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Boyhood dream goes airborne as reality

This is called casting off. The bird takes flight, after which the falconer can stir up prey for his bird by walking through the fields or woods.

There is nothing quite so intriguing as watching a bird of prey soar through the sky.

For area falconer Jordan Jones, a UW-River Falls student from Somerset, his fascination with the birds and the sport of falconry started at a young age.

"I got into it when I was 17," said Jones. "I became interested in it when I was 12 after seeing the movie, 'My Side of the Mountain.'"

"After that I said, 'I have got to do that.' The plot featured a 13-year-old boy who left home for the mountains to live in the wilderness. During the course of the movie, after watching a peregrine falcon overhead, the boy decides to learn to be a falconer.

Jones, a native of Benton, Ark., started his search for a bird right after he saw the movie.

He got out the Yellow Pages and started calling all the pet stores in the state, looking to buy a peregrine falcon.

Finally, he was told by a staff member at a bird sanctuary that what he wanted to do was impossible. It was illegal. Five years went by until he met a new coworker of his dad who was into the sport.

"That was it. I was hooked," said Jones, acquiring his first bird at the age of 17. "It is a pretty long drawn-out process. Falconry is the most regulated hunting sport in the country."

It begins with receiving the Department of Natural Resources Falcon Information Package (similar in all states).

According to Jones the process continues with a two-year apprenticeship and testing with the DNR.

"You have to build a house and facilities for your bird," he said. "All of your equipment has to be inspected and you have to find a sponsor, a falconer, with at least two years of experience. He is the go-to guy. You also have to trap your own bird."

His parents' reaction to their son's new sport was mixed.

"My dad loved it," said Jones. "My mom liked the idea but wasn't sure about having a hawk in the living room."

Trapping the juvenile bird is the first step in a process that, says Jones, ultimately extends the bird's natural life.

"Of all the red tail hawks born, 80 percent of them will die before they are mature," said Jones. "You go out there and you give them several more chances to survive. They gain a lot of experience (hunting for food) without the risk of starvation."

Once the bird is trapped, you bring it home, strap on the anklets.

"This is a whole new world for them," said Jones. "You hold them, wait and offer them food. At this point you are the bigger predator and that is a critical step to get over.

"That first bite of food starts the whole process. Each day you double the distance they have to come for the food. You have to weigh the food and the bird every day.

"It is like an athlete, to maintain a balance of hunger for food and enough weight for strength and energy. You have to do this as long as you have the bird. Generally you keep a bird for one season."

This season Jones has a juvenile red tail hawk named Lira, which he trapped last fall, near Interstate-94's Exit 4.

"I try to take her out each day," said Jones. "Anybody interested needs to know that it takes two to three hours a day for hunting. It provides exercise and mental stimulation for the bird."

With permission from landowners, Jones takes Lira to a location and releases her.

He walks below using a walking stick which disturbs mice and rabbits, which Lira can then successfully hunt. She brings the catch back to Jones.

"I have tried to explain this before," said Jones as to why this is his passion. "To have a relationship with a wild animal and having that animal do what it does in the wild and allow you to be a part of it is kind of poetic in a way."

Lira is Jones' ninth bird. He has had both red tail hawks and American kestrels.

No one knows the complete history of falconry. It definitely dates back to ancient China, where it was a means to feed the family.

Jones studies field biology at UWRF. He has interned in Cape May, N.J., with the Raptor Banding Project and worked at the American Eagle Foundation in Tennessee (which maintains an eagle sanctuary at Dollywood).

While in college in Arkansas, he met Leigh Spaniol. Her family lives in the town of St. Joseph in St. Croix County.

When she took a job back home, Jones moved to the area as well. They have been together for four years.