Beyond Your Backyard: A Night on Falconry

  Larry and his wife Norma with Puff the Prairie Falcon at Wakamow.

Larry and his wife Norma with Puff the Prairie Falcon at Wakamow.

 Larry & Puff at the meeting

Larry & Puff at the meeting

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Kimberly J. Epp

On Monday, April 23rd, the Moose Jaw Nature Society welcomed former member and falconer, Larry Going as guest speaker. Going brought his juvenile Prairie Falcon, Puff. His interactive talk lasted nearly an hour. Puff was indeed the star of the evening.

Sixty per cent of juvenile Prairie Falcons in the wild do not make it past their first year. Puff is about 10 months old, and Larry has had her for 3 months. She was quite calm, and Larry even allowed a few of us to hold her. To prepare for her flights, he takes her on near daily walks out at Wakamow. Quickly she is becoming an ambassador for Prairie Falcons!

The Prairie Falcon is a raptor or bird of prey. It belongs to the falcon family or order of falconiformes. This falcon is the approximate size of a crow. Its' wingspan is one metre in length. The Prairie Falcon closely resembles the well-known Peregrine Falcon.

Falconry is a sport in which people train falcons to hunt and fly back to them with their prey. The sport began in China more than 3,000 years ago. To be a falconer you need to first be mentored by an expert in the field. It is indeed a labour of love, which requires much dedication! Larry is still relatively new to falconry, being involved with it for about 6 years. A past speaker from Living Sky Wildlife Rehab. 

Falconers actually help save falcons. Young peregrines, for example, also have a tough time surviving their first year in the wild. Many Canadian falconers volunteer to fly young peregrines to help them survive. Larry's prior falcon, Farah was a peregrine. Sadly, she passed away last fall. She visited many schoolchildren during her time with Larry. He is very passionate about education.

The University of Saskatchewan matches young peregrines with falconers, who fly the birds every day for at least a year. Daily exercise strengthens the birds and gives them hunting practice while under the care of the falconer. The peregrine is an endangered species. Falconers are very passionate about conservation.

Some interesting maximum speed facts to ponder: The Peregrine Falcon, while diving, is the fastest animal on earth. In a dive, it can reach 320 km/hour!  The peregrine is so fast that the prey has no time to respond. It can spot its prey from the height of a kilometre. Peregrines nest on cliffs or even building ledges.

A Prairie Falcon dives at about 200 km/hour, so their speed is nothing to snuff about either - especially if you're a pigeon! They prey on grouse, pigeons and ducks, and kill their prey nearly instantly as well. They are often referred to as pigeon hawks. The Red-Tailed Hawk can dive at 192 km/hour.

In other speed comparisons, our tiniest songbird, The Ruby-throated Hummingbird can reach a flight speed of 88 to 96 km/hour. That's a lot of sugar! Plus they fly non-stop 800 km over the Gulf of Mexico. These wee mites return to our area in June.

The sloth is the slowest vertebrate in the world and travels at 0.25 km/hour. The cheetah is the fastest land mammal and can run at 100 km/hour in short spurts. The pronghorn is the fastest land mammal in North America and can travel up to 96 km/hour but can maintain a speed of 64 km/hour. Our slowest mammal is the porcupine, which can reach a speed of 3.2 km/hour at its fastest "gallop".

We greatly thank Larry for coming out to our group and bringing his Prairie ambassador. The Moose Jaw Nature Society has their final meeting of the season at 6:30 pm on Monday, May 28th at the Moose Jaw Public Library. This is the AGM as well as member's slide night. Official meetings reconvene again in September. We welcome new members interested in nature!

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Kimberly Epp is an Environmental Educator and writer and is also the President and Field Trip Coordinator for the Moose Jaw Nature Society. She can be reached at kepp@shaw.ca.