By Michelle Caceres
Records indicate that more than 4,000 years ago, humans in ancient China were using raptors (birds of prey) to hunt for food.
Despite more conventional hunting options available today, Riverview resident Rick Foley enjoys the thrill of finding his own food. Every two or three days during the hunting season, he and his Harris’s hawk, aptly named Nitro, can be found searching the natural landscape for rabbits, squirrels or the occasional quail.
In Florida, falconers, individuals that hunt using birds of prey, require a joint state-federal permit from the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Falconers must pass a written exam and be at least 14 years of age. The department inspects and certifies the raptors’ housing facility and equipment. There are approximately 140 licensees in the state today; 90 have raptors in their possession.
Foley has been a falconer for five years, possessing raptors such as a red-tailed hawk named Shaelyn, a Cooper’s hawk named Ricochet that was a rescue bird (he released it back into the wild after one season) and Nitro, who he bought from a breeder in Georgia.
“I have always loved birds and hunting and falconry brought those two worlds together,” said Foley, who joked that he also loves to fish and wished he could find a bird that could hunt fish for him.
He always has meat in his freezer, some of which he uses to keep his bird healthy and fed, the rest he and his wife consume.
“I make a mean rabbit stew with dumplings,” he said.
When hunting, Nitro sits atop a 14-foot high perch while Foley walks slowly through a field. When Nitro spots a rabbit or squirrel with his keen eyesight, he swoops down and catches the prey. Using sleight of hand, Foley swaps out the whole animal for a piece of one.
During the off-season, Foley says Nitro spends his days in his large cage called a mew, eating, molting and staying healthy. A Harris Hawk can live for 30 years.
“I can’t stress enough that these birds are not pets and this is not a hobby,” said Foley. “These birds need to fly, to hunt.”
For more information about falconry or to inquire about permitting visit www.myfwc.com.