he was unable to hide the disappointment he felt when Frank came out with a bird that looked smaller than the chickens he kept in his back garden.
“What’s this?” he asked Frank.
“European Buzzard,” Frank replied, “like the ones you see soaring above the fields.”
“You mean Common Buzzard, don’t you?”
“I don’t like calling anything ‘common’. I prefer European Buzzard.”
“What’s wrong with common?”
“Simply this. Pretty well every animal on the planet is vulnerable to human activity. Look how many have gone extinct in the recent past.”
“Depending on which list you believe, it’s up to fourteen since the turn of the century.”
“That’s not many, there’s thousands.”
“The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species details more than seventy-six thousand.”
“That’s plenty, surely.”
“Perhaps, but only just over half are classed as ‘least concern’, which means they’re basically doing okay – at the moment. The rest are all endangered to some degree, and more than 900 are extinct or only exist in captivity. And that’s just the ones we know about.”
“Okay, you’ve made your point, but what’s that got to do with calling it common?”
“Because when you call something common, you’re implying that there are plenty of them, and we don’t need to worry about their conservation. And that’s not a good place to start from.”
“Okay. So, what do I have to do with this bird?”
“Just make a light fist with your gloved hand and let him stand on it. I’ll put his jesses, that’s the short leather straps on his feet, through your fingers and tie his leash off on the D-ring on your glove. Then you just stand for a couple of minutes without moving or making eye contact with him.”
“Why no eye contact?”
“Because you are a bigger predator than he is, and he knows that you fix a gaze on your prey before striking.”
“Can I take a photo of him?”
“Only if you agree to throw your camera to the ground if he spooks.”
“Is he likely to?”
“If I give you my phone, will you take a photo of him on my arm?”
“I’ve got another question.”
“How can he fly if he’s effectively tied to my glove?”
“But the brochure says—”
“I know what the brochure says, and you will fly him… later. We’ll take a walk around now so he can get used to you, and you can get used to having him on your fist. You can look at him but don’t stare, and if he looks fidgety, we’ll stop and let him calm down again.”
“What if I get fidgety?” Eddie asked, jokingly.
“We’ll stop and let you calm down again.”
“Does the bird have a name?”
“Yes. It’s Tysca.”
“Tysca? Does that have a meaning or is it just a name?”
“It’s an old Anglo-Saxon word for Buzzard.”
Two men and one bird spent an hour walking slowly around fields, along ancient pathways and bridleways until, finally, Eddie was as comfortable having Tysca on his fist as Tysca was being there. Of course, Tysca was just doing his job. Every day, he sat on a different fist; every day a new, nervous man or woman slowly became more comfortable with him, and as they became more accustomed to his presence, he became more relaxed in theirs. Finally, Frank asked Eddie if he was ready to do some flying.
“Ready?” Eddie responded, “I’ve been ready since I arrived here.”
“No you haven’t,” Frank suggested, “you think you were ready but you weren’t. I believe you are now.”
“Maybe you’re right. I am calmer now than I was, and I suspect Tysca is, too.”
“Okay. Make sure you have a good grip on the jesses. I’m going to untie him.”
Frank untied the leash from Eddie’s glove and pulled it through the slits in the end of the jesses.
“Can he go now?”
“Not yet. I need to change his jesses. The ones he has now are called mews jesses; they’re designed for securing him on the stand when he’s ready for work – they come off when he goes into his aviary. I want to replace them with field jesses. They don’t have slits in them.”
“What’s wrong with the ones with slits?”
“The slits can easily get caught on a twig or a barb, and leave your bird dangling more feet up than you can reach. Now, I’m going to pull one of the jesses out. Make sure you have a solid grip on the other one.”
Frank withdrew one of the jesses from between Eddie’s fingers, pulled it through the eyelet in the anklet and replaced it with a field jess, which he threaded back through Eddie’s fingers. He then repeated the operation for the other leg.
“That’s it. Ready to go. Stretch out your arm and open your fist.”
“He didn’t go.”
“Of course not. You’re a comfortable perch. Roll your hand forward slightly.”
Eddie did as he was instructed and the bird flew lazily off into a branch of a nearby tree.
“Now we’ll sit and have a rest and a bite to eat. After that, I’ll tell you how to get him back again.”
Eddie bristled with anticipation. It may not be a massive bird, but it’s his bird – for the day, anyway.
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 186, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.