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Falconer: The thrill of the chase

Richmond County falconer Marshall Davis stands with his hawk perched on his arm.
Contributed photo

His lungs fill with the cool sweet smell of the season. He has waited months for this day. His dog is at his feet, its stubby tail twitching with anticipation. Perched on his left arm is a hawk — she has been waiting too. 

She spreads her auburn tail feathers in preparation for flight. He relaxes his hold of the leather straps around the hawk’s legs. She dives forward. The bells attached to each leg ring with each stroke of her wings. She rises up to the upper branches of a nearby oak. 

The ringing bells were the sound the little dog was waiting for. It bounds in while watching the bird above. The man steps into the woods looking for the bird in the oak. He knows she is up there, but her white feathers are difficult to see against the patches of sky coming through the canopy. 

The bells ring and the bird appears as she flies away from him. His little dog races to keep up with the flying hawk. The man does his best to keep up but knows he is a poor match for his two partners. 

Where is the hawk? 

Ringing bells reveal she is directly overhead. Her silhouette is pointing toward a tree to his right. He calls his dog over and begins to strike the tree’s trunk with his walking stick, hoping the sound will make the squirrel nervous. 

He scans the tree top looking for movement. His dog is looking too. Bells ring as the bird flies and dives in through the upper branches. The hawk misses and a squirrel begins to scamper down the tree trunk. It stops and plans its escape. 

The bird is looking down from above. Now the man and dog show their worth as they yell and bark attempting to confuse the squirrel. With threats above and now below the squirrel decides its best option is to jump. 

It hits the ground with a thud and runs for one of its escape holes. Following is a bouncing, barking dog. As the dog closes the gap, the squirrel changes course. The sound of ringing bells signals the hawk is now in pursuit. He watches as the hawk flies passed him while twisting and turning around trees. 


This is what he came to see. 

While in flight, the hawk reaches out with its powerful legs and clamps down. Together, the hawk and squirrel slide through dry leaves and come to a stop. The man rushes in to help his feathered partner. Squirrels don’t give up easily and can give a crippling bite to a hawk’s legs. There is no need to help as the hawk’s talons have done their job. 

The hawk, revved up by adrenaline, is now beginning to relax and is ready for his human partner to cut open her prize so she can eat her fill. The dog lays down a few feet away still panting from the chase. The man begins to relax as well and can appreciate the moment. 

All is quiet. It is perfect. 

A moment like this could have happened thousands of years ago as the hunting partnership of human and raptor dates back at least 4,000 years. But this moment is still witnessed today as a dedicated few still practice the ancient art of falconry.


Marshall Davis is a practicing falconer in Richmond County.