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Tuesday, April 22, 2014



My brother-in-law, Jeff Gavel, and I knew Hawking with Dr. Jennifer and Tom Coulson would be fun but we didn’t know it would be this much fun. The Coulsons are Master Falconers and have extensive knowledge of the habits and behaviors of Harris’s Hawks. They have published countless articles and written books on these Raptors. They are also reputable breeders of Harris’s Hawks and are well known throughout the United States. In addition to Harris's Hawks their passion for Swallow-tailed Kites is unheralded as they spend countless hours in the field collecting nesting data and tracking these magnificent Raptors.


The piercing eyes of the Harris's Hawk look right through you.

We arrived at the hunt site around 9:30 AM. The Coulsons retrieved four boxes from their truck and placed them on the ground. The doors were opened and the stars of the show made their debut. Four Harris’s Hawks, Tipitina, Leah, Sky, and Fergie took to the air exercising their wings preparing to wage battle on the clever Swamp Rabbits. The well-trained Hawks stayed close by and were sitting in trees nearby watching their masters getting ready for the hunt as if saying, "Come on Coulsons, HURRY UP!. It's time to GET IT ON!"

Released from her box stretching out her wings preparing for the show down.

Being new to this sport, Jeff and I wondered, “How will these Harris’s Hawks catch the elusive Swamp Rabbits as they run for their life, twisting, turning and darting in and out the dense underbrush?” It didn’t take long to find out. It was a remarkable sight to see and one that will never be forgotten.

Perched in a tree watching, looking and listening for Swamp Rabbits.

This was not the Harris’s Hawks first rodeo. These skilled hunters knew their quarry, had a plan and stuck to their plan. Unbeknownst to the Swamp Rabbits, big trouble was lurking from above

Let the games begin! The Coulsons trampled through the dense underbrush attempting to flush Swamp Rabbits as their Harris’s Hawks patrolled the skies at tree top level watching for prey below. The Hawks worked from tree to tree soaring low overhead watching with their extraordinary vision and listening with their acute hearing waiting for the opportunity to pounce on a fleeing Swamp Rabbit.

Patrolling the airspace searching for Swamp Rabbits.

GAME ON! Without warning a Swamp Rabbit burst from the underbrush. He zigzagged through the briars fleeing from the Coulsons as they pushed through the dense underbrush. Little did the Rabbit know the real danger was overhead as four pairs of sharp eyes were watching his every move. With a flip of her wing the closest Harris’s Hawk immediately went into ‘attack mode’. In an instant she was inverted, head down and tail up, plummeting vertically downward gaining speed all the while. She was ‘locked on’ to the Rabbit below like a high tech military heat-seeking missile while she tracked the Rabbit's every move. The Hawk hit the Rabbit with a vengeance impaling her sharp, lethal talons deep into the Rabbit’s flesh stopping him dead in his tracks.

A Swamp Rabbit running for his life below as a Harris's Hawk prepares to deliver the knockout blow from above. These guys are GOOD!

The Harris's Hawk mantled the Rabbit with her wings in order to hide it and wasted no time stripping away part of his fur with her beak as she began feeding before the Coulsons could reach her. Once there, they allowed the Hawk a few morsels from the rabbit rewarding her capture thus reinforcing her positive behavior.

Mantling the Swamp Rabbit as she begins to dine.

The Coulsons attending to the Hawk and captured Swamp Rabbit

My brother-in-law and I were awestruck by what we witnessed. The fierce, intelligent, well-trained Harris’s Hawks were spectacular! I was glad I wasn't a Swamp Rabbit today.

One Swamp Rabbit down and time to move on. The Hawks again took to the air soaring tree top high as some set in trees watching and listening for the slightest movement below as the Coulsons again broke through the underbrush. It wasn’t long before another rabbit suddenly bolted from the tangle of briars alerting the sharp-eyed Harris’s Hawks.

The closest Harris’s Hawk immediately spotted his quarry and dove for the Swamp Rabbit scurrying through the underbrush. The Harris’s Hawk missed by a hair (Hare?). It was the rabbit’s lucky day or so he thought. Unbeknownst to the Rabbit there were three more Harris’s Hawks to contend with. A second Hawk already had the Rabbit in his sights and was closing fast. She flipped to an inverted position bearing down on the rabbit running for his life. Again a last second evasive maneuver from the fleeing Swamp Rabbit resulted in another miss by the Harris's Hawk.

Free at last? Not by a long shot! Little did the Rabbit know he would be running the Harris's Hawk's gauntlet to escape with his life as there were two more Harris’s Hawks eagerly waiting their turn. Hawk number three was ticked off and mad as she began her kamikaze dive from up above. The intensity on her face said it all. She was determined this Rabbit WOULD NOT escape. The Swamp Rabbit was racing for the safety of his hole in the ground and was running for his life as fast as his legs would carry him with the Harris's Hawk hot on his heels. Just as the Rabbit approached the safety of his hole in the ground the Harris’s Hawk swooped down with outstretched talons delivering a blow like the Hammer of Thor! She buried her razor sharp talons deep into the Rabbit's flesh and the struggle was over in an instant. The Swamp Rabbit came to rest a foot short of his safe haven in the ground. The intelligent Harris’s Hawks teamwork prevailed and their persistence paid off.

Launching from a tree and coming in for the kill.

A sight seldom seen. A Harris's Hawk with her head down and tail up diving on a fleeing Swamp Rabbit. These tenacious Hawks mean business. Look out below!

Bomb's away!

And another one bites the dust!

The amazing Harris’s Hawks owned the airspace today and no Swamp Rabbits were safe as they hunted together like a Wolf Pack. These intelligent and extremely efficient hunters dispatched three more Swamp Rabbits in similar fashion providing for an exciting and eventful morning hunt. Their teamwork reminded me of Helen Keller’s quote, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”.

The day was ended with a picnic reminiscing about the day’s events. The Coulsons do a remarkable job raising, breeding and training their Harris’s Hawks as evidenced by their performance in the field. The 'Hawk Whisperers' were gracious hosts and we thanked them for generously sharing their four remarkable Harris’s Hawks. It was an incredible experience being with the Coulsons witnessing and photographing their 'Wolf Pack' in action and a great time was had by all.

A few interesting notes about the Harris's Hawks.
  • In the wild the Harris’s Hawks maintain the same behavior hunting together and even live together as extended families.
  • The Harris’s Hawk was given its name by John James Audubon for his friend Edward Harris.

If you are a Swamp Rabbit and see this then you are fixing to have a BAD DAY!

Hope you enjoyed the hunt and the pictures!


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