We hold ourselves to a strict code of ethics. It is essential to any organization working with animals that we act as ambassadors. We represent falconers and hunters everywhere and maintaining a strict code of conduct is integral to our mission.
This entails quite a few things. Caring for our birds isn't as simple as caring for other animals. First and foremost our birds of prey are not pets, and this must always be a thought at the front of our mind if we want to provide them with the things they need to thrive.
In a kennel or other animal care facility, top quality care would appear as providing food, water, exercise and affection. It is quite a simple formula, especially with dogs. Dogs mirror humans in their social constructs, so it is easy for us to coexist in harmony, "man's best friend" after all.
It can be easy for humans to take this same sentiment and to project human qualities, desires or ideals onto animals. This is called ANTHROPOMORPHISM. We can teeter a line between helpful and harmful if we fail to recognize when we are anthropomorphising and projecting our own feelings and desires onto an animal.
There is certainly less harm in anthropomorphising an animal such as a dog, that mirrors our social structures, than there is in anthropomorphising an animal that has vastly different social needs than our own.
Birds of prey are wild animals. It is paramount that we always remember this in order to maintain their dignity and wellbeing. We must always consider their psychology and how it differs from our own in everything we do with them. It is entwined into everything we do in falconry. From our every day handling, the way we physically move our bodies around our birds, all the way into our training regimes.
Some of the things someone might do if they anthropomorphise birds of prey include:
-putting them into stressful situations where they are over stimulated by crowds or the presence of other predators.
-petting, stroking, or hugging them
-feeding them inappropriate food items like beef or lack of bone and organ
These things may seem innocent enough however keeping an animal in aversive conditions long term has drastic negative effects.
Stress is a physiological response, not just an 'emotional' response. Stress is signalled in the body by the release of cortisol, the 'stress hormone'. This can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and trigger the "fight or flight" response. Imagine living in a prolonged 'state of emergency' and learned helplessness- how horrible.
Having raised levels of cortisol long term can also cause physiological effects such as suppressing immune function, or even myopathy which can be fatal.
Myopathy is a condition that is induced from stress-exertion and is a muscular degenerative condition caused by cortisol and the release of lactic acid from the muscles.
Some of the things we do to ensure the wellbeing of our birds and to determine suitability for demonstrations and displays include:
1 - Gradual and meticulous desensitization to new scenarios with positive re-enforcement. We never flood our birds with stimuli and expect them to 'get over it.'
2 - Careful weight management to track fitness, metabolism, and in turn the willingness of the bird to partake in training or hunting. Each bird must be a willing participant in order to be trained. There is no other way in falconry, because the bird can simply choose not to participate or return.
3 - Never petting or stroking our birds beyond what is necessary for physical health checks. Petting is for the benefit of the human only. We see it as an act of affection, however birds of prey see it as an annoyance and tolerate it at best. We do not force them to 'tolerate' our touching any more than necessary to maintain their wellbeing. Not only do they dislike it, but the oils from our fingers ruin the waterproofing of their feathers. To be blunt, any falconer that allows people to stroke their bird like a pet has a blatant disregard for the wellbeing of their bird. We are vehemently against 'poke and stroke' type falconry centers and displays.
4 - Only using birds that are suitable for certain jobs based on temperament and personality. Some species are naturally more nervous or high strung than others, and each bird is an individual with their own preferences and preconceived opinions. We always consider the suitability of each individual bird for each job.
5 - Partaking in continuing education courses, clubs, and seminars to stay up to date on the newest in medicine, behavior, and technology pertaining to birds of prey. We must constantly challenge our own views, knowledge, and beliefs in order to improve and become the best that we can be.
6 - Providing our birds with opportunities to display all of their natural behaviours that they would be able to exhibit in the wild, and putting the wellbeing of the bird above all else- even if it means declining certain jobs.