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 jessesEscaped male American Kestrel with jesses

One day when leaving Farmington Bay WMA I saw a male kestrel fly over the road and thought it had grass stalks dangling from its talons but my view of it was very brief and I wasn’t exactly sure of what I saw.

A few days later in the same area I saw an American kestrel male perched on top of a power pole right in front of me 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 ankletsFemale 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 jessesEscaped female American Kestrel with jesses

But I believe along with 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. Contact NAFA here.

(NAFA has a new web site and the link for reporting lost falconry birds was not included or omitted from the site, I hope they change that)

I spend a lot of time in the field photographing birds which might be why I 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.

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.


  1. Ben January 31, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    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.

    • Mia McPherson February 13, 2014 at 3:10 pm

      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.

  2. Sherry in MT December 23, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    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.

    • Mia McPherson December 23, 2012 at 3:49 pm

      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.

  3. Bob Bushell December 23, 2012 at 1:00 pm

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

    • Mia McPherson December 23, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      I have very mixed feelings about falconry Bob.

  4. M. Firpi December 23, 2012 at 11:25 am

    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.

    • Mia McPherson December 23, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      Thank you Maria. I worry when I have seen these escaped falconry birds that they might get entangled and starve to death.

  5. Larry Jordan December 23, 2012 at 10:57 am

    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!

    • Mia McPherson December 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm

      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.

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