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Stories from the Field, pt. 1: The Gift

December 14, 2010

Sary was smiling. We had just arrived at his house, drinking the obligatory tea, but it was clear he was eager to show us something. So as soon as the last drop was drank we were led to the hall, and the door to the next room was thrown open dramatically to reveal the surprise. A beautiful young goshawk was perched on a stool, staring at us inquisitively. “It came to us yesterday,” said Sary. “It was a gift from god, for my birthday.”

He was turning 81, and had invited us to his village for a ‘jubilee,’ as they like to say around these parts. The heavenly visitor was certainly a fine catch – Allah sure knows how to pick ‘em. Sary told us it was a tunjur, a rare kind of falcon seen only once in a lifetime. He showed us the telltale signs – look at the tailfeathers, the stripes are shaped like goats hooves; look at the beak, its cere is noteably regressed. More than anything, he could tell it was special by its very demeanor. It sat calm and noble, hardly peeved by people after only a day in captivity. It was only eight months old, but it would become a brutally talented hunter.

They had seen the goshawk in a tree the day before, eyeing a wandering hen, and leapt into action. They tied the chicken to a lead weight and tangled a small net in its wings, then went inside to wait in hope. The goshawk was either very stupid or very hungry, and fell right into their trap. It killed the bait but couldn’t get away, its talons entangled in the chicken-net and its prey weighed down by the anchor. It was a free bird no longer. Sary and his family baked nine loaves of bread in its honor and said a prayer, invited their neighbors over to share in their blessing. They took an oily butter called sarumai and rubbed it on the bird’s beak and talons, a ritual for future luck and prosperity. And that night, Sary stayed up without sleep, poking the bird with a stick. They would grow tired together, and would become partners until Sary’s dying days.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2010 10:18 pm

    I look forward to hearing more about the techniques used by Sary to train this goshawk. Western falconers would hold the goshawk on their fist until it demonstrated acceptance of the falconer by eating from his glove. This “poking with a stick” will wear the goshawk down but it does not seem to be a way to endear oneself to the bird! Perhaps that comes later. Not a criticism, just hoping to learn more. I revere goshawks and flew one myself years ago.


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