Jack Pace teed up a dramatic answer during his falconry presentation, rhetorically asking audience members, “What’s really appetizing to a hawk?”
“Something bloody and raw,” he answered.
On Saturday, Aug. 31, Pace presented “Falconry: An Extreme Form of Birdwatching” at Lake Kegonsa State Park. The presentation was spotted with personal experiences as a falconer and the 4,000 year history of hunting with a bird of prey.
Pace is one of roughly 100 falconers in Wisconsin, he said, and has been doing this for a decade. The wild birds he works with already have a natural instinct to hunt, but Pace refines their skills and creates a food-based relationship, so they keep coming back.
Then, he is able to follow the red-tail hawks while they hunt for things like rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks. Pace said he is doing little of the work.
“Really, she trusts me to go hunting with her,” he said.
He personally doesn’t eat any of the prey that the birds catch – some falconers do, and falconers started the practice as a way for the birds to hunt for humans, Pace said.
Audience members listened as Nelly, Pace’s current red-tail hawk, perched on his arm. This red-tailed hawk is about 43 ounces with a wing span of four feet. Although she can’t see well in the dark, during the day she can see prey across Lake Kegonsa.
To find Nelly and other hawks he’s worked with, Pace traps a bird in the wild, works with them for a couple years and then releases them. As a retired police officer and teacher, his favorite part of falconry is teaching the birds.
“The bird can be released back into the wild with no ill effects but positive effects,” Pace told the Hub after the presentation.
Although Pace works primarily with red-tailed hawks, falconers can work with other birds like peregrine falcons, which hunt from the sky and dive into their prey topping 200 miles an hour – essentially exploding their dinner, Pace said.
Some falconers work with eagles, whose talons are as big as hands and who can hunt coyotes.
Pace said he does get an emotional attachment to his red-tailed hawks.
“When I release them I get a little teary, but I know that they are going off to make other birds and they are stronger and healthier than they would have been without me,” he said.