A question I have been asked hundreds of times whilst working with birds of prey is have you ever lost a bird and how did you get them back. Well to answer the first question in short yes captive birds of prey do and can fly off for a multitude of reasons the reasons really to numerous to list. What people new or with no background of captive birds of prey don’t often realise is trained birds of prey don’t naturally have a homing instinct like a homing pigeon. Although I have heard of birds of prey going missing and flying home some days later or birds which are imprinted and hacked out to gain fitness and return to an aviary each evening with most birds of prey you have to go and find them.
Finding a lost bird of prey is not only time consuming,it is physically and mentally draining and usually not fun at all and the sooner the bird is found the better. The reason anybody would want to find their bird as soon as possible is not just for the safety of the bird but also because if its a hunting bird and it starts hunting for itself it makes the retrieval of the bird all the more difficult, it is also worth remembering that a lot of species of birds of prey flown in the UK are not native and so it would be irresponsible to lose them in the British countryside.
As with everything technology has come into play with the creation of radio telemetry transmitters and receivers and most recently GPS transmitters. Before the introduction of telemetry though the only way you located your bird was with field craft and knowing the terrain and your bird wearing a bell or someone else spotting it. The bell is still used on most species except the owls and is still an invaluable way of locating a bird especially in dense cover and woodland. Sadly from what I have observed field craft seems to be something that is possibly not a well used piece of the falconers armoury and could be a dying skill.
Tail mounted bell and transmitter (Artisan field sports)
Telemetry may be one reason for the decline in field craft but it should by no means be solely relied upon but that is if telemetry is used at all. It amazes me at how many people will fly their birds without telemetry, claiming things like they have never lost their bird before, the bird is so well trained and they can’t afford telemetry. There is no excuse in my eyes, any bird can be lost and it can happen at any time, telemetry has never been more accessible new or second hand and you can pick up a transmitter brand new for £100 and borrow a receiver from a friend if you ever need it.
Once a bird is lost every minute counts and with telemetry you can get straight onto the direction of the bird but not only that there is that reassuring beep of the receiver when your in a freezing cold wet dark field looking for your pride and joy! In fact I feel that passionate about the use and need for telemetry I think it should be law at least for anyone flying a non native species bird of prey.