The weekend before last my husband’s cousin, (referred to as “Fred” here), who lives in the south, brought his Harris Hawk, Malika (MAL-ih-ka) with him on a visit. He has a purpose-built aviary in his back garden and Malika enjoys lots of freedom. We took this beautiful bird to a local nature park to fly her. Esa, who’d spent some time with her the day before didn’t want to come. He felt a bit nervous around her and decided he’d rather stay at his auntie’s house and play with his cousins.
There were about 10 of us out in the field and when Fred asked who’d like to hold her, I jumped up and down like a kid…despite the fact that there were kids there and I probably should have let them go first. But I was so excited; I’ve never done anything like this before. My only experience with animals like this has been through zoos. This was just a totally different experience altogether; you cannot compare visiting a zoo to being up close with an animal without the bars and walls. It was amazing.
So here I am, all bundled up (it was cold), thrilled to bits. I was given a chicken head to hold and Malika, with her amazing eyes, spotted it from hundreds of metres away and swooped towards my outstretched arm and landed. I managed to drop the chicken head (you can’t feel much through those gloves) so Malika jumped to the ground to get it. She weighs about the same as a newborn baby.
Later, she came swooping from far away and I could see she was heading towards me. I had no food, but quickly stuck out my arm and she landed.
Here’s dh. Feel free to laugh heartily at his hat. It’s wool and I managed to shrink it in the wash, which made the earflaps flip up (cold, gentle cycle, as per instructions…don’t know what happened). He still loves that hat.
One of the ladies in our group got a bit too close to Malika’s face, who either felt threatened or thought she was being offered food and the young lady got a few nasty scratches on her scalp and neck. These birds aren’t like other pets. Even I tried to coax Malika onto my hand with words and friendly noises after dropping the chicken, as though she were a cat. But she doesn’t respond to that; she’s motivated by food, not warm and fuzzies.
Once we got back to the house, Fred put Malika on her perch with plenty of newspaper underneath. At one point, I crouched down in front of her, just to get a good look, but as I was crouching down, I bumped into a chair and nearly fell over. This clumsy movement startled Malika and she flapped a bit at me and made some noise. I backed away carefully. She’s beautiful, but you really have to watch every move you make.
I’m hoping we go to the south soon; I’d like to see Malika again and I’m hoping Esa will hold her next time. He was a bit afraid that she’d be really heavy or that it would hurt, so I had him hold out his arm and I pretended my hand was a bird and I landed it on his arm, grasping it and applying the same weight as Malika. After that he felt more confident about doing it and now he’s eager to see her again.
This was an adventure I’ll never forget. I’m now trying to convince dh to build us an aviary so we can get an owl. Some kinds of owl, if gotten from a young age, will take to their owners and permit lots of handling and stroking. They are also easier to fly than Hawks, which need large spaces free from animals and too many people. An owl you can take with you to the park. Hmmm…wonder what my cat would think of that?