Most teenagers keep busy with sports or band, but one Worthing teen has found a hobby in falconry, the art of training hawks to hunt in cooperation with a person.
Fourteen-year-old Gabi Olson first discovered falconry when she read the book “My Side of the Mountain.” At that time, she thought only adults could pursue falconry. However, after reading another book, “Falcon Wild,” about a 13-year-old falconer, she thought she could do it too.
“It’s funny because people will ask me what I like to do for fun and it’s like you expect soccer, art, theatre, but it’s falconry,” she said.
After two years of research and begging her parents, Olson took a 100-question multiple choice federal test at the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls. She also had to take a gun safety course, even though falconry does not involve guns, because state law requires anyone under 16 who wants to hunt to take a gun safety course.
After emailing the state Game, Fish & Parks Department, they sent her everything she needed to do along with names of falconers in the state. The first level of falconry is apprentice and the apprentice has to have a sponsor for two years. She found Bruce Eckman from Renner on the small list of falconers from the state.
Once she passed her test and got her license, she worked on building a mews for the hawk she would eventually trap in their barn. She and her dad worked on building the mews.
“We spent all winter clearing up our barn because it was very messy with scraps of wood everywhere. In the summer, we started working on building the actual mews,” Olson said.
They built the mews with two doors and big enough for two birds in the future. Olson noted that apprentices can only have one bird at a time and have to be an apprentice for at least two years. An apprentice is limited to a passage Red-Tail Hawk or American Kestrel.
Olson trapped a passage Red-Tail Hawk with her apprentice about 8 miles west of Renner at the end of October. To trap it, they used a bal-chatri trap, which a wire mesh cage that they put mice in.
“You get in your car and you look for a passage Red-Tail Hawk, which is one that is not a year old, but is hunting for itself. It is illegal to take an adult, called a haggard, from the wild,” she said.
To tell the difference between a passage and a haggard, Olson said a passage bird does not have their red tails yet. They do not get those until their second spring.
Olson said it was interesting to trap the hawk because it was raining the day she caught it but it was still out flying and it had eaten.
“It was interesting because usually they don’t come down if they’re full. This hawk was full. She had a full crop. We could tell that she had eaten recently and yet she still came down for the mice. Plus it was raining and they don’t like to fly when it’s raining,” she said.
The hawk Olson trapped is a female she named Cressida, after the Trojan woman in many Medieval stories of the Trojan War. She knows the bird is a female because the female is almost always bigger than the males in raptors.
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