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Falconer pursues sport for love of birds

Falconer’s interest began with childhood bird rescue

Staff writer

Although his goshawk, Phoebe, didn’t catch any quail during a Nov. 21 hunt, falconer Alan Pollard considered it a worthwhile hunt.

“We’re more bird enthusiasts than hunters,” he said. “We’re here to see the flight, not the kill.”

Pollard was hunting with his son, Bryden, friends Tom Beaver of Pennsylvania and Eucet Petty of Delaware, and Petty’s son, Joe, in the Flint Hills near Burdick. The hunters were walking along the road, trying to flush quail, but they had nearly given up on the area where they began when Pollard’s dog, Zeb, pointed out a covey.

Pollard flushed the quail, and Phoebe took off in pursuit. She chased one of the quail to another piece of cover. Pollard flushed it again, and Phoebe continued her pursuit. She chased the quail to a rat’s nest, but Pollard wasn’t able to chase it out of the nest. He said he could have forced it out if he had a shovel, but he didn’t see the sport in that.

He said he was certain that if he had been able to flush the quail again, Phoebe would have caught it. The third chase is almost always successful, he said.

Pollard, of Dillsburg, Pa., bought a house near Burdick in 2006 after one of his best friends and hunting companions from South Dakota died. Pollard said it would be too difficult to return there to hunt after his friend’s death.

Additionally, the Flint Hills have practically everything he would want to hunt: rabbits, quail, pheasant, and especially prairie chickens. Prairie chickens are a welcome challenge, Pollard said. They are an even match for a hawk in level flight and are robust enough that it takes a hard hit to bring them down.

“If I was in Idaho, I could get a sage grouse every day,” but it wouldn’t have the excitement of hunting prairie chickens, he said.

Pollard’s interest in falconry began more than 40 years ago.

“I’ve always been an animal nut, to start,” he said.

When he was 12 years old, he found and caught a wayward trained kestrel.

“It was love at first sight,” Pollard said.

He started reading everything he could find about falconry, and discovered that a teacher at his school was an avid falconer. Now, at age 53, he breeds raptors and has 14 of his own. He tries to fly two or three of his birds every day to keep them in hunting form.

“Shakespeare said falconry is the finest of the field sports,” he said.

Pollard works in construction, but the economic downturn hurt his home building business. He also is a musician. He has released two albums with a third upcoming.

Pollard plans eventually to live in the Flint Hills full-time from Nov. 1 to March 31.

Last modified Dec. 2, 2010

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