It must be an incredible experience to fly with Peregrine falcons and feel like you, too, are a bird of prey. An experience that very few know. Not so Dwight Dreezen (D.D.). He has already been flying with falcons for years. Here is the story about an extraordinary man who has dedicated his life to these fascinating birds of prey.
CFG: Dwight, how did it all start?
D.D.: When I was 8 years old, I was fascinated by these birds. People can only dream of the freedom that these birds enjoy (though later, I found out that this freedom was temporary). It was in the days when there was a sanctuary for birds in the vicinity of my hometown in Belgium. Animals that had been hit by cars were cared for there and eventually released back into the wild. I was, then, very disappointed that I was not allowed to take care of such a bird. Shortly afterwards, I was allowed to keep pigeons. They were in a coop at night, but during the day they were free, and that has always been very important to me: that animals should be free to move.
CFG: When did you raise or train your first falcon?
D.D. At the age of 18, I met a falconer who made me enthusiastic (again), and that was the start of a new world in which I could own a bird of prey, not a wild one but a bred falcon.
CFG: What is their main function?
D.D.: The main function in this area is to hunt crows. This is mainly done here with falcons. Hawks also hunt crows and rabbits, but not hares, for example. Incidentally, due to the disease Myxomatosis, and a liver disease, the stock of rabbits has drastically decreased. In 1938, humans brought Myxomatosis to Australia, which, in 1953, led to a true epidemic, actually worldwide.
CFG: Is what you are doing compatible with the ecosystem?
D.D. That is certainly the case. When you hunt with falcons, you take out the weakest of the species that is being hunted. If you don't do it, those animals won't make it to the new spring anyway. By raising and training the animals, I have also grown into being one with nature, so I want to protect the ecosystem and, where possible, take measures to give nature a better future.
CFG: Are you killing for fun?
D.D.: First of all, when I am out in the wild, in 1 out of 100 flights with my birds, I come home with a kill. To me, the main thing is the art of flying and training with these animals. Working with falcons is the art of handling them, and the kill might be a result. Hunting with hawks is a different ball game. In the old days, that bird was called the “Kitchen Bird”, because 7 out of 10 flights hit with prey.
CFG: What do environmentalists say?
D.D.: At first, many environmentalists stay at bay, but when they hear and see the story behind it, they realize that this fits in very well with the ecosystem.
CFG: How do you combine your time-consuming hobby with your day job?
Fortunately, I found a job near to where I am living. This job is very busy during summer, and when the season is over, it allows me to dedicate more time to the birds in fall and winter. For me, the season with the falcons start lasts from August until the end of February.
CFG: Is it an expensive hobby?
As far as the purchasing of young animals or eggs is concerned, it is costly. In my case, the initial costs are the eggs which I hatch in the incubator. Add to that the equipment I use to train the animals, the miles I drive to go to areas where I can fly the birds, and the possible lease of a site, then this results in a considerable amount of expenditure at the end of each year. Leasing a hunting ground consisting of 600 hectares, for instance, costs € 7,500.00 per year
CFG: Explain how you train the birds, perhaps with drones?
For training falcons, a specially designed Delta Wing drone is best suited because it tows a prey. You start training them when they are 15 weeks old.
To track them, I have a tablet that measures height, distance, and speed. A small transmitter is attached to the falcon that makes it possible to follow the bird.
For training falcons, I also need my dog who spots pheasants or partridges hunted by the falcon.
CFG: What was/is your greatest experience while training these birds?
The most beautiful thing for me by far, is the freedom I enjoy when being together with the animals. To see how they climb, seek thermals, and come down with an unbelievable fall speed. Don't forget that it is the fastest bird on earth and can reach maximum speeds of 390 km/h
CFG: How many birds do you have, and do you sell some of them?
Presently, I have one Harris´ Bussard, one Goshawk, and seven African Peregrines (Falcons).
I only sell them occasionally when I know the new owners will take good care of them.
CFG: How long do you want to continue with this hobby?
As long as possible. I am 30 years old and hope that I can practice this hobby for the next 50 years.
CFG: Good luck, Dwight, and thank you for sharing the information.
Interview: Gerton Hulsman
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