Meet the birds -Casper the "un"friendly falcon
Updated: Oct 18
When I first met Casper, it was on our trip to New Paltz for the wedding of Ray's second daughter in December. He was a white gyrfalcon with dirty brown juvenile plumage. He was essentially a bird that a falconer had bought but didn't have time to work. He was passed off to Ray's friend, a well connected breeder and falconer in the area. The weather was freezing, about 8 inches of snow on the ground, and Casper was hooded in a dry basement. We had just acquired Katara and Layla earlier that year so I thought Ray a little crazy to take on yet another year old (passage) falcon. The other two were also young and in need of a lot of training as well. Ray, however saw something special in Casper, so he became part of our family and embarked on his first migration south after the wedding.
Casper was so spooky when we returned to Florida, that the only way he would sit calmly around us was if we placed his perch about 100 feet away. He had been isolated for so long he had reverted back to his wild state and Ray had to spend a lot of time just sitting with him. Casper began his training as any new bird would, but his feathers were faded and brittle, and they would break easily. I remember he broke many feathers in that first year, despite all of our efforts.
His flight in the beginning was very crude and awkward. He needed at least 20 acres to make a full circle and thankfully the large field on the side of where we lived was the perfect spot for a large falcon with very few flight skills. As Casper struggled to develop into the powerful falcon he was about to become, it gave me an excellent opportunity to practice my new hobby of photography, and I got some excellent shots.
Casper's first flight away from home was at the Florida Renaissance Festival in Deerfield Beach Florida. Those of you who attend this festival know that it is notoriously bad for us to find a lost bird because of the traffic, gated communities, and canals that prevent you from tracking a bird in a straight line. Without the experience of flying in a busy environment, Casper became disoriented and lost. Ray and I tracked him to a gated community in the nearby community of Boca Raton, known for its wealthy residents, and unfortunately for us an abundance of gated communities. We were forced to be attended by security and luckily for us, Casper seemed to have run out of energy and decided to stay in that area, but was uncertain of the situation and would not come to Ray or land on the lure. We were ultimately forced to leave him there overnight. Ray returned the next day, and fortunately he was still in the area, and after several frustrating hours, Ray was able to retrieve him. This is, and has always been, the most non-glamorous part of our job.
Nevertheless, Casper learned how to control his powerful flight. He began to develop some spectacular flights even perfecting one of the most desired traits of a falcon, the stoop. Although the gyrfalcon isn't known for the stoop, he has mastered this maneuver and can be seen diving at our shows, much to the gasps and delight of our fans. He has also developed his control, something he lacked in his early days and is able to land swiftly if called down by Ray by dropping the lure during a show or practice.
At the same location where he flew away, I got some phenomenal shots of Casper where he was learning to perfect the stoop. It seemed that we were both beginning to fine tune our craft. Casper is a captive bred falcon. He is mostly gyrfalcon, about 3/4, but has been bred with saker falcon to help him be more resistant to ailments that afflict arctic birds in warmer climates. They are considered to be the largest species of falcon in the world, and during the early days of falconry, they were considered to be one of the most prized falcons coveted and possessed by only the highest born nobility or kings and emperors.
We hope you have enjoyed learning a little bit about Casper, one of our most stunning family members both in appearance and flight. If you would like to help support us during the pandemic, we invite you to visit our store. We have something for every budget and sponsorship packages that make great gifts. Visit our store by clicking here.
Casper thanks you for your support!