More on Escaped Falconry Birds

I mentioned in a post  about a hatch year Red-tailed Hawk that I published on December 12th that I would do a post later on an escaped female American Kestrel falconry bird. Sorry it has taken me so long to get this post up but here it is with a little history of my own experiences with escaped falconry birds.

Escaped male American Kestrel with jesses

Escaped male American Kestrel with jesses

A few days later in the same area Ron had pulled off to the side of the road to answer a phone call when I saw an American kestrel male perched on top of a power pole right in front of us that had some thing hanging down from its legs.  I realized that they were jesses, the type that falconers use and that the bird I saw previously didn’t have grass dangling from its talons, it had jesses and that the bird in front of me was one and the same.

We notified the Department of Wildlife Resources via telephone about the escaped kestrel and after a period of several weeks the owner was able to recapture the bird.  We saw the bird so often that I named it “Jack” simply because it was easier to say than the “escaped male kestrel”.  Not too long after “Jack” was captured he escaped again and this time the owner did not attempt recapture. For awhile I saw Jack with both jesses then I started to see him with only one and eventually I didn’t see a male Kestrel with jesses in that area any more. It is my hope that “Jack” got rid of that final jess and is alive and well.

Female Peregrine Falcon with anklets

Female Peregrine Falcon with anklets

The good news on this female Peregrine Falcon is that she was recaptured recently and taken to a rehab facility and with a clean bill of health she should be released to the wild without the anklets. I was out of the loop of communications regarding attempts to recapture her but was relieved to hear that she is well.

Escaped female American Kestrel with jesses

Escaped female American Kestrel with jesses

But I believe, as does Ron and some local falconers that the female Kestrel and Peregrine were probably captured by falconer wannabes. In other words these birds were most likely caught by unlicensed persons and used as falconry birds. That type of activity is illegal and it could give the licensed falconers in this area a bad reputation. True falconers are licensed, care deeply for their birds and are held to high standards by the North American Falconers Association.

Efforts are being made to recapture the female American Kestrel but she has been wary. Only licensed trappers are permitted to recapture escaped falconry birds and there are still issues of getting permission for landowners or proper authorities, in this case a Utah State park.

I mentioned earlier that we contacted Utah DWR to report the escaped birds because we were not able, as non-members of NAFA, to report them on the NAFA web site. That has been changed so that non-members can report escaped falconry birds on the NAFA web site. I believe that will help to notify falconers in the area rapidly so they can recapture lost birds. With as many bird photographers,  birders and wildlife watchers that are out in the field it is a positive step of NAFA to allow non-members to report it if they find lost birds. Reports can be filed here.

We spend a lot of time in the field photographing birds which might be why we have found three escaped falconry birds in three year’s time.

Those dangling jesses and pieces of hardware have the potential to get caught on items which would immobilize the bird and cause its death so it is critical to recapture birds with hardware on them before something terrible happens to them.

Ron and I met with Becka Butcher, a licensed falconer and trapper on Antelope Island on December 11th to show her where we were seeing the escaped female kestrel and efforts are ongoing to recapture her.

I hope the female kestrel is recaptured soon, her jesses aren’t as long as Jack’s were (which I am told were WAY too long) but they could still pose a danger for this beautiful female American Kestrel.

Throughout these three experiences in finding escaped falconry birds what I have learned is that falconry is for experts not for people who just think it is cool to have a pet raptor. People who have not been trained or do not have a license for falconry should just observe them in the wild, the birds will be far better off for it.

Hopefully other birders, bird photographers and wildlife watchers will spread the word that we can go to the NAFA site and report lost birds.  It could save their lives.


Report a lost/found falconry birds here.

Additional posts you might enjoy:

About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. Pingback: White Gyrfalcon – Yet another escaped falconry bird!

  2. Great comments. I think it is important to remember too that birds migrate. Seeing these birds might indicate a problem with unlicensed wanabee falconers in Northern Utah…. or could it actually be a problem with unlicensed wanabees in Southern Idaho? If the birds were following regular migration routes, were trapped and then escaped, it is likely they are from further north. Something to consider.

    • Thanks Ben, I thought the female American Kestrel may have been a bird that a wannabe falconer trapped in Idaho or some where north of Utah because I spotted her during the time when kestrels from up north would be migrating. Even now when I go out to photograph I keep an eye out for jesses or anklets. I worry about these escaped falconry birds.

  3. Great post Mia and the photographs are amazing as always. I had my first encounter with falconers when I met one of our new vets here. He is licensed and told us how long it takes for training and apprenticeship to do it right. You are likely correct that these escapes are truly of people who are wannabes and will only endanger the birds.

    • Thanks Sherry. It takes years to become a falconer with apprenticeships and even more time to become a master falconer which is why I think some people try to circumvent that and obtain these birds illegally. Very sad for the birds.

  4. I don’t know whether I like falconry or not.

  5. I also hope the female kestrel is okay. I’ve been reading about falconry myself, as much of an ancient practice as I recognize it has been, for me it’s still a way for human beings to control a behaviour that is otherwise natural and inherent in raptors. I agree the practice should be done by licensed falconers, but in no manner I endorse the concept of falconry as a practice. I admire your concern for the welfare of these escaped birds. Unlicensed falconers are indeed injuring these animals by virtue of their own ignorance.

  6. Excellent informational post on the lost falconry birds Mia! I have never seen an escapee from a falconer or falconer wannabe thank goodness. At least now I know what to do if I do see one in the wild. Beautiful photos of these raptors Mia. Jack doesn’t look too happy in that first photo and I wouldn’t be either if I had to try to hover with those jesses attached to my legs!

    • Larry, it does seem odd that we have seen three escaped falconry birds in three years time, there might be a problem here in Utah with rogue “wannabe” falconers. Jack wasn’t happy at all about those jesses. Even when we saw him up close and personal he didn’t seem to care for them.

Comments are closed