Local Falconer Has Interesting Job At The Lake

I like seeing clever solutions to worldly problems, and I think the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel nailed this one.

Before the hotel opened, but when the structure was intact, local seagulls thought they’d found a new place to party. The roof at the hotel was inundated with birds and they were making quite a mess.

Obviously any kind of solution had to be humane. But it also had to work. So they hired master falconer Jonathan Clarkson of Ellicottville to bring his birds of prey to the hotel to let all the pesky birds know there were was a new gang in town and there wasn’t going to be anymore rooftop parties.

Jonathon comes back to the hotel on a regular basis with one or two of his beautiful hawks, just to remind nuisance birds with big ideas to take the party elsewhere. And it’s a beautiful thing to watch Jon communicate and interact with his hawks.

The guy has a great story, too, which he’s happy to share with you if you can catch him in front of the hotel. He’s not hard to find: he’s wearing a khaki wildlife outfit with a bandana, and a glove on one hand.

His grandparents brought him an injured hawk when he was nine years old. And one thing led to another and before you know it, he was pursuing his Master Class permit to become a falconer. It’s not quite as easy as all that: there’s seven years of training and written tests and the building of habitats for the birds and the developing of true skills and real knowledge.

Behind almost every story like this is a set of nurturing parents who helped their child pursue his passion. Jon’s mother, for example, took out a book from the library for him on falconing when he was nursing his first hawk back to health, but since it was a book published in medieval times and written in Olde English, she had to read it herself first and then help her son with training the bird.

The art of being a falconer goes back to prehistory, it is thought, perhaps back to the time of Mesopotamia. Birds of prey were trained to help in the hunt for protein, and before you feel doubtful a bird can take down, say, a wolf, watch an eagle on YouTube fly away with a live goat. Nature can be brutal, and I have no doubt Buddy the hawk can scare away a pack of seagulls from a hotel roof in Celeron.

Having two hawks perched on the back of the bench you’re sitting on and whiling away an hour with you wasn’t at all intimidating. They’ve developed an ease with human beings which allows us to take a good look at the the birds, but also to observe their behavior close up. Nikita was interested in my pen as I sat and took notes. She cocked her head to the side and watched me write for awhile.

In the meantime, out in the natural world in front of the hotel, the local birds were reacting to the presence of the hawks.

A brave robin zoomed down from the sky and pecked at Buddy’s neck. She was letting him know he wasn’t welcome in the neighborhood.

Buddy just let the robin attack him and didn’t seem at all phased. He may have even found it amusing.

And true to Jon’s skill, the rest of the feathered world stayed away from the hotel. There were no seagulls, no ducks, no geese. Occasionally, some little bird would alight on the hotel roof to chirp hysterically, letting the birds of Chautauqua Lake know there was a big bird around and to stay away.

Jon’s program of humane bird abatement has many applications. After a farmer plants his seeds for example, and on golf courses or in industrial settings.

Jon is also a land surveyor and a hunter, a dual resident of New York State and Utah. He teaches falconry to others in his school in Ellicottville, puts on falconry shows at Holiday Valley and sets up hunting gigs in Utah. He has the natural looks of an outdoorsman, and the gentle, calm personality of someone who has been around wildlife.

At home, he has ten birds of prey, including two beautiful owls. And he is the single father of two children who think everybody has owls at home in their barn.

Our wildlife enthusiasts will be happy to know that Jon doesn’t keep the birds in captivity forever. Within a few years, the birds they’ve bred and trained are released into the wild. Jon says sometimes it’s sad to say goodbye to their friends, but the fact that they leave and don’t come back let’s him know that they’re happy in their natural habitat.

Jon has a whole list of classes and events he hosts and if you’re looking for something safe and interesting to do, go check out his website. One especially appealing activity is his hawk walk, where you can go to take a walk through nature with Jon and his hawks. He also offers events for photographers to take pictures of wildlife up front and center.

Visit his website at www.AmericanHawkeye.com


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