By Gina Gallucci-White
At first glance, a Harris’s Hawk looks heavy. With a body length of about 18 to 22 inches and a wingspan between 3 ½ and 4 feet, this is a large creature. But I found out, in a very hands-on way, that the raptor is actually quite light, weighing only about 1 ½ to 2 ½ pounds.
I discovered this fact when the hawk landed on my wrist as a part of The Falconry Experience at The Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pa. There are few falconry experiences in which guests may actively participate, due to the number of federal regulations and permits required, so it was a thrill to partake in one at “the sweetest place on Earth.”
The wide-open falconry field is framed on three sides by towering pine trees and features a large cage structure holding several raptors, including a golden eagle.
During the two-hour program we attended Master Falconer Jack Hubley shared his wealth of knowledge about the majestic birds. He told us how Harris’s Hawks are social birds while other raptors are not. With a group hunting style, the Harris’s Hawk is a favorite in the falconry sport. Several of the birds at Hershey are named after the rides at nearby Hersheypark, including Rush named after the rollercoaster Sky Rush.
While the first half of the experience is educational, the second part is hands on. Every participant individually puts on a falconry glove or gauntlet and is given a piece of meat to hold. Under Hubley’s guidance, one of his Harris’s Hawks flies into a nearby tree. When a participant raises an arm parallel to the ground, the hawk swoops down and lands on the arm for a quick snack. Each participant gets to have the bird land on their arm two times. Hubley will stand with young children if they are feeling apprehensive about having the bird approach them.
Another interactive opportunity in the experience occurs when the Harris’s Hawk flies through your arms. Participants are paired up and asked to face each other a few steps apart and hold hands raising one set higher and the other lower to form a diamond. On Hubley’s command, the Harris’s Hawk flies through the diamond onto his arm. Sometimes the bird gets close enough that you feel the tips of its wings touch your face as it comes through.
The experience is perfect for anyone who enjoys combing the sky for unique birds. If you are planning to attend, do not wear any shoes with fur on them as they distract the birds.
You do not need to be a guest at The Hotel Hershey or Hershey Lodge in order to take part in the experience; however, there is a small reduction in price if you are staying at either resort. All ages are allowed to participate. Available dates vary depending on the season.
For more information, go to thehotelhershey.com/recreation/falconry.php