What Birds can FL Apprentices Fly?
Per the regs:
4. Permittee may take and possess one wild-caught red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus), broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus), or Merlin (Falco columbarius).
So what are these different birds like, and which is the best for you? Ultimately your sponsor will be the deciding factor on what birds you fly as an apprentice, but there are so many pre-apprentices with a lot of questions about these birds, that I wanted to give a brief summary of each bird and address their applications in falconry here. Not everyone will agree with the opinions expressed on this website, and as stated, in the end your sponsor will be the one that makes the final decision. Furthermore, I encourage everyone to try different birds for themselves (when able) and formulate their own opinions as they gain knowledge and experience in falconry.
The Red-Tailed Hawk
Often hailed as the work horse of falconry, this bird is known for being the quintessential apprentice bird. Fairly forgiving of a falconer’s mistakes, they are a large bird with relatively easy weight and metabolism management. This allows the apprentice to develop the basic groundwork that they will build upon, and take with them when working different birds. Red tails are versatile, taking just about any game, especially rabbits and squirrels which can be found almost anywhere in North America. They are hardy birds, and generally fairly easy going in captivity. Their feathers are sturdy and fairly resistant to breaking. Most folks would say that nothing beats a good red tail, and they would be right.
Another great falconry bird, this is Florida’s answer to the often allowed kestrel in other states. Florida cannot allow the kestrel for apprentices due to a protected subspecies, and when regulation switched over to the states the merlin became available to apprentices, thanks mostly to falconer Eric Edwards. Merlins should not be mistaken for an easy bird though, even though Florida allows them for apprentices. Weight must be much more finely managed due to their small size, and one must work quite a bird harder to provide enough slips to have a successful season with a merlin. Many would not allow their apprentices to fly merlins, or recommend this bird to apprentices because of the difficulty. It is recommended that apprentices wanting to fly these little birds either find a sponsor with merlin experience that is willing to show them the ropes, or have prior falconry experience, such as in the case of folks immigrating into the states.
The Red Shouldered Hawk
The Red shouldered hawk. This bird is likely the most numerous and most noisy hawk in the state of Florida. It’s also a highly controversial falconry bird. Red shouldered hawks, biologically speaking, dine primarily on small rodents, snakes, frogs, lizards, and insects (per Cornell). Due to this, and some experience with the birds, most falconers consider this bird to be not a great candidate for falconry. However, there is a small camp of falconers that believes these birds to be quality gamehawks. Regardless most apprentices find themselves considering this bird simply due to the fact that it outnumbers red tails in Florida 20 to 1. It is strongly recommended that apprentices hold out and keep searching for a red tail. These birds, good for falconry or not, generally appear to be difficult to work with, and often more difficult to get on game than a red tailed hawk.
The Broad Winged Hawk
Young red shoulders hawks are often confused for broad wings. In fact there seem to be very few broad winged hawks that migrate down through Florida, and they appear to be quite difficult to trap. As an apprentice I personally would not even consider this bird an option, as they seem neigh impossible to acquire in the state of Florida. Like the red shoulder, their diet revolved around small mammals, amphibians and reptiles (Cornell).