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American Hawkeye

Discover the Ancient Sport of Falconry

A sparrow flies solo through the air, unaware of what soars above it. Suddenly, at a whopping 200 miles per hour, a Peregrine Falcon snatches it out of the sky with its hunting stoop, or high-speed dive. With unmatched speed, eyesight and maneuverability, the raptor makes easy prey of the lower-on-the-food-chain bird. 

Such is the circle of life. Nothing is more mesmerizing than watching a raptor, or bird of prey, on the hunt. Falcons and other raptors (which include owls, eagles and ravens) are some of nature’s most gorgeous killing machines. Falconry, which dates back at least 4,000 years (some records suggest even much earlier) is one of the oldest forms of hunting. Fast forward to 2018, and Falconry is as prevalent as it was then. 

Johnathan Clarkson, a Colden, NY native who spent time in Utah before moving back to West Valley, is a Master Class Falconer. His company, American Hawkeye, demonstrates the beauty of these birds - but while that’s a major part of it, he also emphasizes responsibility, education and conservation. 

“I explain to the people that come to our demonstrations that these birds have to kill to survive,” he said. “That’s nature. But we really focus on the biology of the birds, what makes them tick, current and past preservation tactics and more. We want people to understand — and respect — these incredible animals.” 

The process of becoming a Master Falconer is not an easy one. First, the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) requires you take and pass a 100 question test. Once you do, you’ll need to find a Master or General class falconer who will sponsor you and take you on as an apprentice. After two years, you’ll become a General Class Falconer. Only after five years as a General Class do you graduate to Master Class. Clarkson has put the time in. It’s evident in his extensive knowledge. 

“I have different species of hawks, owls and falcons that I currently own and train,” he said. “Some I’ve caught out of the wild, some I’ve raised since birth. It’s a mixed bag. There aren’t a ton of resources on Falconry, so a lot of it is self-taught. I’m still learning, because there’s no way to completely understand every aspect of the birds. Each one is different.” 

Clarkson explained that training a bird (he used a Prairie Falcon as an example) usually takes about a month. Some take a shorter time, others much longer. Training revolves around a food-based reward system, and even then it’s not always guaranteed. But special state and federal permits allow him to breed birds and capture them from the wild.