At ease, lieutenant.
Thank you, sir.
I understand you’ve been able to keep all the runways free of pigeons for the last week with just two birds.
How is that possible? Do they really kill that many pigeons?
No, sir. They haven’t killed more than half a dozen. What happens is that the regular presence of a hawk or falcon completely traumatizes a local prey population. They either lie low, only venturing a few feet from cover, or they move somewhere else entirely.
Kind of a shock and awe thing, then?
Yes, sir. (To incoming falcon) Here we go. Good boy! (Falcon lands on glove. The falconer deftly secures the leather straps around its feet and slips a hood over its head.)
What – what’s the hood for?
Oh, it just keeps them tractable, sir. They’re very high-strung. The very thing that makes them such effective killing machines – that single-minded intensity – makes them less than ideal pets, I’m afraid.
Not something I’d want my five-year-old to play with, eh?
Now, what species is this one here? Is this a peregrine?
Its daddy was a peregrine, yes sir. But it’s a hybrid: its mother was a merlin.
How is that possible? Artificial insemination?
They must be quite valuable, then.
Yes, sir. I wouldn’t be able to afford them if I didn’t breed them myself.
Oh, really? Do you mind my asking how you do that? I mean, I grew up in cow country, I know how they do it with bulls…
(Chuckles.) Well, sir, it’s a little different, I think. I have a special hat that I wear…
Shaped like a female falcon, I suppose?
Well, no, sir, that isn’t necessary. I use the same hat for all my birds – everything from kestrels to red-tail hawks. See, the kind of visual cues they respond to are more motion-oriented, just like they won’t go for a pigeon unless they see it fluttering or walking around.
So you put on this special hat and you, um…
I initiate courtship, sir. (Chuckles.) I do exactly what a sexually receptive female of their own species would do: about five minutes of head and torso bobbing, like this, then…
(Incredulously) They mistake you for a female falcon? I thought these birds were considered highly intelligent!
They have just enough brains to do what nature designed them to do, sir. Find the target. (Continues miming falcon courtship display.)
Thank you, that’s enough, lieutenant.
Carry on, then.
Yes, sir. (Salutes, keeping left arm horizontal. Falcon swivels its hooded head and clicks its beak.)
Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).