Hello again everyone! Today we'll continue our discussion of Falconry furniture -- the equipment that the raptor actually wears day to day. Last week we spent quite a bit of time on anklets, jesses, and swivels (link here for a refresher). Today we'll focus on leash systems as there's a bit of a learning curve with them and I've meant to put together something like this for some time.
By way of quick review, we've installed either modified or true Aylmeri anklets, jesses, leash extender, and swivel and now we'll introduce the leash, which serves as the link between the swivel and the perch ring.
In it's most traditional form, the leash is simply a length of leather, with either a slit or a button at the swivel end:
Leather is probably the weakest of the leash materials in common use and a falconer's knot in a leather leash is a bit bulky. As a result, most falconers have moved on to other materials.
Braided nylon leashes are by far the most commonly used in modern falconry. Nylon is very strong, impervious to water, and easy to manufacture. (As I mentioned last week, they're also very abrasive by nature and snag on everything. As such, they're my least favorite material).
In it's most basic form, a nylon leash is simply a length of braided cord with a loop at one end:
This loop is attached to the swivel ring with a Girth hitch:
Nylon leashes can also be be made or purchased with integral swivels (pink leash), sometimes even with a built-in leash extender too (black leash on top):
All leashes of this style are attached to the perch ring with a falconer's knot. We'll walk through how to tie this knot is a minute, but WHERE we tie this knot along the leash is critically important - the length of the leash between the swivel and the knot should not be longer than the length from the anklets to the swivel and the total length of the system should not be more than the overall height of the bird. Long leash = broken leg. As we can see in this radiograph, a leash tied too long allows a "running start" to a bate and a tibiotarsal fracture is the usual result:
Here are two leash systems, one for a kestrel/merlin sized raptor and one for a red-tail sized raptor. The appropriate knot location is marked with tape on each:
Enter: the falconer's knot. Learning how to tie this bugger is usually one of the earliest skills a new apprentice learns and, for some reason, gives many people fits. It is basically just a slip knot - I think having to learn to tie it one-handed is what throws newbies for a loop. (Remember, your bird is usually sitting on your non-dominant hand so many things a falconer is tasked with are accomplished one-handed.)
Here we go! With the bird on your non-dominant fist, feed the leash OVERHAND through the perch ring (bird side is on TOP, leash tail is on the BOTTOM).
Grip that bottom leash tail between your index and middle fingers:
Your thumb goes OVER the upper bird-side length:
Through the gap between the two lengths and UNDER the tail-side length:
Catching that tail-side length with your thumb, pivot your wrist while allowing 2-3" of tail to feed through your index-middle finger:
Bring your index finger over the top of the whole mess to meet your thumb, creating a loop around your thumb:
Pull the tail through the loop ( ie., slide that loop off your thumb towards your index finger):
Pull the tail through that thumb loop and there's your knot !:
For additional safety, feed the tail back through the loop:
It's much easier to visualize with a video:
Okay, so your bird has learned to untie this knot (don't laugh - two of our four birds can untie any knot in under 5 minutes). Now what?
There are a couple knot-less leash designs and we're going to have to go with one of those from here on out.
The older of the two I'm going to describe is the Fox loop leash , named after the author and biologist Nick Fox, who's Understanding the Bird of Prey should already be on every falconer's bookshelf. It'a an ingenious solution to the bird-that-can-untie-knots problem, but is not necessarily intuitive to use (Apprentices that have falconer's knot anxiety tend to go into a full blown panic attack when they first see one).
Let's walk through it.
As you can see, it has a standard slit/loop at the tail end and a second in-line loop at the swivel end (also note that it's non-adjustable for length -- you have to buy (or make) the correct size):
Feed the leash through the swivel ring to the top knot:
Feed the tail through the perch ring
Now the tricky part: feed the tail BACK THROUGH THE SWIVEL RING so that both lengths go through the swivel
Slip the tail loop OVER the top knot/button
And slide the tail back through the swivel ring (now you can see we have a Girth hitch at the perch ring)
Fold the button over the swivel ring and through the in-line loop at the button end (not critical, but good to do for safety)
Untying: Unhook the button loop and start feeding the tail back up towards the swivel ring
Feed it back THROUGH the swivel ring and over the top knot/button
Back over the button
Again, here's the video:
The final leash system, and my favorite, I mentioned last week: Jim Coughlin's Bullet Jess System. This leash / jess combo uses strong braided nylon cord sheathed in vinyl casing. It's very strong, has a very smooth surface, and maintains it's shape so that it doesn't catch or wrap around objects. The ends have an Aluminum toggle that just fits through the brass grommet. They can't be used with birds that bite at the leash or jesses (beak chipping will occur) but most adult birds will do just fine with this system. It's also much, much faster than the Fox loop leash for those birds who can untie knots.
The jess combo showing the toggles at the anklet end and the loop for the swivel at the other end (note the set screw):
Assembled with a swivel, it looks like this:
Simply loosen the set screw, feed some cord to the toggle, and slip the toggle through the anklet grommet (or perch ring grommet), snug up the toggle, and re-tighten the set screw. They're super-fast.
Here's the video (using the jess for demonstration purposes but the concept is the same for both the perch and bird ends):
Whew! Another long one ! Sorry for the brain freeze, but paying close attention to these little details is important for our raptor's health and comfort. I think we'll finish up with tethering and the remaining furniture next week. For now, a few birds to enjoy: