We are an holistic group of enthusiastic and dedicated raptor conservationists who value and appreciate sound, effective and objective captive raptor management techniques. We understand the great value of the use of free exercise flying techniques as an effective educational tool in facilitating greater understanding and appreciation of not only raptors, but the wild environment generally and as a way for practitioners to 'connect' with, and better appreciate ecosystems and the environment.
We have the skills and knowledge to provide facilities and management techniques of the highest standards, and with regard to raptor rehabilitation in cases where it's appropriate in the particular circumstances, to train and fly these magnificent birds back to elite fitness levels and proven ability to survive in the wild environment upon final release. Furthermore, our skills, experience and ability to nurture and recognise when a raptor possesses all the elements required to survive unaided, enable us to be able to carry out realistic appraisals and make sound judgements as to if, when and where the raptor should be released.
We believe in, and work strictly to our Code of Ethics and we strongly advocate a culture of 'transparency and competency first'. We provide a comprehensive training and mentoring programme for beginners in our Apprentice Workbook, ensuring the highest standards of animal welfare and general management of raptors. We encourage and welcome interest and contributions from raptor enthusiasts in all other Australian States and Territories. Already, since the group's first inception in 2012, we have gained legal incorporated status in WA and have become the national representative body to the International Association of Falconry and Conservation of Birds of Prey (see www.iaf.org).
The IAF has over 100 member organisations worldwide and our affiliation to this NGO allows us constant access to this huge pool of knowledge with regard to all aspects of the management of raptors in care, and the conservation of all Birds of Prey in the wild environment.
Falconry techniques for raptor rehabilitation...why?
The practice of falconry originally came about as a means of acquiring meat for the table many thousands of years ago, most probably in China. It spread westwards and became very popular worldwide but the invention of effective firearms brought about significant declines and other than in a few places such as Mongolia where it continues today as a means of gathering food and furs, it was continued only as a field activity and for recreation by relatively few. The latter half of the twentieth century saw a huge resurgence with new techniques in captive breeding and technologies such as radio-telemetry and much more recently GPS, bringing about the new 'golden age' of falconry which is now a worldwide conservation movement, cultural heritage and art form, whilst continuing to value it's hunting art heritage. Falconry has grown so much in stature over recent decades and was listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010 see here.
Falconers were largely responsible for the re-population of the Peregrine Falcon in North America after its numbers had diminished to near extinct west of the Mississippi because of the effects of DDT and other pesticides used in agriculture.
There have been many other notable and successful falconer driven conservation initiatives in recent times such as the Saker Falcon nest box project in Asia, drawing attention to the dangers of power lines, the illegal killing and trade of raptors (the plight of Amur falcons is particularly worrying at present), and on-going efforts in captive breeding and release schemes of critically endangered species following the great successes with the Andean Condor and the Mauritius Kestrel.
Falconers also developed successful methods of rehabilitation and re-introduction to the wild of previously injured or sick raptors and free exercise methods are now widely accepted around the World as the 'gold standard' of raptor rehabilitation. It is an undeniable fact that although many raptors can perhaps be successfully rehabilitated via aviary flying, some of the more dynamic species such as the Peregrine Falcon for example, which is the swiftest creature in the animal kingdom and hunts from high aloft and 'stoops' onto it's prey at speeds regularly in excess of 300kph, in some cases requires specialist care and preparation prior to release, particularly if they have had to spend a protracted period of time convalescing in a relatively small space for anything more than a few weeks, and certainly (where hacking is not an option in the circumstances) in the case of many juveniles orphaned prior to fledging and learning to hunt successfully. The dynamic hunters do not scavenge or flop out of a tree on to the next passing lizard, they prey on fast flying birds such as pigeons, doves, parrots and ducks and they take them on the wing in blistering powerful attacks at very high speed. In order to do this they need to be very fit and strong, and in the case of a rehabilitated falcon upon release, they need to be able to do it within a few days, or they die. There are rarely second chances for these ultimate predators. Facilitating natural development through free exercise flying to fully hone all their required skill sets ticks every box, and that's what we strive to achieve every time, and we do it transparently and with full accountability.
Attempts to successfully rehabilitate these birds via non-falconry methods, for example by building and using ever bigger aviaries and mechanical luring systems are very commendable and clearly they work for many raptor species some of the time. But if the bigger aviaries are intended to provide more exercise opportunities for the raptor in an effort to ensure greater fitness levels upon final release, then what better and more natural method is there than to free exercise fly them to gradually build up their fitness to elite levels in their natural environment, with absolutely no physical barriers? Here are some of the key points of why these methods are so well thought of by the World's leading raptor conservationists:
*Falconry techniques allow us to carefully and accurately monitor fitness progression and to provide the safety net of being able to call them back and keep them safe until such a time as they are fully restored and ready to go it alone.
*Careful and skilled 'hands-on' management and use of hoods and operant conditioning techniques facilitates an almost stress free process for the birds concerned and certainly avoids the clearly stressful alternative method of 'forced' aviary flying which relies upon the bird's 'fight or flight' instincts, which by it's very nature is stressful and potentially dangerous for the bird.
*Far greater levels of fitness and dexterity can be achieved through the use of modern falconry training techniques and luring systems including mechanised dummy rabbits and flying birds such as the 'Robara', extensive climbing flight exercise to kite and quadcopter suspended artificial lures where the raptor may have to fly several kilometres at a time to reach a pre-set height, pursuit chasing remote-controlled model planes, and lure stooping sessions. Videos showing all these training systems can be viewed in our 'film and videos' section.
*Free exercise techniques allow close scrutiny of the raptor's progress and sustained flight capability but just as importantly, allows us to recognise when any particular individual may be unsuitable for release in the event of it's fitness and dexterity failing to progress as expected in a way which is consistent with developing a realistic chance of survival in the wild environment, whilst still maintaining a safety net of immediate recall if there is a requirement for more fitness work prior to final release. Note: Recently one of the Peregrines undergoing free flight exercise training developed to the stage where it was capable of climbing flight up to a quad-copter pre-set at a height of 400ft (requiring up to 3 km of lateral gradually climbing flight), but further progress wasn't possible and a veterinary examination revealed an arthritic shoulder joint. This bird, to the untrained eye, looked perfect but the reality was very different. No other method of rehabilitation would have revealed this problem and the bird, after final release, would certainly have perished.
*Release locations can be checked for and carefully selected on the basis of ensuring that there are no other resident raptors of the same species in the area, which quickly show themselves and demonstrate their disapproval of any interloper being free exercise flown on their patch.
*Orphaned or inexperienced juvenile raptors can learn to recognise natural predators gradually whilst being kept relatively safe.
*Gradually increased periods of 'hack' can be utilised allowing the raptor to naturally revert to becoming an effective predator which is the true measure of a successful rehabilitation. This is perhaps the most important aspect of any raptor rehabilitation because merely being able to fly, and otherwise appearing to be healthy, is not what defines them. It is being an effective and successful predator which defines them as not just another bird...but a Bird of Prey.
Note: 'Hack' is the process of allowing the raptor varying periods of total freedom beginning with perhaps an hour or so prior to being called in, up to several hours, days or even weeks as the bird fully hones it's predatory instincts and skills, and gradually adjusts to its once familiar but unforgiving wild environment.
As mentioned earlier, free exercise falconry techniques are widely considered by many of the World's foremost experts to be the 'Gold Standard' in providing some raptors with a realistic second chance at survival in the wild. Many raptors find themselves in captivity with injuries that are either directly or indirectly attributable to human impact (fences, electric wires, wind turbines, car strikes) and some of us dedicate our time and energy to redressing the balance, at least as far as we can. But, if we are to fulfil our moral and legal obligation to successfully rehabilitate them at all, we should be free to competently use the best possible methods where they are required and appropriate in the circumstances, by practitioners that are suitably skilled and qualified. Laws, rules and regulations or guidelines that were written several decades ago and in no way take account of modern advancements and the huge forward progression of falconry practices for the purpose of rehabilitation, urgently need to be re-appraised and altered to reflect the current thinking of the World's leading raptor ecologists/conservationists (see some of the letters of support on the 'more' page), and to allow committed and skilled free exercise flight practitioners, where it's appropriate and reasonable in the particular circumstances, to make their own valuable contribution to raptor conservation throughout Australia.
RFAWA notes and commends the recent significant improvements with regard to the acknowledgement and mention of free flying falconry techniques as an effective rehabilitation tool in the most recent Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions document entitled 'Standards for wildlife rehabilitation in Western Australia', and hopes to be able to work towards and contribute to further improvements in this 'living' document.
The Raptor Fliers Association of Western Australia (Inc), although holistic in it's capabilities as a raptor rehabilitation organisation with a wide cross section of members with skills and experience in non free-exercise rehabilitation, primary care and veterinary experience, and who can call on the advice of our specialist advisor Dr Nick Fox (OBE) and his team at International Wildlife Consultants, is the only such cooperative of individuals and organisations Australia-wide which has as one of it's primary functions, the use of free exercise flying of previously injured or otherwise debilitated raptors back to full fitness and suitability for release, and then to engage in scientific study using radio telemetry and/or GPS tracking to monitor release outcomes. We have worked hard to formulate effective and transparent reporting systems and protocols, such as our Raptor Reporting Forms 1 and 2 to build a recorded history of our rehabilitation work, our Code of Ethics and a comprehensive learning tool in our Apprentice Workbook and mentoring system, always encouraging a culture of 'competency first'.
We intend to continue in this vein here in Western Australia where we have the privilege to rehabilitate raptors by these effective means, and we look forward to working cooperatively with the authorities and other interest groups around Australia and the rest of the World who support and/or endeavour to provide similar very high standards for wild raptors whilst they are in care. We will provide any support we can as well as access to our systems and protocols, to other individuals or groups in other States and Territories, and encourage them to continually strive to 'raise the bar' in all aspects of raptor care and rehabilitation, for the good of Australian raptors.
Please take a few moments to browse the rest of our website, to examine our written systems and to look at some of the videos and pictures which clearly demonstrate that we are a committed, determined and responsible raptor conservation organisation, and feel free to contact us if you would like to join or support us going forward.
Through our membership of the IAF our working partners include the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), Birdlife International, The Peregrine Fund , International Wildlife Consultants plus many others. We provide the Australian national delegate to this significant raptor conservation organisation and we take the opportunity to attend meetings of the IAF around the World. Please feel free to browse the rest of our website, check out some of the endorsements on the 'Letters of support' page and if you would like to comment, support or join our group, get in touch via our 'Contact Us' page.