Hello again peeps!
Those of you who've been following the falconry season on Facebook know that our Red Tail of three seasons, Lily, started signaling that she was thinking about moving on.
Sure, she was still her feisty little self and still behaved the same when handled but you could tell her heart wasn't really in it like in prior years. This was most evident in the field as a reluctance to follow, less enthusiasm on the chase, and a propensity to wander off on her own.
In the end, it's always the bird's choice as to come back (or not) and Lily clearly had things on her mind beyond just the hunting season.
Once we've made the decision to release her, there are a couple things still to consider: her condition, timing, and release site.
As fas as conditioning goes, we want her to be both in decent athletic shape and a bit heavier than her true flying weight on release day. This means we needed to work her / hunt her for at least a couple weeks at flying weight to build up her conditioning again after the molt followed by a couple days of extra feeding to bump her up 15-20% above her ideal hunting weight. This will give her a "cushion" of energy reserve as it often takes a couple days to re-acclimate to the wild and begin hunting consistently on her own.
As to timing and release site, the regulations largely leave this up to the individual falconer's discretion. Our primary concerns here: decent prey availability and decent weather. This puts the dead of winter right out, but also usually the summer too as we don't want to interfere with a normal molt. So in practical terms, we're talking about spring and fall at or near peak migration times.
Having checked all the boxes, yesterday was the day! The place we'd picked out for her is a large (like 30,000 acres) hay farm surrounded by rolling sage hills. I've trapped birds there before and it's a perfect spot for a fall release. There is an endless supply of rodents and right now there are probably 400 raptors staging there. She'll be able to stay over the winter if she likes (about 50 or so do) or follow along on the main migration.
Here are a few pics of our last time out:
Here is the release video and a couple post-release pics. I followed her along for about a quarter mile until she'd found a good high perch, then left her there.
She's always been just about the most photogenic animal I've ever been around and I'll leave you with my favorite portrait of her (and one of my fav pics of all time):
Good luck Lily!