In the four and a half years I have been in Utah I have seen and photographed four escaped falconry birds, one in 2009, two in 2012 and yesterday I photographed another one, an escaped White Gyrfalcon. Just last month another escaped Red-tailed Hawk was found hanging by it’s leashes in a tree by my friend and fellow photographer, Jeff Cooper.
The night before last a report came on in UBIRD of a Snowy Owl nearby but when a description by the spotter of the bird came in I suspected that it wasn’t a Snowy Owl and that it might have been a very light Barn Owl. The description included stated the bird had a small head, narrow tapered wings and that the bird turned its head in an owl-like fashion.
People went looking for the bird yesterday without anyone spotting a Snowy Owl and some time in the afternoon a photo was sent in to UBIRD by Sean Jorgenson that clearly showed a Gyrfalcon in the same area that the Snowy Owl had been reported. I hurried to get my gear together and Ron and I headed to the Mick Reilly Golf Course in Murray.
Gyrfalcon getting ready to lift off
Before leaving for the Golf Course it was reported by people with the Gyrfalcon that it was an escaped falconry bird but we wanted to see it any way. It was a gorgeous white Gyrfalcon sitting on a power pole! By the time we got there the clouds had rolled in so my images are not what I would have hoped for them to be of the largest falcon of North America.
There was a large group of birders and bird photographers looking at the falcon that included people I knew and people I had only previously known through communications on UBIRD and via email. The Gyrfalcon was the star we were just the paparazzi.
Gyrfalcon lift off
Mike Shaw arrived with his gear to recapture the escaped Gyrfalcon and while we were there the falcon made several passes at the bal chatri trap. It was recaptured after we left and was transported to a mew at Hawk Watch International to be fed and housed until the “owner” claims it and if they don’t a decision will have to be made about the Gyr.
Gyrfalcon in flight
One of the biggest concerns for escaped falconry birds is that their hardware; anklets, jesses and leashes, can become entangled and the bird will die by starvation. The Red-tailed Hawk that Jeff located was found hanging upside down by its leashes. The Red-tailed Hawk was rescued thanks to Jeff finding it.
It bothers me greatly to have found three escaped falconry birds myself. It bothers me that without Jeff finding the Red-tailed Hawk it might have suffered and died. It bothers me that the Gyrfalcon escaped and could have come to harm.
Seeing this spectacular Gyrfalcon was amazing and sharing the experience with other people was great.
The number of escaped and found falconry birds in this area is disturbing, damages the reputation of the falconry sport and to be entirely honest I’d rather see these birds flying free and wild.