“The Falconer” is a non-narrative multimedia project created as part of the 2016 National Public Radio (NPR) Boot Camp called Next Generation Radio.
Mari Gaspari-Crawford fits the Next Generation Radio theme for 2016; she has an “unusual job”. In addition to training and hunting with birds of prey, she a falcon breeder.
This audio piece, told completely in Gaspari-Crawford’s words, details her love of falconry and how she fell into this profession.
Marie Gaspari-Crawford stands in the doorway of her outdoor office, the breeze rustling her hair as she looks out at her ranch. There are rows of leashes hanging from one wall and a freezer full of frozen animal food, but none of this equipment or food is for her dogs. It’s all for her nearly ten falcons and hawks.
Gaspari-Crawford is one of 63 falconers in Nevada. She’s a Master Falconer, which means she can train apprentice falconers hoping to also get their license. She decided to become a falconer 16 years ago.
“Falconry is just another way of hunting,” Gaspari-Crawford says. “It’s like bow hunting is another way of hunting versus shotguns or rifles.” It’s also a more challenging way of hunting, which Gaspari-Crawford says she enjoys.
Raised in a Nevada ranching family, Gaspari-Crawford had no hesitations about pursuing a sport full of life and death. In addition to hunting, falcons and hawks are subject to a myriad of diseases and injuries that may result in an untimely death for the bird.
“When you’ve worked with a bird for seven or eight months and you’ve put your heart in it, and you watch it died in your hands, it is truly heart breaking,” Gaspari-Crawford says.
As a falconer, Gaspari-Crawford also acts as a “bird dog” for her falcon or hawk during the hunting process, retrieving whatever game her bird is able to catch. Often, this requires Gaspari-Crawford to kill whatever animal is caught.
While ending lives may be part of her duties as a hunter, her job as a falcon breeder is focused on preservation.
“I truly believe [falcons] are amazing and I believe they serve a very vital part in our world and that we should make sure that they sustain their numbers throughout the future,” she says.
Gaspari-Crawford remembers when the Peregrine Falcon was considered an endangered species in the 1970s. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there were only 324 known breeding pairs of Peregrine Falcons in 1975. Falcon breeders stepped in and increased that number to roughly 3,000 breeding pairs by 2013.
Some of those same breeders also went to Peru and Mexico and trapped Aplomado Falcons, bringing them to the United States. Gaspari-Crawford says she was lucky enough to receive one of those falcons. Eventually, she also acquired a male Aplomado Falcon, which she wanted so she and her husband could hunt together with the Aplomados. She didn’t expect the male and female Aplomado to breed; it can be a tricky process. She was shocked when the two laid eggs and she decided to go along with it. This year, she raised three falcons and decided to sell them to abatement falconers, becoming a breeder herself. Abatement falconers are used to chase away other pesky birds from vineyards, farms and restaurants.