Robotic birds used to train birds of prey for the wild

The gyrfalcon, capable of a stoop at 250 km/h, clasps its target in its talons in mid-flight. The target happens to be a robotic crow passably resembling a potential meal. This isn’t about the raptor defending its territory but part of a rehabilitation program operating in Western Australia – that is illegal in NSW.

‘Rocrow’ robotic bird used in the rehabilitation of gyrfalcon.Credit:Neil Davies

Portrait of grand falconer to Henry VIII Robert Cheeseman.

Portrait of grand falconer to Henry VIII Robert Cheeseman.Credit:

The ancient sport of falconry (think Henry VIII and Kazakh eagle hunters of Western Mongolia) has moved into the digital age with GPS and drones used to rehabilitate birds of prey.

The Raptor Fliers Association of WA uses free-flight falconry techniques to rehabilitate injured or orphaned birds and is licensed by the WA State government Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attraction. Birds requiring rehabilitation come from wildlife carers, veterinary hospitals or are picked up by the public.

A tail-mounted GPS tracker is attached to the falcon’s tail to monitor speed, distances and rates of climb during flights on a mobile phone app to ensure readiness for release to the wild. The association is calling for the rehab program to be sanctioned nationally but has so far been rejected by NSW.

Michael Calvin, the founder of the program, and Australian national delegate to the International Association of Falconry, said despite lobbying NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service since 2016, the proposal was rejected in November 2021. He has called on NSW to reconsider its position.

“What chance does an orphaned singleton Peregrine, that may never have taken a single wing beat [full cycle of moving wing in flight] in the wild, have of surviving if cast to the four winds just because it appears to be able to fly properly, even within the largest of aviaries? Almost none, is the stark and unfortunate reality,” Mr Calvin said.

“Falconry techniques, by definition, provide any raptor with a set of skills that are the ultimate measure of whether it has the wherewithal to survive in the wild environment.

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