Meet the falconer

June 17, 2008|By BECKY SNOUFFER / Pulse Correspondent

As patriotic music blares from the loudspeakers, Uncle Sam leaps from a cage hidden behind an American flag. He flaps wildly and bows to the crowd as his handler, Jonathan Wood, salutes. Uncle Sam is a rescued bald eagle who travels with the Raptor Project.

Jonathan Wood, co-founder of The Raptor Project with his wife, Susan, is a well-known master falconer and wildlife rehabilitator. He brought his birds to the Memorial Day Family Weekend at Sandy Cove Ministries, a Christian resort in Northeast, Md. He has been on numerous television programs and was the inspiration for the character "Jon Wood" in Jean Craighead George's novel, "Frightful's Mountain."

Much knowledge is required to be a falconer. You need to know about the birds, avian (bird) first aid and state regulations for falconry. Wood said that you can learn a lot from the Internet.

During the Friday evening show, Wood strolled through the audience with his golden eagle on his arm. Afterward, he commented, "When you hold a bird like that for 10,000 shows, she's like a part of your arm."


On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, Wood took his Lanner falcon outside for a flight demonstration. Because the birds are flown and fed during each show, Wood believes that being in the show is "an interesting part of their life." He introduces a new bird to a small crowd and then, as the bird becomes more comfortable with so many people, they move on to bigger crowds.

Wood has done shows with crowds of about 6,000 people. He said that his daughter, Rachel, 8, and his wife help him with the birds.

Wood said that there is more to the Raptor Project than just putting on shows. There is a lot of work involved in training and caring for the birds. Susan Wood added that "keeping things clean is a must."

His advice for teens is to volunteer. When you volunteer, you are "paid in experience," Wood said. He also advised teens to find out about the falconers in their own area so they can find someone who will take the time to teach them.

In Maryland, when teens are 14 years old, they can apply for a permit to be an apprentice to a master falconer. They have to apprentice for two years.

If you become an apprentice, you will need to buy a bird to work with. You have a choice of three: the red-tailed hawk, the American kestrel and the red-shouldered hawk.

Wood said interested teens should talk to experienced falconers. If any teens would like to learn more about being a falconer, you can call the Maryland Department of Natural Resources at 410-260-8540 or 877-620-8367, ext. 8540, or e-mail

If you would like to learn more about The Raptor Project, you can visit its Web site at

Read about falconry

Here is a list of recommended books on the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Web site:

"North American Falconry & Hunting Hawks" by Frank L. Beebe and Harold M. Webster

"The Red-tailed Hawk" by Liam McGranaghan

"Buteos and Bushytails" by Gary Brewer

"American Kestrels in Modern Falconry"by Matthew Mullenix

"The Falconer's Apprentice" by William Oakes

"Understanding Birds of Prey" by Nick Fox.

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