JWN Arts & Hawking 

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Time Out for Tempering
copyright Jim Nelson 2017


         The “tempering” (author's term) of an aplomado falcon is not a requirement.  A falconer whose ambition is to catch sparrow-sized birds and upward to the size of a starling or dove need not bother with tempering. However, tempering can be significantly advantageous to anyone setting forth to train a ramage aplomado for the game hawking of larger quarry. The exception will be the passager, tempered by nature before arriving in your hands. When preparing a parent-reared or “chamber reared” aplomado for game hawking larger quarry, the swiftest and surest way to achieve the result of creating a hardened and aggressive predator without triggering unwanted side effects such as screaming, mantling, carrying and the like will be to temper the young hawk in quasi-isolation before claiming it. This is especially true for the males.

           To temper, the hawk should be allowed to reach the hard-penned stage so its feathers are fully developed and able to withstand the rigors encountered during the tempering phase. For aplomados, penning will occur at about 52 days after hatch.

           Between hatching and penning, it is best to be as out of the young hawk’s sphere of awareness as you can be.  Positive interactions are difficult to create without triggering the above vices, and any negative interactions will set back overall training. So, at any point in this conversation where it is recommended you handle the hawk prior to taking it up for training (such as moving it from one chamber to another), assume this is to be done at night in the dark or using strobe lights to manage the hawk with the least amount of trauma to it.

            That said, your young hawk’s life will begin by observing the behavior of its parents, siblings or a grown “make hawk” while loose in the chamber. When a parent reared chick reaches the stage old enough to peer from the nest ledge to the ground it seems and ideal time to begin observing its parents killing and eating live prey.  Unfortunately, putting live animals into a breeding chamber may be risky from a bio-security perspective, so to avoid the risk of a live quail or other birds importing Salmonella into the breeding chambers, the parents at my facility are not allowed to kill live prey.  If you feel differently, you may find placing live birds into the breeding chamber at this phase to be an ideal situation. Who better to learn how to kill from than the parents? By the time the young parent-reared hawk is penned and ready to temper, it has seen its parents killing meals many times and has an inkling as to the process and its purpose.  If you share my concern about germs--or if the breeder you get your hawk from does--you will have to find another way to teach your young hawk how to kill for itself without putting yourself into the picture.

            With young hawks initially dual socialized and then released into a large chamber as a group, placing one or more mature aplomados amongst them may provide the benefits of a "make hawk" at-large in the chamber.  This should be done once the young birds have all reached the age of penning to prevent any hunger streaks or damage to the feathers. There is not the same level of concern with hygiene in a crèche chamber as there is in the breeding chamber because these young birds will all be taken up and trained in time and therefore can be more easily diagnosed and treated should some kind of bug make its way from the live prey’s system into theirs.  With a mature and experienced aplomado in their midst, all meals will be derived from live prey from now on and there will be many opportunities for the young birds to watch the older bird(s) killing and eating and soon some of the young birds will emulate that behavior as well.  Unfortunately, at first, the less aggressive members of the group will survive by sharing or stealing meals from the successful hunters. While some falconers who hunt small birds with their aplomados may object to this whole plan out of concern for sparking a carrying habit, the eventual targets of the tempered bird is larger game birds. So, while carrying of small birds is always a potential issue with aplomados, it is far less so when game-bird hawking.  Besides, even if there were no live birds killed in the chambers, this same sharing and stealing behavior would occur with dead quail as well. 

            The third scenario (as opposed to being tempered with the parents or in a creche) is a single young hawk you receive which is unable to observe other aplomados killing and eating, and therefore must learn in an alternative way.  Since you do not want to be a part of this bird’s feeding cycle at first, wait until it is hard penned, then curtail all feeding of carcasses.  Start out by placing very young live quail tethered humanely to a weight at the center of the chamber. Observe periodically by remote camera or through a peep opening to see if you hawk kills and eats the quail. You may become alarmed if the hawk does not eat at all for several days, but if it goes into the chamber hard-penned, in good health and fat, and if it has adequate fresh, cool water and shade, it can survive without eating for several days until it has a ravenous appetite.  It is very important you not allow yourself to be seen by the hawk when it is hungry during this time for fear it may begin screaming if it associates you with the arrival of food.  You must refresh the quail daily, without being observed. If it kills and has a full crop, then you can allow yourself to be seen and even enter the chamber. In time, the young hawk will connect the live quail looks to the dead quail carcasses it has eaten in the past and will kill and eat it. 

       A tempering chamber can be arranged from a large "free loft" mew, but if the mews has a barred window at the front (which by law it should) this should be temporarily covered so the young bird cannot look outward.  If you leave the window open, the unmanned hawk may begin "chamber banging" or "wall bouncing" and that may lead to potentially permanent trauma. Conversely, with some young hawks, the open window may trigger the opposite problem of food association and possible food begging.  Either way, by temporarily coving the window with some fabric (like a white bed sheet) you will solve the problem without blocking airflow and light.  It should be said the floor of a tempering chamber should be completely free of any clutter and the bath pan should be set in the center of the floor so any quail that are introduced inside do not hide in an out-of-reach location making the entire tempering process unworkable.

       At this point, all of the young aplomados in the three scenarios above (started by observing parents or creche-mates or learning in isolation) are at the same basic point; they are hard-penned and have learned to kill young quail and have been eating all their meals on the these kills. 

        During for the final phase of tempering, each individual young bird is kept apart from any others.  They may be allowed to see other aplomados (for aplomados are very social and do not enjoy complete isolation) but should not be able to pass food through the bars of the window adjoining their chambers.  That way you can be sure every meal eaten comes from a live quail captured and consumed by the developing young hawk.  Only in this way are you guaranteed of successful tempering.

        Once your young hawk is partitioned away from others, you will “up the criteria” each day by putting in older quail incrementally until it is killing and eating 8-week old coturnix quail readily.  This is followed by introducing bobwhites, a more hearty species that will test the young hawk’s mettle without causing trauma.  After your hawk is easily dispatching and eating full grown male bobwhites, you can begin putting in young chukars and move incrementally toward the day your hawk will easily dispatch and feed on full grown male chukars.  When your young hawk is easily dispatching fully mature male chukars, you are ready to take your newly tempered aplomado up and begin falconry training in earnest.

Some Discussion About Tempering

            Perhaps this chapter puts the cart before the horse by describing tempering before discussing who should employ it.  On the other hand, now that you know what tempering is, you can weigh the advantages and disadvantages before proceeding with it.

            In the pro column, tempering does two extremely important things. First, it ensures the young hawk knows food comes from a living animal and the first step to eating will be to secure this animal, dispatch it, then pluck and tear into it for sustenance.  If you do not temper your young hawk, these lessons become your task to teach directly and it will be very difficult to get to this same point without creating a direct association in the young hawk’s mind between you and the act of eating.  Unfortunately, this association very frequently results in the vices of screaming, mantling and carrying.  The second pro is that a tempered aplomado is far less likely to be distracted by small creatures afield if you do not wish to have those interfering with your pursuit of larger game.  An untempered aplomado has yet to become serious about life and will spend a great deal of time and attention chasing insects and dicky birds all over the field.  For some falconers, this is considered a good thing and they will point out it is in the pursuit of grasshoppers and small birds where the aplomado develops the flight skills and footing needed to become a superb hunter.  In almost every case, falconers who argue this are those hawking smaller quarry.  Anyone who is serious about catching quail, partridge, pheasant or ducks with their aplomado need not be concerned with catching grasshoppers and sparrows as stepping stones to success.  One is better off getting right to the business of recognizing larger birds as sustenance so that in the field, early on, training can proceed more swiftly in the direction one is hoping to travel.

            In the con column are the factors of added time, additional facilities, and procurement of a variety of ages and types of live prey specimens.  Simply put, tempering takes extra time, extra space, and extra money.  For the falconer hawking quarry smaller than the aplomado itself, tempering will seem to be a hassle and rather a waste of time. For the falconer hawking partridge-sized quarry and above, tempering will provide significant returns for the effort.