When the falcon returns from the hunt to Ryan Anthony, 35, of Bettendorf, Anthony has a decision to make. Does he allow the bird to eat the rabbit it's just caught, or does he swap it out with a piece of meat?
Anthony, a longtime falconer, usually lets the bird consume what it has caught. The birds and the art of falconry as a passion with Anthony, a wildlife biologist with a specialty in migratory birds and eagles, works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Illinois-Iowa Field Office.
You can meet Anthony and learn about falconry Sunday at the World Migratory Bird Day, hosted by Quad-City Botanical Center.
Both he and his wife Holly are falconers, he said Friday.
He learned about falconry when he was a child, and always wanted to pursue it. He discovered falconry club in Arizona, where he earned his undergraduate degree in natural resource management at Arizona State University (he earned his master's degree at Sul Ross State University, Texas).
"Most falconers live in places where they can do falconry," he said. "It's not just a hobby. It's a lifestyle."
A falconer hunts wild animals in their natural state with a trained bird of prey. Commonly, falconers use falcons, hawks and sometimes owls, Anthony said.
To become a falconer, a person must train as an apprentice for two years, then a general falconer after that. It takes seven years to become a master falconer, he said.
Usually, people start with a red-tailed hawk, either with the capture of a bird or the purchase of one with the proper certification.
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After a wild bird is caught, Anthony said, "You have to convince them you're not going to eat them." The training includes measures to keep the bird's stress level low, including the use of hoods to cover its eyes. "That calms them down," he said.
"They start to associate something positive with your being there when they're being fed," he said. "It's one step at a time, using operant conditioning."
Several other falconers live in the Quad-City area, he said.
He and his wife keep their birds in a mews, which, in falconry, means a kind of aviary designed to house one or more birds of prey.
With a lot of help, Anthony spearheaded the first World Migratory Bird Day last year, when the event drew about 350 people.
Anthony wants to teach children about falcons and raptors, and tell visitors about the relevance of migratory bird conservation. He hopes to spark interest so someone will want to become a biologist or even a falconer.
Additionally, he may pass down his passion for falconry to his 6-month-old daughter Merlin. Not coincidentally, that's the name for a small species of falcon.