Cardiff man shares his story of living with his exotic pet bird
How different is having a Harris hawk as a pet in a place like Cardiff?
Imagine having a pet that is just like any other — wants to go out for walks, would understand your emotions, screeches to talk to you, and craves for your attention. The only difference is that your pet would just sit on your hand instead of walking with you.
While the magnificent bird sat on his hand wondering what was happening and making sounds just like that of a baby cooing, Keiran, the parent of the bird, went on to describe Nala’s personality: “She screams at me whenever she’s hungry, bored, or wants to go out for a walk. I can read her body language so I know what she wants each time she does that. She screeches only with me because she considers me her dad. She wouldn’t do that with anyone else.” Most of the birds of prey would be with a human only for food. The relationship would be mostly about food with one particular human.
Kieran, one such lover of birds got himself a pet hawk in September 2019 and talks about his life so far with his pet hawk Nala. He was determined to get a hawk after being involved in falconry for a while. “It all started when I did some falconry with my friend who is a professional falconer here, at the Cardiff castle. I did that for a couple of years before I decided to take a plunge then and get myself my own hawk”, said Kieran.
The search for Nala went on for about six months before he finally found her with a man in Risca on an online platform. “At first, the guy who had her said she’s been sold. I packed my bags and was about to leave for London as I got another one there. But then he called again and said the person who was to take Nala hadn’t shown up. I immediately went and got her. Ever since then, she’s been with me all the time,” he said.
Talking about his decision to get a Harris hawk, Keiran said, “I was determined to get a Harris hawk because of their temperament. There are other birds I could’ve got. Out of all the birds of prey like red tails, sparrow hawks, and kestrels that you can get for falconry. There are numerous types of birds. But Harris hawks are opportunists. I like the way they think and their attitude. They’re truly amazing birds.”
Nala is an imprinted bird which means she’s never had exposure to the wild. After being in her egg for over a month, the baby bird stays with its mother and sibling for about 16 weeks and then goes straight to a human. The humans take them out of their parents’ nurture and start training them. “Since she’s an imprint, we have this really trustful bond. She’s more human than a bird whereas a parent-reared bird would have a totally different attitude and a completely different type of relationship between the bird and the human”, said Keiran.
While Keiran was talking, Nala sat on his hand trying to attack her own reflection in the mirror. That made me realize that imprint birds are territorial. They wouldn’t like it if any other animal comes close. Talking about her behavior with other animals, Keiran said, ”She doesn’t get along with dogs too well. Whenever a dog comes too close, she gets into attack mode. So going to parks is a big no for me when I take her out. I take her everywhere else I go to. Even to see my friends. But I mainly take her to open spaces with lesser animals.”
Just like how dogs treat an open gate as a reason to run into the outside world and explore, Nala has flown away just to sit on a tree and even get stuck on it once. Narrating some such incidents, Keiran said, “I stood under the tree waiting for five hours just waiting for her to come down. She once flew up into a tree and got herself stuck. I had to climb a 60-feet ladder, cut some branches of the tree and get her down carefully. I’ve been through some near misses with her. But she’s only a baby and is still learning.”
Nala is about two years old and is still growing. While she’s fully grown to her size, her feathers are still developing. “In a couple of months, she’ll be fully black with a whole new set of feathers. The ones below her tail right now are new. It is a process that these birds follow. They keep plucking the old ones out and re-growing new ones every few months”, said Keiran.
The lifespan of a Harris hawk is about 20 years. According to the World Bank data of 2018, the average life expectancy of a man in the UK is about 81.26 years. So a hawk would live for about 25 percent of its human parent’s life making this a long-term commitment. Talking about this, Keiran said, “She’ll be with me for the rest of my life hopefully.”