A day in the life: Deborah Knight

A day in the life: Deborah Knight

Falconer Deborah tells Ben Ireland about hawks that won’t fly in the rain and reveals a new meaning for ‘air traffic control’.

Talk us through your typical day…
I start each day by weighing each hawk to make sure it’s the correct ‘flying weight’. I then move them from their indoor to their outdoor perches and feed them a mix of raw meats. By the time that’s done, our first guests will have arrived for their ‘hawk walk’. Each walk lasts an hour, and during the summer, we’re often booked back-to-back through the day. For me, this means a lot of what we call ‘air traffic control’, ensuring each hawk walk has the air space it needs. At the end of the day, after the hawks have been fed, they’re taken to their indoor perches to sleep.

My daily duties involve…
We have 29 birds and I read every hawk’s flying report, check their weight and make sure they have the right amount of food. I ensure each hawk is partnered with its favourite flying partner, as some hawks don’t get along as well as others. Monitoring the weather forecast is important because some hawks cope better in wet weather. We have one male hawk, Earrach, who flatly refuses to fly in the rain. I also make sure our falconry instructors are happy with their schedules, and give them time to complete their feeding and flying reports.

I’ve been in my job for…
19 years. My husband James and I started at the Ashford Castle Falconry School in 1999. Before that, we’d spent six years at a falconry school in Scotland. We still have our first Harris hawk. He is now 27 and flies with us every day.

I became a falconer because…
29 years ago, my husband and I visited a charitable bird of prey centre. When we drove home, we both realised we wanted to know more about birds of prey. From that day, our passion for falconry grew and grew. And it has never dimmed.

The most rewarding part of my job is…
Meeting our guests and sharing in their excitement and enthusiasm. Listening to them recall the first time a hawk flew from a tree and landed on their glove never loses its thrill. Every time a hawk flies past us at breakneck speed, flitting through narrow gaps and branches to land gently on a guest’s gloved hand, is unforgettable.

How long does it take to train a hawk?
Training starts when we meet new hawks, usually at two weeks of age. At about six weeks, we start carrying them on a falconry glove and taking them for long walks to familiarise them with the sights and sounds of the woodlands. At about eight to 10 weeks, they’re flying, following us through the trees. It’s important we take our time with the training, to build trust. Only when the hawk is ready, usually when they are between four and five months, will they fly to a guest.

Do you have a favourite bird?
No – it would be like picking a favourite child. Some hawks are easier to work with than others but the challenging hawks can be more rewarding.

The most challenging part of my job is…
When one of our hawks is ill or injured, it can be heartbreaking.

My favourite holiday destination is…
Iceland. We’ve enjoyed many family holidays there, and on two separate occasions spotted a wild gyrfalcon.

To relax I like to…
Take my dogs for a walk. We have two Irish wolfhounds and a rescue German shepherd.

What one thing would I take to a desert island…
One of the hawks, so we could hunt for food together.


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