The Harris Hawk (sometimes spelt as Harris' Hawk) is a medium-sized raptor native to the southeastern United States and Central and South America. In the wild this hawk stays fit naturally, preying on small game like rabbits and rodents. (Reference 1) As a domesticated animal, the Harris Hawk has its fitness managed by its handler in preparation to hunt or breed. The book "Harris Hawk: The Management, Training and Hunting" describes this breed as ideal for the beginning falconer thanks to its forgiving nature and eagerness to hunt. (Reference 2, page 16).
Start the Harris Hawk on a regimen of raw meat the bird would typically find in the field. Contact falconry vendors for live quail and quail eggs; buy live mice in pet stores; locate rabbit meat for sale via breeders. (Reference 3)
Sprinkle a raptor supplement like Vitahawk on the meat at the rate of .25 to 1 gram per bird per day. Such supplements provide added nutrients and, for breeding birds, vitamin E.
Place the food near the bow perch the bird is accustomed to using. Stand the hawk on a scale to weigh it, then apply its hood and tie the bird to the perch. Allow enough line for the hawk to reach the food. (Reference 5)
Step away from the hawk as it begins to eat. Over a period of several days, approach closer and closer during feeding time. Practice touching the hawk gently as it eats. (Reference 5)
Handle the hawk regularly from the day you bring it home. Move your hands gently over its head and feet, move your fist into position near its feet. Employ this handling up to 16 hours a day for the first four days to establish trust between you and the bird. (Reference 2)
Reduce the hawk's food the day of the hunt; the bird should be slightly hungry when entering the field. Bring small bites of meat, and cue the bird to return to your gloved hand for a food reward. (Reference 4)
Monitor the hawk's weight daily. An overly sated or overweight bird will lose its motivation to return to the handler. (Reference 4)
Choose a hawk no younger than 12 to 20 weeks old. The flesh of jackrabbits is higher in nutrients than that of cottontail rabbits.
Never leave the hawk in below-freezing temperatures. Avoid overtraining the hawk with food associations; keep its focus on actual hunting instead of practice flights.
Tips and warnings
- Choose a hawk no younger than 12 to 20 weeks old.
- The flesh of jackrabbits is higher in nutrients than that of cottontail rabbits.
- Never leave the hawk in below-freezing temperatures.
- Avoid overtraining the hawk with food associations; keep its focus on actual hunting instead of practice flights.
- Davidson College: Habitat and Habitat Utilization
- "Harris Hawk: The Management, Training and Hunting"; Lee Harris; 2001
- Toby Bradshaw's Hawking and Falconry Website: Philosophy of Breeding and Rearing Harris's Hawks
- Ben Long Falconry Equipment: Beginner Tips
- Falconrybirds.com: Training the Harris Hawk