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Local falconers keeping ancient sport alive

Posted on Sunday, September 10, 2017 at 9:00 am


Kali Bradford


Falconry is defined as the hunting of wild quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of a trained raptor.

Ian Turner, pictured with Tony Stark, a Harris’s hawk that Turner uses in public presentations. Known for their calmer nature, Harris’s hawks hunt with a family of hawks, while other hawks are solitary and hunt on their own.

According to tn.gov, hunting with birds of prey is the second-oldest form of hunting with the aid of animals. Most historians and archaeologists agree that the sport of falconry originated in China. The first tangible evidence of falconry appears in 4,000-year-old artwork from Persia.

This ancient art is a very demanding endeavor, requiring a serious dedication of time and energy from the falconer.

Tullahoma residents practicing this ancient art of hunting are Valerie Russell and her son Ian Turner.

Russell said she first got into falconry in order to bond more with Turner.

“It was a way to bond with Ian. It took off from there and we have actually gone in different ways with it and have gotten different birds. We’ve both been into it for around five years now,” she said.

Turner said he and his mother would head out to Tims Ford State Park, where their interest in birds of prey piqued.

“We would go to Tims Ford State Park, where they had the birds of prey there,” he said. “I decided I wanted to learn more about it.  We have a family friend who has been working with birds of prey for around 30 years who also became our mentor.”



According to tn.gov, a person may not practice falconry in Tennessee without obtaining a proper Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) permit.

The modern Tennessee falconers must be able to trap, train and provide care for their own birds under strict guidelines provided by the U.S.

Elvis is a Peregrine falcon. They are known for their speed, reaching about 240 miles per hour during their characteristic hunting stoop (high speed dive), making them the fastest member of the animal kingdom.

Fish and Wildlife Service and TWRA. The average falconer may spend as long as two years training a bird of prey before it is ready to hunt.

Training a raptor is a continuous process that requires a daily commitment throughout the life of the bird. For every hour spent in the field, the falconer will spend 100 hours devoted to the care and training of the bird.

“They are a lot of work,” said Turner. “I’d say it’s a lot like having a kid. Things like weight maintenance are extremely important when having a bird. It’s how you get them to be able to listen and to also return to you. It’s also how you keep them healthy.”

In addition, the rewards of hunting with raptors is not measured with the success of the hunt since the average bird of prey takes 30 to 50 flights before it will take prey.

“Hunting is something that is already engrained in them,” said Turner. “Basically in the training, you are building a relationship with them and teaching them to come back to you. They ultimately see you as the better food source. And, unfortunately, sometimes they don’t come back. Ian and I both lost our first birds, so it’s just a risk you take when working with them.”


Educating Others

Along with practicing falconry, Turner and Russell educate the public about birds of prey through public presentations.

Valerie Russell is pictured with her American Kestrel named Lucy, who was rescued by Russell, re-habbed and is now ready to be released. The American Kestrel is the smallest and most common fal-con in North America.
-Staff Photos by Kali Bradford

“The presentations are important to let people know that these birds are not pets, but wild animals, said Turner.

“Falconry is going out with the birds and hunting with them. It’s the experience of the whole thing, which we explain in our presentations. Some want to know why, if they are wild birds, we have them. We explain that 80 percent of wild birds die in their first year. They don’t live very long at all. The main thing we do is try to save these birds and help them to have a longer life. We also let them know what to do if they come up on a bird. It’s important that they remember they are wild animals and can react in a defensive manner.”

Turner also works for a bird abatement company in Nashville, where they service a number of downtown businesses such as the Nashville International Airport.

“I work in various areas in downtown Nashville helping to get rid of starlings that nest in the trees,” he said. “It’s a big problem in the city with 6,000 birds in the city. We also do work for Lowe’s Stores across Alabama and Kentucky.”


Feathered with Appreciation

Both Turner and Russell said they have gotten so much out of their experience with falconry.

“What haven’t I gotten?” Turner asked. “This is my life now and what I do as a career. I am also able to buy other birds. I’ve gotten connections with Tims Ford State Park. It’s been a really rewarding experience.”

Russell said she enjoys being able to connect with each bird.

“I’ve learned lots of patience. Also, just being out in nature has been an experience,” she said. “I love the challenge of having a bird be able to trust me. I love being able to make the connection with the bird.”

Kali Bradford may be reached by email at tnlifest@lcs.net.