Monday, February 14, 2011


It's been a while since I wrote anything about my merlin, Wakulla, and for good reason—I last attempted to fly her in late November. The behavioral conversion I described back in October:

At some point in the course of her rehabilitation, training, and moult, my "passage" merlin (trapped inside a building for a week without food) had undergone a reversion in behavior, acting like an eyas—a screaming eyas at that, so I hardly ever get to see the relaxed-merlin posture: as soon as I walk in the room, she starts screaming for food; once she finally gets it, she clutches it and mantles over it and continues screaming between bites. It's noisy, painfully noisy...

...never ameliorated. All screaming, all the time. Worse yet, she refused—or, more often, flew half-heartedly—almost every slip I could produce for her, whether from the car or in the field. As I had discovered in her all-too-brief first season, she would turn herself inside-out to chase bobwhite quail, but she was so wedded to this one quarry (of which we don't have many, especially after last year's brutal winter and wet spring) that she wouldn't even chase yellow-breasted pasture quail (a.k.a. meadowlarks) when they presented themselves, never mind sparrows or starlings. (For the record, meadowlarks are not intentional quarry for legal reasons, but they do turn up in some of the same habitats as game species, and incidental flights are normally to be expected.)

Not a viable gamehawk, then, and not a good candidate for release to the wild, either. And any hopes I might have had about working through her problems were dashed by a drastic change in my personal situation. (Later.) I simply didn't have the time or energy to devote to her, even if I could have devised a plan. And so she languished on her perch while I attempted to deal with my changing circumstances—and beat myself up over my failure, for I had let her down, had saved her from starvation only to condemn her to perpetual confinement.

Finally, with help from a friend in Oregon (good on ya, Trent), I arranged to have Wakulla placed in a breeding program. She flew out on Delta last Thursday. There are no guarantees, of course, but it seems to me (and to the breeder as well) that some of her liabilities as a falconry bird may operate in her favor now. The average passage merlin settles into the falconry routine readily enough, but expecting one to breed in captivity is another matter. Wakulla, though, was all too comfortable in captivity to be a good hunter or even a tolerable companion; our hope is that she will be tame enough to settle into life in a breeding chamber, with opportunity for exercise, and eventually a pretty little jack who might not mind if he's screamed at...and, down the road, some fuzzy little eyasses who will become great gamehawks.

In the end, this is all I could give her: Not a perfect life, but a chance to salvage something from the wreckage. I can only wish myself the same.