Falconry Friday! Falconry Furniture, Part One

February 17, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Hi peeps!  Furniture is a medieval term referring to any piece of equipment that the falconry raptor actually wears and we'll take a look at some of that stuff in more detail now.  This will be a bit lengthy due to a large number of images so I think we'll break it up into two or three parts.  Today let's look at the anklet-jess-leash systems.



The anklets


The anklets serve as attachment points for the jesses. They're worn a majority of the time and, because they serve to transfer the bating force directly to the legs, a fair amount of thought (not to mention regulation) has gone into their development.


First off: materials.  While synthetic materials like biothane are in vogue in some circles, the majority of anklets will be leather - and a very specific leather at that.  Kangaroo is the preferred source (yep! the Australian ones with the pouches) because it is very thin, very strong, tear resistant, and has minimal stretch.  One can buy half or whole Kangaroo hides in three standard thicknesses suitable for any sized raptor save for eagles (for whom cowhide is commonly used).  Further, most commercially available leather is tanned using Chromium salts -- great for water resistance but highly toxic and not at all suitable for falconry.  The kangaroo leather sold specifically for falconry is vegetable or bark-tanned and usually not dyed.


A half kangaroo hide, medium weight, suitable for red tail sized raptors. This may be a lifetime supply for a single bird.


Necessary tools:  a straight edge, a marker, a sharp blade, and a leather punch


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Anklets come (by law in the U.S.) in two basic flavors:  Modified Aylmeri and True Aylmeri, so named after the design by Major Guy Aylmeri, a Brittish falconer stationed in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan in the early 1900s.


The Modified Aylmeri anklet uses modern brass grommets  and are by far the most common design in use.  The brass grommet permanently attaches the anklet to the bird's leg and you'll need a separate grommet setter (as you can see, really a modified Vise-Grip pliers) for each grommet size in use -- 1/4" and 5/16" are by far the most common sizes with 11/64" used for very small falcons like American Kestrels.



The anklet is sized to be tall enough to distribute forces from a bate but not so tall as to trap debris against the leg skin -- 1 to 1.5 leg-widths tall is about right -- and just snug enough to rotate freely when new (they will stretch a little).


I like to set the grommet seat in the first hole and use it to measure length (note the imprint marking the location of the second hole):


Also note the cuts along the top and bottom edges on both the new and used anklets -- this allows the edges to roll over, creating a smooth, rounded edge that does not cause irritation:

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Finally, lightly oil with non-toxic oil prior to application (I like olive oil for this).  The anklet on the right has been oiled, darkening the leather.




True Aylmeri anklets do NOT use grommets and are, as a result, removable without cutting the anklet.  Here is a slightly over-sized pair I keep in my hawking bag for emergencies:



The two outer holes mate up and are analogous to the grommet hole while the inner hole + notch are spaced to fit the hawk's leg like so:


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This way the anklet does not over-tighten with bating - the notch maintains spacing.




Jesses also come in two flavors:  Field (with no hole or a very small hole at the end)and Mews (with a slit large enough to feed a swivel through)


The genius of the Aylmeri system lies in the jess design.  Prior to Guy Aylmeri's invention, the anklet-jess system was often one piece and they often either broke or over-tightened.


Here are the Kangaroo leather Aylmeri flight jesses our HAHA's have used for four years now:




The key is the knot on the left that acts as a stopper to keep the jess in place.  (more on the pin hole on the right later).  


Here's how to make them:


Cut to length, square at one end and sharply tapered at the other.  Fold the square end over 3-4 times and punch a hole through all 4 layers:



Keep the holes lined up and feed the sharp end through the holes:


pull tight and boom!  you're done!



Recently, braided nylon jesses have become popular -- they're inexpensive and super strong but they're not my favorite because they're abrasive and prone to snagging on every little thing.


Note the much larger slits at the end compared to the field jesses above.


Finally, a new system uses a toggle button and a length of strong nylon cord inside a flexible vinyl sheath.  These are Jim Coughlin's bullet jesses and are a favorite of mine.  The button end toggles into and out of the anklet hole and the loop end attaches to the swivel. The set screw keeps them tight and the vinyl sheath maintains it's shape -- ie. it does not tangle or wrap around obstacles.

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A swivel is also a practical (and legal) requirement , serving to keep the jesses from twisting and tangling as the bird moves about.  Here are a variety of swivels, sized for kestrels up to eagles with the middle Sampo style being the most popular (the stem end goes towards the bird and the barrel end towards the leash!)



Here there is a little overlap in describing the parts of the system and we need to introduce something new:  the leash extender.


See, we want the swivel to be far enough down the line that it doesn't contact the tail feathers but just making the jesses longer doesn't work.  


Think of the whole system as a "Y" with the jesses making up the "arms" and the leash representing the "stem".  The swivel is where they meet.  If the jesses (arms) are too long the bird will tangle up in them and injure herself.  Jesses shouldn't be longer than the bird's tibiotarsus -- about 3" for a kestrel or merlin and no more than 6-7" for a red tail.


 Enter the leash extender -- a 3" to 5" length of leash material with loops at both ends. One end attaches to the jesses and the other to the swivel, moving the swivel 3-5" further down the "stem" without making the "arms" of the "Y" longer.



Installed, they look like this:  (kestrel set up on top, red tail on bottom)



Putting all that together might not be intuitive, so let's break it down.


--Attach the anklets (I prefer smooth side towards the leg)

--With bird facing you and the grommet pointed towards the rear, feed the jesses from outside to inside through the anklet hole so that the jess knot is on the outside and the ends of the jesses are coming between the bird's legs towards you

--From here feed both jesses through either the leash extender or swivel (remember, stem side towards the bird!):

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--Now open the slits in the jesses and feed the swivel / leash extender through the slits in BOTH jesses (this is why the slits are as long as then are):


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--Pull tight  (Here we can see why those little tails are there on the jesses / leash extender. The system cinches down really tightly over time and those tails are invaluable in loosening things up again.)

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--Loop the leash through the other ring of the swivel (the barrel end).


In taking it apart (as in when you switch to field jesses), you can feed the whole leash/swivel/extender system through the jess slits in one swoop:

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Leashes are, at their most basic, a length of leather or braided nylon with a slit (leather) or loop (nylon) at one end that attaches to the swivel as above.


 This is becoming long enough already, so let's save a discussion of leashes for next time and wrap this up today by looking at the Aylmeri and Bullet jess systems in actual use.


Aylmeri field jesses with bells attached


Mews Bullet jesses (and leash) -- note NEW anklets in image #1, properly rolled anklets in image #2, leash toggle with ring tab grommet in image #3

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Nylon jesses and leash extender






Leather jesses and leash extender, nylon leash





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