WALKER, Mich. — After seeing Gabriel Iglesias’ sketch about a Saudi Arabian prince and his falcon, I was curious to see if anyone in Michigan was a falconer. Turns out we have a few right here in West Michigan.
Master Falconer, Chris Wysocki and his apprentice Cliff Vrielink took me out on a hunt Thursday evening. "It’s the most highly regulated sport in the nation,” Wysocki explains, "You have to have a two year apprenticeship. You have to take a test of a hundred questions, you have to get 80% right and you take that at the DNR.”
Wysocki says the hard part isn’t building the DNR approved habitat for the bird or training it, but, "The hard part is getting a sponsor. You have to sell yourself to somebody whose been doing it for at least five years and is willing to take you on for two years.”
Wysocki’s apprentice Cliff Vrielink has had an interest in falcons for years, “I’ve really enjoyed raptors since I was young. I enjoyed hunting as well, my family was big into hunting, so I found out about the age of 10 I could combine the two, and I decided I wanted to do it."
The training with his bird Storm has paid off, catching a rabbit on our hunt in less than 10 minutes. The bird’s catch of the day, actually going towards future meals, “We have to feed these birds during the spring and summer,” Wysocki explains, “So a rabbit would feed a red tail during the summer for about a week.”
Training takes about 30 days and falconers need to take their birds out three to four times a week. Wysocki says, “It’s all positive reinforcement with food. You don’t hit the hawk, you don’t yell at the hawk, everything is reinforcement with food.”
In Wysocki’s 20 years as a falconer he’s flown eight birds, “I’ve flown a couple for one year, a couple for two years, one for five, one for six years, but all my previous seven birds have all been released into the wild.”