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2010 October 18 - 12:00 am

STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Hunting with Hawks Is Sky-High Passion for Maryland Student

AP Photo/The Annapolis Capital, Paul W. Gillespie

Patrick Moreland holds his bird Lefty while standing next to his dad Mike Moreland.

HARWOOD, Md. (AP) — In a few months, Patrick Moreland’s workload will go sky high.

No matter how many assignments his instructors at Anne Arundel Community College give him, the 19-year-old knows he has an additional two or three hours of work waiting when he gets back to his family’s home.

Fortunately, Patrick finds training hawks to be more fun than a chore, but it still takes a lot of concentration and effort.

Patrick prepares for the work by pulling on a heavy leather glove and walking down to the mesh cages in his backyard where the hawks are kept. To be ready for hunting, the birds have to be trained — and that’s where all the preparation comes in.

Patrick will roam the neighborhood as one of his birds flies overhead, hopefully following him. He’ll then call out its name and wait for it to come down and perch itself on his arm for a food reward. Part of this is exercise to get in hunting shape, and part of this is practice so that bird and master are in perfect sync when they set out to nab rabbits or smaller birds.

“He and the bird have this non-spoken communication,” said Patrick’s neighbor, Cathy Lanier, chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. “It’s neat to watch.”

Patrick also hunts with a bow and a gun, and competes in air pistol shooting events, but he said falconry is the most satisfying.

“I like the way they interact with you and way they hunt,” he said. “It’s just a relationship you develop. You’d be more efficient with a gun, but hunting with a bird is more exciting. To see them come down to you, come down to the glove and work with you, there’s nothing like it. It’s a pet, but it’s really a hunting partner.”

Patrick has dealt with hawks most of his life, though he didn’t become officially licensed as a falconer until he was 16. He learned falconry from his father, Mike, 51, who had learned from his uncle.

Patrick started going out in the fields with his dad when he was 4 or 5, and began working with his father’s hawks at age 10 or 11. Although they’ve had up to a dozen birds over the years, the Morelands currently have just two Harris hawks, 15-year-old Luke and his 4-year-old son, Lefty. Patrick is expecting to get a third bird in November.

Male Harris hawks typically have a wingspan between 3 and 4 feet, he said, and females can stretch from 4 to 5 ½ feet. Lefty, the hawk Patrick plans to hunt with later this year in addition to the new bird, currently weighs 677 grams, which is about 1 ½ pounds. Patrick hopes to get him down to about 595 grams for hunting.

“Patrick’s definitely as passionate (about falconry) as Mike is,” said his mother, Kathleen Moreland.

She said working with the birds has given her son confidence and opened some doors for him at school, since questions are common once people discover he works with hawks.

Prior to AACC, Patrick attended DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., and used to play baseball. He wants to ultimately transfer to the University of Maryland and is considering a career in law enforcement.

“I think it’s pretty cool, to be honest with you,” said Patrick’s longtime friend, C.J. Brendle, who has accompanied him on many hunts. “It takes a lot of skill. It’s very cool.”

It’s also fairly rare. There currently are only 109 falconers in Maryland, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Mike, who works for a heating and air conditioning company, used to be president of the Potomac Falconers Association, which serves Maryland, Washington and Northern Virginia. It has about 25 members, only 10 or 12 of whom are active, he said.

Mike laments the fact that more people Patrick’s age don’t get into the sport, but realizes it’s a big time commitment as well as unfamiliar territory for most.

“It takes so much time, and I don’t think that kids have the patience to deal with the birds,” he said. “(And) it’s hard for young people if they don’t have it in the family or they don’t have someone who has (the birds) next door.”

Patrick, though, can’t imagine life without his hawks. As soon as hunting season opens in the fall, that’s his main focus. “That’s all I can think of,” he said.

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