The School Garden in Broken Bow had a very special guest last Friday, a bird of prey.
The 3-year-old Peregrine Falcon is one of the prides and joys of Michael Garcia, a falconer from Chicago. Michael says he tries to come to Nebraska every year to allow his birds to soar, to fly, to hunt.
The Blackburns thought he and his birds would be a fun ‘Show and tell’. They were correct.
“The sport of Falconry is at last 4,000 years old,” Michael explained later. “There are those who would argue that it is at last 10,000 years old. You see the pictures inscribed as hieroglyphics. “
Once Michael starts talking, his enthusiasm for his birds radiates. He says he loves bringing them into schools to try and educate the children about the magnificence of the birds.
The bird he brought to the School Garden was named Budaka, which means queen warrior. The way she perched, it was as if she agreed with the title.
For decades the birds were used to hunt, with the ownership of one in ancient times regarded as a status symbol. With the invention of the gun, the use of the birds as hunters declined. In more recent years, their populations in the wild took a terrible hit with onset of DDT but have staged a comeback thanks to nesting boxes and stricter insecticide controls.
“Even when things are going right, over 70 percent of the birds die in the wild in their first year of life. Only 10 percent make it to age 5,” he said. “A bird in captivity can live to be 30.”
For Michael the birds are more than a hobby. They are a passion.
“A hobby is something you do when you have time. A passion is something you make time for,” he said. He spends three to four weeks in Nebraska each year hunting prairie chickens or sharp-tail grouse. When asked if he was successful this year he said he was. No, his birds didn’t catch anything, but it was a success because he got to watch them fly.
Hunting with falcons is not real productive he noted. He said he is lucky to get a couple of birds a year. The season is long because they catch so little.
He isn’t sure how long the passion has been in place … since at least as a young boy. He remembers seeing a Disney movie about a small child who survived in the wilderness because of a falcon. Where other kids wanted horses, he was fascinated with birds.
In the late 70s when he was working in Phoenix as a glider pilot, he helped a friend band hawks.
Around 10 years ago he acquired his first bird, a Red Tail Hawk. His next was a Cross-bred Falcon, and now the Peregrine Falcon he shared with the children. He still has the other two. For feed he orders frozen farm raised quail.
“They don’t catch enough to feed themselves much less the hunter,” he said with a grin.
To become a falconer takes a lot of time, and a great deal of commitment.
“You have to have a license to own a bird of prey, and another license to raise the birds, and another license to hunt.
First there is the studying that is necessary to understand food, nutrition, habitat, equipment, hunting styles and the laws of the state where one resides. Once you have studied you take a test and build a facility that will properly house the birds and become inspected. You spend your first two years as an apprentice and are allowed to have only one bird. That is followed by another test before you receive you general class license. At that time you can take care of two birds. Once five years have passed, you can apply for your master class license.
Michael has his master class license, and loves to share his passion with others.
He said he loves coming out to Broken Bow each year. He’s made good friends and is very appreciative of the ranchers who allow him (and his birds) to hunt on their property. The entire community is always wonderful, he said.