Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Peregrine Spring

One of the fun things about book reviewing is the serendipitous nature of what you get to review. I've read a number of books that I would probably not have picked up on my own. Almost exactly a year ago I reviewed H is for Hawk, a book I looked at several times, intrigued by the cover, but only reluctantly started to read. This year I received another memoir by a modern female falconer. And it was just as good!

Peregrine Spring: A Master Falconer's Extraordinary Life with Birds of Prey is Nancy Cowan's compelling tale of how she raised and trained a variety of hawks and falcons. With her husband, she spearheaded a campaign to make falconry legal in New Hampshire and started a school to train would-be falconers.

I've long been fascinated by birds of prey. While some are beautiful, most would never be labeled as "cute." They are all, in my opinion, majestic. While they naturally hunt prey in the wild, many of the birds can also be trained to hunt and return to the falconer. There are four main categories of birds used in falconry but all are of the order Falconiformes. 

American Kestrel
North America's littlest falcon
Those who know me know that I'm not a fan of hunting but there is something that intrigues me about falconry. While falconry is a hunting sport, it doesn't appear that the primary emphasis is on catching anything for the falconer to consume (although that likely was the primary reason in the earliest days). Rather it is a lifestyle with a close relationship built between the bird and the handler. The bird is catching its own meal (although it may not be allowed to eat it all at once). Cowan states that the relationship between falconer and bird becomes "a partnership unlike any...experienced with any other animal" and she outlines this relationship through her many stories. About the falcon's gaze, writer Sy Montgomery (who was also Cowan's first student at her School of Falconry) said it was "like looking directly into the sun." Watching these birds in the wild makes it easy to understand this sentiment.

Cooper's Hawk
 The book follows thirty years of training and living closely (sometimes bring the birds into her
house) with Harris' hawks, Goshawks, Gyrfalcons, Peregrines, and more. Her vignettes are amusing (a lost falcon is recovered by the police and has to be "bailed out"), informative (female raptors are larger than their male counterparts), poignant (an annual watch for the return of urban peregrines to nest on the downtown buildings), and sad (a bird Cowan rehabilitated died shortly after being released).

"My owl" being released.
Peregrine Spring readers meet a wide variety of hawks and other birds of prey and will look forward to seeing them in the wild. I frequently see some of these birds in my range of birding. I also had the privilege of releasing an owl after rehabilitation. (He took off and immediately fell into the water. Thankfully he was able to get back in flight before needing to be fished out for more rehabilitation.) Owls are birds of prey but have been used with mixed success for hunting.

Pre-order Peregrine Spring before its March 2016 release.