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MEEKER | Andy McBride is a 50-year expert in raptor handling and care, and he serves on the board of the California Hawking Club and the Bird of Prey Health Group. He speaks both nationally and internationally on subjects related to birds of prey. This week, in partnership with the Rio Blanco County Historical Society, McBride will give a presentation on The Art of Falconry.
“It’s a totally consuming thing. A lot of people look at it as their church, when they’re out flying with their birds. It’s a whole different experience,” he said. McBride first developed an interest in falconry at the age of 14, after his dad brought him along to house-sit for a friend who was a game warden.
“He had a Harris hawk, and a Red-tailed hawk, and that just totally enthralled me,” McBride said. He was lucky enough to learn falconry from that same game warden.
Though the term “falconry” implies a specific species of birds, McBride explained that the broader practice extends beyond falcons. “Falconry is just hunting with raptors,” he said. Raptors include species like owls, hawks, sparrows, falcons and even eagles, for those with a master class license.
“It’s very heavily regulated,” McBride said. Falconers go through three levels of certification, starting at “apprentice falconer” which requires two years of dedication before moving into “general class.”
“You have to have a sponsor, and they have to sign off on your paperwork and basically make sure you’re treating your birds OK, and the whole nine yards,” he said.
After reaching the general class level, an additional five years of experience is required to become a master class falconer, at which point you could fly “any bird you can obtain legally,” including eagles.
“I have hunted with one [an eagle], a big female. She flew at 9 pounds,” McBride said, noting how dangerous the large birds can be. “When she would catch a jackrabbit, let’s say, I could get within 20-30 feet of her, and I’d just have to wait there until she ate about half of it to pick her up.” A wise precaution, as eagles can generate hundreds of pounds per square inch of pressure in their feet.
Though he doesn’t fly eagles anymore, McBride still flies (and hunts with) other birds, like the two Siberian Goss-hawks he brought along, perched happily inside a special enclosure in the back of his truck ready to go out on a hunt. It was cold—around 30 degrees Fahrenheit at the time of the interview—but McBride said the cold doesn’t bother the Siberian birds and added that they don’t typically hunt in the warmer summer months.
Hunting is just one aspect of falconry, especially for McBride, who also helps to rehabilitate birds alongside his wife, Dr. Victoria Joseph. Joseph is a board-certified avian veterinarian, and also internationally recognized “for her ability to teach avian, reptile and exotic animal hematology.”
McBride will be at the Old West Heritage Culture Center (517 Park Ave., Meeker) on Friday, Nov. 13 from 7-8 p.m., to present on the art of falconry. His slide presentation will detail the different types of birds that are flown at different game species and in different situations. Attendees will also get to meet his birds, and see them up close.
McBride hopes the presentation will be informative for anyone interested in falconry, and allow him to get to know more people in town, since he now lives in the area part time.
“I’ve been doing this for 50 years, and I would say in the last five I’ve come to the realization that if you let the birds teach you, and just let them teach you, it’s so much nicer,” he said. “Once it all comes together, it’s so cool. It’s just one of those things that you go, ‘this is wonderful, this is awesome.’”
By LUCAS TURNER | email@example.com