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Falconer pens memoir of 30 years working with birds of prey



Monitor staff
Last modified: Friday, March 04, 2016
Nancy Cowan has been a falconer since the beginning.

Well, not the beginning of hunting with a bird of prey, which dates back thousands of years, but the beginning of the sport in New Hampshire.

Cowan’s husband, Jim, influenced the law that allowed birds of prey a legal way to hunt wild game in the mid-1980s. She helped him with the legislation, but didn’t think she’d get drawn into falconry herself.

Cowan said her husband was the probably the only falconer in New Hampshire then. He had gone Massachusetts to be a falconry apprentice. He got his falconry license in Maine. Then, he trained his wife.

Now, the Deering couple have sponsored other falconry apprentices and run the New Hampshire School of Falconry.

Nancy Cowan wrote a memoir chronicling the 30 years she’s spent working with the raptors. Lyons Press released Peregrine Spring on Tuesday.

Cowan described falconry as hunting with a trained bird of prey. Peregrine falcons were listed as endangered until fall 1999, which is one of the reasons the sport had fallen out of practice.

“It’s one of the coolest things in the world,” Cowan said.

The book is divided into three sections. The first, “Owned by a hawk,” tells of her introduction to falconry and training her first bird.

“You love the bird, but the bird doesn’t love you,” she said.

She explained that in the partnership of hunting with a bird of prey, a human fulfills a designated role. The person flushes out the game – often small rodents like rabbits, voles or mice, or other birds like pheasant, quail or duck – and the raptor makes the kill. In Cowan’s case, there’s sometimes a third party, her dog, who fetches the catch.

You must work so closely with the bird, that you become one, she explained.

The second part, A Tale of Two Peregrines, is the story of her raising a baby Peregrine falcon she got from a breeder while training another Peregrine.

The final part is a series of vignettes from her experiences as a rehabilitator and teacher.

In 2001, Cowan said she and her husband received a call from federal wildlife biologist Michael Amaral. He had an injured Peregrine falcon and asked them to consider getting a license to be rehabilitators. Prior to that, birds had been sent out of state for care.

Cowan said that falconry can be good for rehabilitation, since it allows caretakers to let the birds fly to observe their recuperation, but still be able to have them return for more care until they are well enough to return to the wild.

“It was a sweet experience,” Cowan said.

In 2005, the Cowans officially opened their school, though they’d been sponsors before.

“I wanted to tell people about this experience,” Cowan said.

She said falconry is one of the most controlled means of hunting. Falconers must have both a hunting license and a falconry license. They must follow specific hunting seasons and limits like other hunters (except for “varmit” critters, which don’t have seasons.)

The school allows for a chance to work with the birds without yet having a license or investing in a bird of prey. She said people can come on weekends or during vacations to learn the ropes.

The Cowans also work with places such as the New Hampshire Audubon and Squam Lake Science Center to introduce people to the raptors.

Peregrine Spring shares all these experiences.

“That’s what our life is like,” Cowan said.

Not included is a more recent endeavor. Banner, a Lanner falcon belonging to the Cowans, was the first falcon in the world to have cataract surgery in September 2014. The book had already been written then and was sold to the publisher that December.

Cowan said the book is nonfiction and aimed at wildlife enthusiasts, not necessarily raptor specialists. She said it’s not a how-to guide.

“It’s a book for people who love wildlife,” Cowan said.

The book will be available at Amazon, Books-a-Million and Barnes and Noble. Cowan said Lyons Press will also distribute to about 400 indie bookstores.

Cowan will hold a book signing at Books-A-Million in Concord on April 3 from 1 to 3 p.m. She will also be at Discover Wild N.H. Day at the Fish and Game Department on April 16 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Books-A-Million will be on site selling books, and Cowan plans to bring some of her birds.