Lately we have been doing quite a bit of work with falcons at Bird Show, rehabilitating Clarkie, lure flying Khan and recently we’ve been training Nike. Nike is a female Peregrine Falcon named after the Greek goddess of Victory. When we lure fly our falcons, the falcons always win. I thought the name was very appropriate.
In the falcon world girls are generally always bigger. The boy falcons are a third smaller, which is a considerable size difference. We have never free flown a female Peregrine Falcon at Taronga Zoo before so this is a trail to see how she will fare. It will be different for her within the confines of our stage. Because of her size she may find it harder to twist and turn. So far everything is going well though.
I have been training Nike since she first arrived in October last year and she is a very impressive bird. Today was the first day I free flew Nike. I flew her at Balmoral Oval. I started swinging the lure, a leather piece of equipment she is trained to fly to and then Matthew released her from his glove. This is one of the scariest moments you will ever experience as a bird trainer. Your heart sinks. You’re really excited too, but there’s a chance your bird may fly off and you’ll never see it again. Scary stuff! But we make educated guesses based on a history of behaviour. It’s usually a safe bet, but you never know.
So today Matthew released her and … she flew in the opposite direction!!! She had never done this. You could imagine how I was feeling at that point of time. Not good. I continued to swing the lure; hoping to get her attention. There was some activity in the direction Nike was heading so we assume that is what drew her in. On closer inspection she realised it was nothing special and then turned! She turned back towards me. Still holding onto those hopes, don’t have her back yet! She came towards me … closer, closer … too fast. She misjudged the speed, hit the lure and then looped away.
Luckily Nike landed in a nearby tree. On reassessing the flight, she leapt from the tree, took flight and made it to the lure at a much better pace. She had successfully free-flown and claimed her prize! You could not wipe the grin off my face. Was brilliant! Can’t wait till tomorrow to do it all again.