The Flying of Falcons by Ed Pitcher and Ricardo Velarde
It was thanksgiving week at the Alamosa Falconry meet in 1978 that changed our lives. My dear friend Gerald Richards and I decided to go socialize one evening. We were ready to go listen to some of the new “Bird Lies”. I know fishermen are famous for their stories, but falconers are not too far behind with their wit. Just keep this in mind. After a while Gerald and I saw a group of three guys engaged in a very serious conversation. Ed Pitcher of course, Mike Adler, and Rick Sharp. We decided to join in. Immediately we noticed these “Bird Lies” were out of our class, and there was no way we could ever top what we where hearing, especially having Gerald Richards with me, but we sure listened.
Ed Pitcher with his typical small round glasses and at the time smoking a good cigar, kept talking to us about his female Prairie Falcon, Crystal. He was telling us his falcon had already caught a few ducks and sage grouse from a decent pitch of about three thousand feet or more! Now let me tell you why this was such an important evening. During those years, if you had a falcon that went out a couple of hundred yards and started to work it’s way up to wait on at about four to six hundred feet, you had an incredible hawk. We were listening to Ed’s stories about his falcons going half a mile out and working their way up to three to five thousand feet routinely and successfully hunting with his birds. This was just never heard off.
Let me very briefly describe a more traditional way of hunting with these falcons during those days, or for that matter even today. Normally you would have a falcon “waiting on” (flying around you) at about two to three hundred feet, and when the bird gets to be up wind, you flush the game. Normally if the ducks clear the water the falcon can try to catch one before they swirl back to the pond.
This evening for the first time we were listening to all these stories of Ed’s Falcons flying “Up in the Heaven”. Ed was telling us Crystal had been flying very nice, but he had to stop flying her for a few weeks because of his business, and that he had to go to Colorado to do more research on Sage Grouse. Ed said he had been flying her again for the last three weeks and that she was getting back in shape like her old self. We had talked about going out and trying to find some ducks the next day, and during the conversation about these incredible flights Rick Sharp asked, “but Mr. Pitcher, isn’t there a disadvantage of flying the falcon so high?” and Ed’s responds while smoking his cigar said “yes there is a hell of a disadvantage”, (in our minds obviously for the falcon), Ed taking one more puff out of his cigar says, “A hell of a disadvantage for the fucking ducks!”
This was something Gerald and I never forgot. Gerald and I walked back to our room commenting that we could not believe those stories, or that at least we had met the guy that had told the best Bird Lies we had ever heard. Our minds were spinning and Gerald told us the next day he had never gone to sleep because he kept thinking and dreaming about these incredible flights. So we had agreed to meet at the weathering yard at 11:00am. We had told our friend Joe Terry about these stories at our hotel room, and of course he was ready to go out with us too. Well let me tell you, we were not going to be there at 11:00am, but at 10:00am to make sure we did not miss Ed going out. I do not know how this happen, but the word got around about these incredible flights and there most have been a caravan of ten to fifteen cars to go to the flying field. I could not believe how excited I was. When we arrived Ed started getting everything ready to fly Crystal, testing the telemetry, hawking bag on, jesses and leash off. He walked towards the pond to make sure it had ducks, but someone said yes we have some there! Ed very relaxed took his cigar out of this mouth, so he could “Strike the hood off”, and the falcon was off. It was a beautiful fall day, cool temperatures and the air was very crisp. Open terrain like it is here out on the west, a falconer’s dream. Crystal was flying away, and not turning like our usual birds. The falcon was on a mission, she went at least half a mile out before she started to work her way up into the heavens, just like it was said the night before. We all had our binoculars on and were not about to miss a wing beat out of this bird. Crystal started to go up and up and up, and when she looked like she was about to disappear into some clouds, someone out of the audience asked Ed Frienmouth, an old time falconer, “Have you ever had a falcon fly this high? His responds was “None that I ever got back!!!” We could not stop laughing! Our necks were not used to holding the binoculars like this for so long, and with these cooler temperatures we started to get watery eyes. Crystal started to work her way back, going in and out of some clouds, we figured she was probably at least thirty five hundred feet or higher up in the sky. The ducks were flushed and they were milling around the pond, and Crystal was not stooping! She was smart, she was going to wait for the ducks to get farther away from the water. When the duck were a couple of hundred feet up in the air, as high as we used to fly some of our falcons! Crystal started her attack, stooping and coming so fast, the sound, and the hiss of Crystal cutting through the air was like nothing we had ever seen efore. Gerald Richards described this moment like this. “The ducks eyes started to bulge out and turn red, full of panic, realizing the Pearly Gates were slammed shut. These duck were paddling backwards to make it back to the pond”.
Indeed, most likely the ducks had noticed the stooping falcon, and they started their evasive maneuvers trying to make it back to the pond, Crystal missed the ducks by about ten feet, not even close! and without hesitation she started to work her way up again. It only took Crystal about another fifteen minutes to be back up again at thirty five hundred to four thousand feet ready for her second attack. I cannot recall whom but someone out of the audience made the comment of “Too bad this is not a Peregrine” and our good friend Terry Heath’s responds was “But, can you tell the difference from here?”. Gerald Richards was assisting Ed with flushing the ducks. This time only a few ducks got up and the rest stayed on the pond. Crystal’s stoop was like a missile dropping out of the heavens, and these ducks had already experienced this a few minutes before, so full of panic they again rushed back to the pond. Crystal was really having a great time. We thought this was the most unbelievable flight we had ever seen. Ed will just swing the lure and bring the falcon back. He started to walk back with Gerald Richards, and not even paying attention as to what the falcon was doing. When he came back he said it was obvious these ducks were full of panic and would probably be impossible to re-flush out of this pond, so he decided to allow the falcon to go back up again! Crystal was a mere speck in the clouds again! Ed Pitcher asked for someone to release a pigeon to bring Crystal back and finish the flight. Joe Terry offered a small black pigeon, one that could get away. The pigeon was released, and Crystal going in and out of the clouds noticed the pigeon, and she did not hesitate to start pursuing her prey.
Her stoops were deadly, her persistence was unforgiving, from the ground level to back up to eight hundred to a thousand feet, the chase was on! The falcon would stoop and the pigeon would perform these one hundred and eighty degrees turns and get away from the falcon’s talons again. These two birds were all over the sky and the flight must have gone for ten to twelve minutes! On the last move trying to escape, this pigeon started to come down from about four hundred feet, with her wings pulled back, short and quick wing beats, gaining speed very fast, we noticed she was heading for the only small barn in sight. Crystal was quick to respond, we thought the pigeon was safe the second we saw it go through the only small opening at the top of the barn, but the falcon left us with our mouths open, and the only time I have ever seen anything like this happen, Crystal did not slow down and without hesitation we saw her go right into the barn. Afterwards when Gerald Richards and Ed Pitcher came back with the falcon, Gerald told me he had asked Ed if Crystal was his best falcon he’d ever had, and Ed’s responds was “No, she covers her food while she eats on the fist”, and Gerald was about to choke with that. This flight was by far better that any of the “Bird Lies” told the night before.
Probably falconers are expecting to read another text about training falcons, and this is why this book is so unique. This book is not about step by step techniques on a specific way of training, but a very unique approach of understanding the development of a falcon, and letting nature guide the physical and mental development of the bird, and training your self to step back and allow the falcon reach its real potential. Ed Pitcher has always been “The Thinker”. By far the most influential and philosophical falconer of our times. Always surprising you with his innovative, insightful, and progressive concepts. With his background in biology and his superb memory, he has the most advanced level of behavioral understanding, with an incredible visionary view for the individualized training of each falcon. The way he describes and perceives the mentality of these falcons is very unique. You will notice he has not only being flying falcons for the past forty years, but he has been studying and reflecting on his experiences to figure out his own way of creating the mentality of a passage falcon out of a captive raised bird.
He hears falconers say “they are trying the Pitcher’s method”, and Ed says which method is that. Ed’s philosophy and ideas are always changing. Twenty five year ago, he had some great ideas with a broader view, but he is always looking for a better approach to training his new falcon, and applying what he has learned out of his past teachers and great masters, meaning his falcons. Ed Pitcher has been narrowing down his ideas and point of view into a very specific and unique way of developing his falcons. You will soon realize this is a very unique book, there has never being anything explained like this in any falconry literature. The philosophy here not only covers the falconry aspects but a very unique interpretation of the real value of falconry. Like Ed says about his methods, this is not the only way or the right way, but just a different way. He hopes these ideas start to create other points of view so other falconers can express their experiences, and share what they have learned from their great masters.
Dear Fellow Falconers. A very short introduction about my self. My name is Ricardo Velarde and I have been involved in falconry for close to forty years. Ed Pitcher and I met at the Alamosa falconry meet in 1978. One of the many great stories in this book and I use it to introduce Ed Pitcher on this webpage and in the book. After becoming great friends and flying falcons together, I knew Ed had a very unique way of managing his falcons, and the idea to writing a book emerged. Twenty five years later it became a reality.
Please feel free to e-mail or us if you have any questions. Kindest Regards.
About the Author by Ricardo Velarde