Taught ‘Frankie’ the hawk to fly

From our January 2014 issue

By John MoylesRegina, Sask.

In the spring, my brother and I used to raid birds’ nests, take an egg, and place it under a brooding hen. When the wild chick hatched it would immediately bond with the hen and be accepted by the flock.

There were two memorable birds, Frankie the red-tailed hawk, and Hank the owl. They were a lot of work as their diet consisted of freshly caught gophers and mice.

Then there was the problem of teaching them to fly. We thought, once they got their flight feathers, they’d naturally start flying. This was not the case.

We took Frankie up the 50-foot windmill. He was petrified of heights. He screeched, dug his talons into clothing and flesh, and hammered on us with his beak. It was difficult to hang onto the ladder with one hand, tear the bird off your body with the other, and toss him out into space.

He would spread his wings, glide down to the ground, do a couple of somersaults, and run for safe haven in the flock. Looking up the windmill, we finally devised a way of getting him airborne.

We would grasp his feet and, holding him over our heads, race down the pasture jerking him up and down. When his wings loosened up and started flapping, we would let go. At first he would fly a few yards and skid to a landing.

After repeating this a number of times, he suddenly realized he could keep himself in the air. He climbed higher and higher until he was just a speck in the sky. I held out my arm and called, “Frankie.” He folded his wings and swooped down to land on my arm. He screeched at the top of his voice and seemed quite pleased with himself.

The next problem was to teach him to hunt and kill his food. We left freshly killed gophers in the pasture. He would consume them, and wait for the next dinner to be laid out.

To teach him to hunt and kill, we snared some gophers and tethered them on long cords attached to stakes. When Frankie flew near, the gopher would run around trying to get to the safety of its hole. Seeing this moving lunch, Frankie would attack the gopher and kill it. Problem solved.

I would come out in the morning, shout ‘Frankie’, hold out my arm and he’d appear out of the sky, land on my arm, and turn his head to one side.

One fall morning he did not respond to my call. We realized the migration instinct had kicked in and he was away for the winter months.

Frankie returned the next spring, and the spring after that, each time coming to the farmyard to acknowledge us. Then we saw him no more. Mother said, “Oh, he just met up with a lady hawk and she’s keeping him busy.” Mother had an answer for everything.

Hank the owl was completely different. We could not teach him to fly. His attitude was one of superiority. Although he didn’t fly, he looked down on humans.

He followed mother everywhere on the farm, truly the wise old owl. He would sit on the step and look very sophisticated.

Hank could turn his head 90 degrees in both directions without moving another muscle on his body.

One afternoon a Grade 1 teacher from Wolseley brought her class on a field trip to meet Hank. He performed beautifully.

I had given him a fresh mouse before they arrived and, waiting until he had an audience, regurgitated the ball of mouse hide and bone in front of the class. It was truly a learning experience.