Senior Project: Learning the Art of Falconry

The Senior Project is a time of deep discovery and reflection on one’s passions or curiosities. Students take several months to explore and become amateur experts in a topic that strikes their interest. The results are diverse and imaginative. This year’s projects include humanitarian, artistic, musical, scientific, and literary pursuits.

Indulging in his fascination with birds, and inspired by a book he read as a child, senior Sam Kramer focused his project on the ancient art of falconry. Dating back centuries, falconry involves capturing a large bird of prey and training it to assist in hunting and then return to its handler. He was first struck by the idea as a child after reading My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, about a young boy who runs away to live off the land and raises a falcon to hunt. Sam decided his Senior Project was a perfect opportunity to immerse himself in this delicate and unusual sport.

After getting a New York State permit and finding a licensed sponsor to help him, Sam built mews for his bird to live in. As an “apprentice” falconer, Sam was only allowed to catch a kestrel or red-tailed hawk. More experienced falconers can keep larger birds, such as the peregrine falcon. Sam spent nearly 30 hours looking for a bird on the East End before finally getting in touch with a trapper who had had a great deal of success in upstate New York. With the trapper’s help, Sam caught a juvenile red-tailed hawk and named him Atlas. “I was partly amazed to see a wild bird close up,” he said. “A huge part of me was just relieved that I had a bird, and then excited to know all this fun was yet to come.”

The next task was training the bird into thinking Sam was his only food source. It took nine days for the bird to eat, which was longer than usual. Ultimately, Sam’s sponsor got the hawk to start eating, and ever since, Sam has had great success in feeding Atlas—who now flies to his arm to be fed—and training him to become more comfortable with people. Soon he will take Atlas hunting.

Sam has not yet decided if he will release the hawk when the project is over. If released, Atlas will easily readapt to the wild, as long as he leaves on a full stomach. Otherwise, Sam may bring him to college and look for a nearby falconer with a mews to house him in. Whatever he decides, this experience has taught Sam a lot about wildlife and himself.

“I’ve learned a lot about observing wild animals, and I’ve learned a lot about time management,” he said. With or without Atlas, he hopes to pursue falconry in college. “These birds are beautiful creatures.”

Follow along on Sam's Senior Project Blog