## Email: Tim E Subject: It's a black vulture, not a condor Date: 2020-12-04 Hi Jack AND Dave AND Jeb. First of all, I must say thanks for the long tribute at the end of the latest UCAP episode. The minute I saw the title, I knew it had to do with Jack's recent interest in my bee activities. Among my other interests was falconry back when I lived in Virginia, so I can enlighten all of you a bit about that video of the black vulture (not a condor) with the paragliders. I did know of one other Virginia falconer who was working with a black vulture (which has a wingspan of five feet, compared to the six foot wingspan of a turkey vulture or the four and a half foot wingspan of a red-tailed hawk). I think it was more of a rehab project, though, than anything else. Vultures find food by smell, not sight like a hawk. What they're doing when they thermal is hoping to stumble upon the smell of something rotting down below. All the red-tails I worked with were trapped from the wild. It takes a lot of work done just right to raise a red-tail from a hatchling. If you don't do it right, they will endlessly whine (screaming, falconers call it) at the first sight of you since it will always think you're its parent who will give it food. It's much easier to work with a wild red-tail who, though eventually tame, still holds you with a bit more cautious respect than it would its own parents. With the wild red-tails I'd trap, the training is to get them to realize that, one, you are no threat then, two, you happen to have a lot of food in your pockets all the time then, three, when you either blow a whistle or raise and extend your arm, you're going to let them have some of what's in your pocket. That whole process only takes two to three weeks. Red-tails are remarkably easy to tame, far more so than any other raptor. Hunting with a hawk (with a red-tail, that is...it's different for other types of raptors) is having it follow you from tree limb to tree limb, waiting for you to hand out some of that free food. You, in the meantime, are trying to get a rabbit or squirrel to reveal itself by using a walking stick to beat the brush (rabbit) or side of a tree (squirrel). When the red-tail sees that motion, instinct takes over, and off it goes. I can imagine, then, that the vulture in that video was trained in something of the same way and so was trained to respond to either or both the whistle and the outstretched selfie boom. What food was used to interest the vulture is beyond me. Aged roadkill? They don't want it unless it's rotten because they don't have a pointed enough beak, jaw strength, or the neck muscles to rip a freshly killed animal apart the way other raptors can. I never tried flying a hang glider with any of my red-tails. You would never hunt with them on soarable days. Your control of a wild one that's been tamed is slight at best and the minute they get any kind of lift under their wings, they're more likely to wander off to explore the next ridge for game than wait around for your measly tidbits of stale rabbit leftover from the last hunt. If it was raised from a hatchling, as that friend of Dave's was, then its devotion to you is stronger, and flying in formation (or letting it fly free in soarable weather) would be possible. In a hang glider, I have maneuvered in to hover maybe only 20 feet above a wild red-tailed hawk while ridge soaring off of a Maryland mountain near Camp David (Dave; I've forgotten the site's name but I'm sure you'll know it) but it kept eyeing me warily over its shoulder and eventually just peeled off and looked for another section of the ridge to work. Soaring with them in sailplanes when I was learning to fly at 14 (with a flying club near Harper's Ferry) is what got me interested in red-tailed hawks in the first place. The attached photo is something my mom arranged for my daughter and me; a photo of all our menagerie back when I lived in Oakton, Virginia (and flew out of Manasses, Jeb). Clearly, the red-tailed hawk is more interested in the ring-necked doves on our shoulders than the photographer. Judging by my daughter's age, this was around 1992. Now that I'm in Florida, I haven't gotten around to taking falconry up here. Red-tails are the only raptor that interests me so beating brush in a Florida swamp for rabbits in a hot Florida winter just doesn't appeal to me as much as being out in the open fields of northern Virginia on a crisp winter's day (you trap one during its fall migration south, hunt over the winter, then release it back to the wild in the spring). Missing that interaction with nature, though, was one reason I took up beekeeping six years ago. Thanks for all you do. Hope to see all three of you at Sun n Fun. Surely next year it will happen, right? ![](animals.jpg) --- ### Postscript via later email: I just realized I forgot to explain that the red-tailed hawk on my fist doesn't have a red tail because it's only eight or nine months old. They don't get red tails until they are adults in the same way that only adult bald eagles have the white head and white tail. By law, the only red-tail you can trap and keep is one hatched the previous spring (which you know by a tail that's not red). They statistically only have a one in ten chance of surviving the first year (it's hard being a predator!). Once past the first year in the wild, their survival rate goes up exponentially. So the law allows you to only work with the birds that need all the help they can get, so to speak, rather than the adult ones who will do just fine without you.