Squirrels... to fly or not to fly...

We recently had a customer in the workshop and we got talking about squirrels. Many around him are telling him not to fly them, but me… I love flying squirrels so I told him to go for it. Yes, it can be a bit dangerous, but it's also a lot of fun. The bird in question was a female Goshawk. I've probably just lost most of you traditional Goshawkers at this point, especially you guys in the UK, but what a fantastic bird to fly squirrels with. Fast, aggressive, powerful, and made for woodland flights...

I used to fly them with a female Harris hawk (pictured) and she would often come away with a kill and rarely come away with a bite. If she ever did come away with a bite, it was never anything serious. My thinking was, let the bird do what it knows what to do, don't get involved and leave the feet as uncluttered as possible. I will make in when she has it under control, and even then, it's probably just to put a tail guard on to stop her getting her tail wet (no one likes a wet sulking Harris hawk!). The last thing the bird needs is me flying in there and confusing the situation. I understand it can be a recipe for disaster for an inexperienced bird, but for a bird that knows how to use its feet, has good sharp talons, and knows how to handle quarry, I think that's a recipe for a lot of fun.

Just look at some of the videos from the guys in the USA. They're certainly having fun. If you want inspiration take a look at Casey Everett @nj_falconry , he flies squirrels with a female Goshawk (no he doesn't use our anklets or chaps!) or if you want inspiration in the UK, look at Nigel Hawkins @hawkins_falconry , he's flying squirrels with a male Bonelli's eagle (he does use our anklets and chaps!). I’m sure there are many more but these are two that sprung to mind.

You'll note I said about leaving the feet uncluttered, but I've just posted a picture of a pair of squirrel chaps... well I rarely used to use them (probably only when testing a new design). I used to fly squirrels with just a pair of lined anklets and a pair of permanent flying jesses. I want a bird to be able to get its feet exactly where it wants to as quickly as possible without getting equipment caught on brambles etc. The reason I designed these squirrel chaps is, that we were being asked about them a lot, but I didn't want to make the "traditional" skirted chaps, where everything is fixed solid, I think it hinders foot and leg movement too much, so I came up with this design.

It's a variation of our lined anklets where the leather comes down a little to provide additional protection to the ball of the foot and then from there, extend leather "toes" that will sit amongst the toes of the bird to give the squirrel something to bite if it is free to bite. The idea is that these chaps provide additional protection but they hinder foot and leg movement much less than traditional chaps. This design allows the bird to throw it's feet amongst brambles etc without being stopped by that fixed skirt around a traditional chap. The addition of studs, gives the squirrel something to focus on and bite should the bird not have the head secured at that moment.

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