By Aaron Daves, contributor
Jeff Curtis, a licensed falconer, said he encourages adults and children to experience the therapeutic aspect of interacting with birds of prey.
“It’s stress-reducing, being outdoors with the birds. You have this connection and you have to be engaged. It’s a trust exercise between human and bird,” Curtis said.
As part of a rehabilitation club for birds in his freshman year of college, Curtis said he knew that working with birds of prey was in his future.
“I went to my university library and started reading books on falconry,” Curtis said. “I thought that’d be the coolest thing to get into. Finally, life came around and here I am teaching schools on falconry.”
The Pisgah Field School will offer a glimpse into falconry later this month with Curtis as the teacher.
“We usually have an educational PowerPoint set up for the participants. Afterward, we go to a clearing in the forest and let people handle and fly the birds. However, we don’t go full out with the sport as far as actual hunting goes,” Curtis said.
Curtis and his business partner, Carlton Wright, own Curtis Wright Outfitters in downtown Weaverville. There, Curtis said he offers classes through his falconry school.
“I have two licenses, one being a falconer, and the other a federal permit to teach schools on falconry. Participants come to my house and we practice using equipment and flying my hawks,” Curtis said.
Curtis said getting a falconry license requires a lengthy process that involves learning how to take proper care of the birds, along with ethics relating to the sport itself.
“When falconry first came about, the sport wasn’t well regulated. People didn’t have the proper training when flying the birds. Basic skills of conservation came to be required of anyone wanting to be licensed in the sport,” Curtis said.
The sport’s gaining popularity in the U.S., said Curtis, but remains prominent in mid-eastern Europe where the sport originated.
Naomi Montes, 23, recent graduate of UNC Wilmington and filmmaker in Los Angeles, said she’s been involved with falconry while shooting documentaries.
“My group and I were exploring ideas for a documentary on outdoor sports in upstate California. Someone pitched the idea of covering falconry,” Montes said. “When I arrived on location with the birds, it was unsettling to see muzzles on their beaks.”
The filmmaker said the falconers keep the birds of prey in cages until it’s time to hunt.
“The thought of someone controlling these animals for sport is confusing. The sport seems to be exploiting for game,” Montes said. “The reasoning behind it doesn’t make much sense.”
Adam DeWitte, coordinator of The Pisgah Field School, said the falconry program brings families out for a full day of fun.
“There will be both a falconry demonstration for Forest Festival Day and a private PFS program where the participants get to actually hold the hawks and fly them,” Dewitte said.
Dewitte said the cost of the private program is $60 per person, but admission to the Forest Festival Day event to witness just the flying demonstration is $6 per person.
“Our Pisgah Field School connects with local falconer Jeff Curtis with Curtis-Wright Falconry to conduct the public falconry programs up at the Cradle of Forestry Historic Site. It’s strictly a private event and organization ran by them,” DeWitte said.