By Shane Newbold
Winged terror and youthful enthusiasm foster an inconceivable comradery. But “relationship” is the fundamental crux of the falconer and his bird. Cody Atkinson, at a mere twenty years old, understands the bond between man and hawk. Necessary teamwork and practice ensure a steady supply of sustenance from the earth: meat. Rabbits, squirrels and other small creatures are the prey. The American Kestrel (Sparrow Hawk) and the Red-tailed hawk, Cody’s current residents, eat some of what they kill as well as the occasional meal of whitetail venison set aside in the freezer for the birds.
A meticulous process begins after the capture of the feathered predators. Cody treats the birds for any parasites and develops a daily routine that includes feeding, flying, training and weight maintenance. If the bird is too heavy, full-bellied and satisfied upon release for the hunt, the bird may fly off and not return. If the bird is too light, malnourishment issues can result. An optimum weight, respective to individuals, helps ensure the bird will hunt efficiently but still remain dependent on the falconer.
Equipment utilized by the falconer includes hoods (for transport and calming), anklets (protection from squirrel bites), jesses (tethers), whistles (calling the bird), lure on rope (training tool) and gloves (hand perch and protection from talons). Cody has fabricated all of these but sometimes buys and uses articles made by others.
Birds of prey available to falconers consists of the buteos (Red-tailed, Red-shouldered and Harris hawks), accipiters (Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks and Northern Goshawk), and the falcons (Peregrine, Kestrel and Merlin). As he expounded on each species, the twinkle in Cody’s eye left no doubt he was joyously anticipating future experiences with them all.
Yale, Cody’s first Red-tailed, caught in 2010, taught the Apprentice Class Falconer more than he taught the bird. Two seasons later, after many successful hunts and apprenticeship under the supervision of his sponsor, Cody reluctantly and successfully released her back into the wild. College bound, he knew his time with her would be limited.
Becoming a Marine reservist, attending the University of Tennessee at Martin (pursuing a criminal justice degree) and working part time only intensified the urge to capture another hunting companion. Obtaining his General Class Falconry permit, he jumped in with both talons…uh, feet. No longer needing a sponsor, he quickly filled his two-bird limit with the Kestrel and Red-tailed.
Since the ripe old age of fourteen, he has been fulfilling his dream. He confidently and astutely communicated, “I can’t think of a better way of getting close to nature than being in the middle of a predator/prey relationship. To be a part of it. All you are doing is watching the bird do what it does.”
Father to four and best friend to Becky Jane for 26 years, Shane Newbold lives life to the fullest birdwatching, fishing, motorcycling and enjoying his family.