One of the most terrifying moments in movie history is the kitchen scene in “Jurassic Park,” in which two relentless velociraptors hunt two trapped children. Don’t remember? Watch it on YouTube and hold on tight. Then imagine bringing a smaller version of those killers into your home.
That’s what Brookhaven resident Jason Green does. A licensed master falconer, he brings winged raptors, also known as birds of prey, into his home to acclimate or “man” them.
“In the beginning, they either want to kill you or escape,” he said of these born killers at the top of the bird food chain.
Manning is part of the ancient sport of falconry, in which birds of prey are used to hunt small game. During manning, the bird is brought into close, controlled contact with a falconer to learn that it’s going to be safe and well fed. Eventually, if the bird is young and willing to hunt, the result can be a partnership lasting two or three years, until the falconer releases it into the wild to mate and reproduce.
Despite the bond romanticized in movies like “Brothers of the Wind” and “My Side of the Mountain,” raptors never actually bond with anyone.
“The birds are purely exploitative,” said Green. “They’re motivated by food and stay as long as they get what they want.”
“They never love you like a dog or cat,” said his wife, Alba.
As proof, Green says his body is full of scars.
“When startled, they go for you with their talons,” he said.
Like most falconers, he’s totally devoted to the falconry way of life. Becoming a licensed general falconer requires a two-year apprenticeship and passage of a rigorous exam. Becoming a master falconer requires five years more. Having a bird involves intense training and considerable expense for shelter and equipment. Today, Georgia has 213 licensed falconers.
Green has been a falconer for 29 years and receives frequent calls for raptor rescue. Recently, he rescued a small male Cooper’s hawk from a pigeon racer’s trap. The bird had a visibly broken tail. He thought it would heal and become his next hunting bird, but it had internal injuries and lived only a few days.
Other recent rescues included a young female barn owl caught in a pigeon loft and another male Cooper’s hawk. The owl was lethargic and dehydrated but recovered in two days. He released her at nearby Murphey Candler Park to find a territory and a mate. He’s registered the Cooper’s hawk with the state in the hopes of keeping it for hunting.
But his most memorable rescue was and may always be a female red-tailed hawk he named Caramel. She was a hungry lost fledgling discovered on a farm near Athens. Though she had her flight feathers, she hadn’t learned to hunt, probably because her parents had been feeding her till abandoning her. She had no chance of survival alone in the wild. He brought her into his home, where he manned her by keeping her on a perch in his office while he worked and initially sleeping with her on a perch in the guest room.
Caramel was not a typical raptor.
“She was very flexible,” he said.
Over the next year, he and Alba often took her for walks at Murphey Candler Park.
“People wanted to pet her,” said Alba.
Once when she seemed to have flown away for good, they opened the front door, and there she was, waiting to come in. But they couldn’t keep a raptor in their home forever. The problem was she had no drive to hunt and could not simply be released.
Last month, he gave her to Winged Ambassadors, an educational program at Historic Banning Mills run by his good friend and mentor, Master Falconer Dale Arrowood. Alba cried the day she left
“Now she’s a Winged Ambassador,” he said, as he looks forward to an upcoming visit to see her.
Dale Arrowood is training her to perform in his birds of prey show and visit schools and other organizations interested in wildlife preservation. Considering that a red-tail’s favorite prey is mice and a single pair of mice can produce 2,000 offspring in six months, having a red-tail in your neighborhood is a very efficient way to maintain the ecological balance!