Local man uses falconry to educate about red-tailed hawk

awoolen@macon.comAugust 21, 2013 


Larry Mullis and one of his birds of prey.

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PERRY -- Perched on a thick glove with her long talons gripping her owner’s hand, Inca’s large gold eyes observe the crowd.

Though she weighs just three pounds, the female red-tailed hawk still is heavy enough that Larry Mullis uses a long wooden stick to rest his hand on while he answers questions about the bird and falconry at Buckarama Saturday at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter.

Mullis, who resides in Eastman and works at Robins Federal Credit Union in Warner Robins as the e-commerce manager, has always been fascinated by raptors.

“They are so fierce and independent,” he said.

About 10 years ago, he saw a show on falconry on Georgia Public Broadcasting and then three weeks later, an article came out in The Telegraph about the sport.

It was then Mullis decided to give it a try.

He built his own mews, a house the birds are kept in, and most of his equipment to keep the cost down.

To become a falconer, a term used for hunting with a bird of prey, it takes two years of being an apprentice to learn the craft. The licensing is both state and federally mandated.

Buster Brown, secretary/treasurer of the Georgia Falconry Association, said there are 225 licensed falconers in Georgia. Their group has about 90 active members.

“With the exception of the golden eagle, I can fly any bird, even an owl,” Mullis said, though he said owls are hard to handle.

He uses falconry to educate people about the red-tailed hawk, whose mortality rate in the wild is 70 percent.

“The birds are very territorial,” Mullis said. If another bird is in the area, it will chase off the newcomer. If a red-tailed hawk doesn’t find a territory, it will starve to death.

Another common cause of death is being hit by a car. The birds will hunt for rats, mice and snakes near roadways and do not see oncoming traffic.

Falconers also treat the birds for worms and parasites.

“We hope we can make people aware of the benefits of the bird,” Mullis said.

Most falconers, Mullis said, keep a bird for about two years, then release the bird where it was trapped. Red-tailed hawks can only be kept to train if they are younger than a year old, before their distinctive red feathers grow in after molting.

“You release them in better shape,” Mullis said.

Inca was trapped near Union City.

Mullis owns two birds. His other is a Harris hawk, which is not native to Georgia and was bred in captivity. She has a band around her foot and cannot be released. She is a long-time commitment as Harris hawks have been known to live close to 30 years.

With Inca, Mullis hunts mostly squirrels.

The training process to teach a raptor to hunt takes about four to six weeks, according to Mullis.

Though the falconers’ love of their birds is apparent, the owners know the reason the birds stay with them is not out of love but because they associate the trainer with food.

“They don’t form attachments,” he said.

The bird is attached to its trainer by leather tethers on their feet. The tether is clipped to lead, so the raptor doesn’t fly away.

Both young and old wanted to get a closer look at the birds during the weekend. Though there were no demonstrations of hunting, the group was happy to answer questions.

Most were surprised to see a live bird when they walked through the doors of the Georgia Building.

“So many people have never seen a raptor up close,” Mullis said.

For more information about falconry, visit www.georgiafalconryassociation.com.


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