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Falcoentrevista com Lauren McGough

Clique : Texto em Português



Lauren McGough fell in love with golden eagles when she was a child and was determined to get involved in the sport of falconry, hunting with birds of prey. She couldn’t find anyone in the United States to teach her how to hunt with a golden eagle. So, McGough applied and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to spend a year in Mongolia where falconers not only train eagles, but depend on their hunting skills for sustenance and fur.

1 - What got you interested in falconry?

I always loved the outdoors and wild things, but did not come from a hunting family. I didn’t even know falconry existed until I read a book by Steve Bodio entitled, “A Rage for Falcons”. I was fourteen at the time, and that was it. I knew I had to do it! A few months later I trapped my first passage red-tailed hawk.

2 -Who was your sponsor? (or mentors and influences?)

My sponsor was a falconer named Rob Rainey. He was wonderful! He had three daughters, none of whom were interested in falconry, and as my parents weren’t interested in it either, we had a strong bond. Author Steve Bodio also became a dear friend and powerful influence on me. I’ve had many eagle mentors in different countries - that is part of what makes our sport so great. If you are willing to learn, there are people willing to teach you. Joe Atkinson has been a great teacher to me on flying eagles. Finally, the late Francis Hamerstrom, one of the first people to fly eagles in the United States, and the only woman that I know of, was an inspiration to me through her books.

3 -Why did you choose an eagle?

There is nothing like a golden eagle. What impresses me about them isn’t their size, but what they are capable of. They can catch hares in a burst of goshawk-like speed from the fist, and they can also wait-on thousands of feet above and stoop quarry just like a falcon. They are masters of the wind and often relish gusts that would ground other raptors. You might think a bird that size wouldn’t be maneuverable, but they are amazingly fast, agile, and powerful. Golden eagles are incredibly successful predators - they can be found across the northern hemisphere in a huge variety of habitats and subsisting a huge variety of prey. The possibilities for their application in falconry are almost endless.

4 - You earned a scholarship to go to Mongolia. What was the project presented by you? How old were you?

I won a Fulbright Scholarship* when I was 22. This is a scholarship from the US government that funds people to carry out an independent research project in another country for one year. My proposal was to document the process of trapping, training, and hunting foxes with eagles in Mongolia. Although the practice was well known, little had been writing about the specific mechanics of it. The way I decided to document falconry there was by participating myself and trapping an eagle to fly under the guidance of a local master.


5 - What is the feeling to be on the cradle of falconry with eagles?

It is a surreal and wonderful experience. You can’t tell what century you are in. This is a place where horses are the best mode of transportation, yurts are your home, there are no powerlines, no could be there in the year 500 or 1500 and little would give it away. I distinctly remember standing on a mountaintop with my horse and eagle and spotting some petroglyphs on the rocks beside me. How many people have stood in that same spot over the centuries with the same animal companions, and marveled at the rock art nearby?

6 - What did you learn there that you will remember for the rest of your life?

Falconry brings people together regardless of race, gender, age or class. I could not have been more different from the men I hunted with - we had nothing in common, and our lives where almost unrelatable. However, when we were hawking it truly did not matter. We laughed and smiled when we were successful, we used our hands to recreate amazing flights, we helped eachother find eagles when they were lost. All those barriers broke down when we were hunting. That’s what I remember most. Being accepted because, as falconers, we were the same.

7 - How is the fox hunting in Mongolia? Try to describe it for people understand this ancient Cultura.

Foxes are very smart animals. As a predator species themselves, the Mongolian wilderness can only support so many foxes in an area. In the most populous spots, you could expect to get between one and three slips a day if you hunted all day. In other spots, you would be lucky to see one fox. Because of this, tracking is an essential skill. The falconers I hunted with were amazing at identifying fox tracks in the snow and following them. Foxes are also so aware that you will never get a close slip. They will always be several hundred yards or a mile or more in the distance when they run into the open. Because of that, it is essential that you give the eagle a height advantage. The falconer will ride his horse from mountaintop to mountaintop to get a good vantage over the steppe. The flushers will ride their horses below on the flat to try flush a fox. When you do spy a fox, it is often a red-colored spot scooting along in the distance. It takes a lot of fitness and confidence for these eagles to catch them - this is why it is passage eagles that are usually flown, and at a higher weight. The eagle will typically leave the fist and either begin a shallow, pumping stoop toward the fox, or power out there and conserve its height until the last second when it stoops vertically like a falcon. Either way, it is dramatic and beautiful. A falconer having a good season might catch between 30-40 foxes. Out of this, maybe one will deliver a bad bite. In my opinion, foxes are a reasonable risk to eagles, and most eagles become very proficient at handling them in a way that they do not get bitten.

8 - Did you buy your eagles from a breeder or you catch them in the nature? What type of imprint they are? They were in what age when you get them?

When I lived in the United Kingdom I flew captive-bred chamber-raised eagles. When I was in Mongolia, I had passage eagles. Now, in the United States, I primarily fly eagles that were injured in the wild and hunt with them as part of their rehabilitation. At the moment, this is the only way American falconers can hunt with golden eagles. My current eagle was taken illegally from the nest by a man who tried to keep him as a pet. The eagle was confiscated, but because he was imprinted and likely non-releasable, he was given to me to fly as a falconry bird.

9 - Which preys did you hunt with your eagles?

I’ve pursued black-tailed jackrabbits, scottish mountain hares, european brown hares, roe deer and red foxes.

10 - What are your favorite preys? (That you think the game is more beautiful)

My favorite quarry for eagles is hares. Any species of hare! Every instinct, every muscle in an eagle’s body is made to hunt hares. It is the most natural quarry, and what eagles are most adapt at. I have never had to encourage an eagle to chase hares - they have always done it on their own. Larger quarry, such as roe deer or foxes, can be rewarding to hunt, but the flights are much more difficult to orchestrate. I can find dozens of hares in a day, but would be lucky to get a few slips on fox or deer.

11 - Which type of weight control do you use on your eagles?

I try to use routine and appetite more so than direct weight control with my eagles, especially with imprints and chamber-raised eagles. Of course, in the beginning of training, it is important to have the eagle at its best response weight. However, over time, I find weight can become almost irrelevant. Through many seasons of hunting a relationship can be built that goes beyond weight, and the eagle will fly hard, kill, and come back because it enjoys the process. I came to have this more liberal notion of weight control through living in Mongolia. There, of course, they have no scales. Flying is all done on intuition and monitoring behavior rather than numbers on a scale.

12 - Sometimes do you recompense the bird on the glove or only on the lure?

It greatly depends on the history of the eagle. I always do fitness work with the lure prior to the hunting season, and I keep the lure with me as an emergency recall. Too much calling to the fist or feeding on the fist can lead to aggression issues. With eagles that have a history of aggression, I never call to the fist, and only feed them from the kill or the bowl. If they miss, I simply walk (or ride) up to pick them up without food. However, eagles (especially passage eagles) that have been well trained I call to tiny tidbit of meat on the glove to retrieve them.

13 - To demystify fears or not. How many eagles have you had? Did one get extremely aggressive? Did it attack you?

I’ve been privileged to hunt with many golden eagles. I’ve flown twelve - including chamber raised, imprint and passage. I have been given some very aggressive eagles, but with consistent hunting every eagle has become a nice, well-mannered bird. I’ve never seen an eagle so aggressive that hunting didn’t “fix” their behavior. They are such amazing predators, with such an intense predatory drive, that if you don’t provide them the opportunity to hunt (especially if you are feeding them at the same time) it can be a recipe for aggression. It is also important to note that much, if not most, aggressive-looking behavior in eagles is bluff. It is just part of how they communicate and should not be taken seriously. If you ignore, or proceed as usual, when confronted by an aggressive eagle, the behavior usually disappears. However, if an eagle learns that it can intimidate you, or that it can bully you into giving it more food, then life will be difficult for both of you. I have been footed by eagles, but it was always a logical response to a mistake I made. I have never had an eagle be inexplicably aggressive toward me. I think their reputation as dangerous birds is largely undeserved, the vast majority of eagles I have flown have been very safe.

14 - Have you ever hunted with another species of raptors? Which ones?

What was the great difference that made you prefer eagles? I’ve also flown a few passage red-tailed hawks and a chamber-raised peregrine. They are both fantastic species for falconry, but I love hunting hares. And eagles are made for catching hares. They are so proficient at it. Hares and eagles have co-evolved for millions of years, and are perfect at outwitting one another. These flights never get old! The way that I feel with an eagle on my fist walking a field for hares is magical. The air is filled with electricity and as soon as we see that flash of fur all hell breaks loose!

15 - What was your favorite bird and why?

My favorite bird was the passage eagle I trapped in Mongolia. She was wonderful - a big, stocky female that flew at about ten pounds. It only took one month between when she was trapped and when she caught her first fox. She took ten foxes her first season. What I loved about her is she would stoop on the fox like a falcon. She was reckless in flight and would tuck up completely and go vertical when in pursuit.

16 - What birds do you plan to fly or would like to fly?

If I could only fly golden eagles the rest of my life, I would be happy! I do miss flying peregrines, and hope to be able to do that again in the future. A goal I do have is to fly an eagle waiting-on. The vast majority of my eagle hawking is done off the fist, and I would love to fly from a soar with dogs to help flush. I have also developed a love of Bactrian camels. They were amazing creatures to ride when I was in Mongolia. Although hawking of horseback is always fun and interesting, my goal to hunt off of camel-back in the United States one day.

17 - Favorite falconry story?

When I first arrived in Mongolia and asked to apprentice under a falconer, the locals were, understandably, skeptical. They told me later that, “We weren’t sure what you’d actually do, but we thought we’d give you a chance”. After I trapped my eagle and she started taking foxes consistently we had one kill in particular that was amazing. It was the perfect flight right before sunset after a long day - she took the fox as it ran up a hillside across the valley from us. Kukan, my mentor, and I galloped to the scene. I couldn’t stop smiling! He looked at me and said, “Why didn’t I ever take MY daughters hunting?” I thought my heart would burst from pride.

We would like to congratulate you for the participation on the documentary and we would like to say too that is really grateful and important to see a woman so strong as you traveling around the world and flying eagles. We know that we're always capable of seeing ourselves reflected on people like you.


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