The hobby of “throwing... money into the air”

 

Loving their mighty physique, the “rocket-like” speed and the beautiful, swift movements in the air, hunting bird owners in Hue occasionally have offline sessions to share experiences on how to take care of and tame these birds, as well as to avoid “throwing money into the air”...

 

Like raising babies​

On Sunday morning, a corner of Huynh Thuc Khang Street was much more crowded than usual. In the crowd gathering on the sidewalks, the whistle sound "te ... te ..." was sometimes heard, and all eyes were directed up on top of the tall coconut trees along the river. After a bit of searching, one could see a falcon appearing within the dry canopy, occasionally staring down atthe crowd with his sharp eyes.

Below, the owner of the whistle having one handwearing glove; his other hand swung the meat to attract the bird's eyes. Then the whistle got more urgent. But after more than half an hour, the falcon still did not react.

At this time, the curious crowd on the sidewalk dispersed, leaving only 3 people. After some discussion, one person in the group went to get a hook and attached it to a bamboo pole. With some effort, the hook could finally hooked on the leather strap attached to the bird's legs and the bird was pulled down. 

 

The hobby of “throwing... money into the air”

Mr. Nguyen Chau Han and his three-year-old falcon​
 

Wiping away drops of sweat, Mr. Nguyen Chau Han, the owner of the falcon said in relief: “A little bit moretime and I would have lost some tens of million VND. Normally, he usually flies back when hearing the whistle. Maybe this morning I fed him a bit too much so he ignored me”. Then, the group of three and the bird went to a coffee shop along the Gia HoiRiver - the meeting place on every Sunday of Hue hunting bird society with nearly 100 members. The club was established about 1 year ago.

Mr. Han's house is on To Hien Thanh Street. He has been raising the falcon for three years, since it was a little chick. About 10 years ago, he also raised a few falcons but most of them flew away notlong after. "At those times, I was very sad. The loss of money was obvious, but to me, birds are like cats and dogs. They were my spiritual children which I had come to love.”

Later, through social networking, Mr. Han connected with some people with the same passion and also ... with fly-away birds. They met, and established Hue Hunting Birds Society to share the experience of taking care of and taming these birds that are dubbed the “kings of the sky”.

 

The hobby of “throwing... money into the air”

Two Indian falcons at the Hue Hunting Birds Society offline meeting​
 

Hunting birds are common names for species such as: falcons, eagles, hawks, owls, etc. Each is divided into many different “genera”, like Indian falcons, eagles, peregrines, mountain eagles, prairie eagles, etc. To own a “sky king”, the owner must spend from several hundred thousand to hundreds of million, depending on the “rank” of each species. As with the Indian falcon, the price varies between 1.3 million to 2 million VND per bird,depending on whether they are young birds orbigger (older) ones that have recently been caught. If they are mountain eagles, even the young ones can cost up to tens of millions VND, and the adult ones can cost up to 200-300 million VND/bird.

 
The hobby of “throwing... money into the air”
Three-layer leather gloves, rattles, fresh meat - basic tools for training hunting birds

"Currently in Hue, most members are beginners, so they mainly keep Indian falcons, eagles, Brahminy kites - which are relatively affordable species. Perhaps, after some time, if they are confident with their training skills, they will spend much more money to own more high-rank species", said Minh Thuan, a member of Hue Hunting Birds Society.

Taking care of the "kings of the sky" is like raising little children. From when they are chicks, the owner must design a clean, cool shelter during the day and warm and quiet at night. The food for these birds primarily includes quails, mice, and snakes. Pork and beef must be given in moderation. Every day, from 7 to 8 am, the bird must be exposed to the sun so it can absorb vitamin Dand calcium. When feeding, the food must be cut up to fit the bird's mouth. Sharp bones must be removed. There are around 3 to 4 feedings a day. After eating, a spraying bottle is used to let the bird drink water, and then the claws must be cleansed before allowing the bird rest in a cool place.

 
The hobby of “throwing... money into the air”
An Indian falcon

By the time the bird is able to train, the owner must train the bird to master the four steps: Stand and eat on the gloves, fly from one hand to the other, snatch prey in the air and hunt in the wild for 1to 3 months. However, it takes some owners a whole year to do this. At this stage, the owner must buy gloves, caps, rattles, and whistles. Finally, if the bird is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the owners need to buy a GPS device to find the "spiritual child" if he is unfortunately stolen or lost.

Hunting birds are generally intelligent and get very attached to their owners. However, if the owner is overly aggressive or yelling or threatening during the training period, the bird will either refuse to cooperate and obey the order, or fly away.

"In addition to learning the behavior of each species, the owner needs have patience. If you are not patient, it is best not to pursue this hobby. After spending a large sum of money, time and love to feed, care for and train the birds but they do not obey, leave the ownerand fly away; then that is exactly like throwing money into the air," said Le Duc Thuan - President of Hue Hunting Birds Society.

Spending millions of VND to catch... mice​

At around 2:30 pm, in the newly harvested field in Quang Dien, more than a dozen members of Hue Hunting Birds Society organized a training exercise for their birds to catch prey in the air. Le Minh Thuan said: "The space in the city is small, so the members sometimes move to areas with large rice fields so that the birds can freely fly.The training can restore the natural hunting instinct of the birds.”

 

The hobby of “throwing... money into the air”

Bui Ngoc Dien and his eagle with the exercise to catch prey in the air​
 

At that moment, Bui Ngoc Dien, a member of the group, shook his arm so that the eagle would fly away hundreds of meters. Next, Dien put fresh meat on his glove and blew the whistle. Immediately, the eagle turned swiftly with the speed of a "rocket", using his legs with sharp claws to grasp the bait. I thought that the bird would quickly devour his catch. But no, the meat was still firmly held by the bird at his feet; then he turned his eyes to his owner, shaking his head sideways as if itinquired “Can I eat this?”

At the end of the training day, the birds return to their place of residence. These are solid designed racks located on the terrace, or spaces with indoor space, or in the garden. In order to pursue this hobby, in addition to passion, patience, there should be synchronization between humans and birds. Birds of prey are familiar with flying, if trapped in the cage for too long, they will soon fall ill. Of course, the owners do not want to see his pet restrained and cramped in small cages.

 
The hobby of “throwing... money into the air”
Owners have to climb high to catch the birds when they have not been trained properly

When there are not many conditions for birds of prey to prove their natural instinctsin the natural environment, members of Hue Hunting Birds Society got creative by allowing them to hunt for rats and snakes in the garden. "My garden is so lush with a lot of rats. From the day this bird learnt to hunt, whenever he hears something moving in the garden, a moment later, he would return with one or two prey. Now, in the house, especially in the kitchen, it’s hard to catch a glimpse of any destructive rodents like before,” Vo Nguyen said as he showed off his Indian falcon.

In Hue, owners buy birds through two ways: buying and selling between members and buying from the traders in the South or North. When buying from traders, owners need to be alert to distinguish those species listed in the Red Book. If the bird has a foreign origin, there needs to be a license from the authorities.

"The trend of raising bird of prey started in Dak Lak, Hanoi, Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City long time ago. It is like any other hobby, so the members in the society hope that local Hue authorities will be able to guide, provide or announce relevant documents to officially grant permission for the club’s operation. This helps the members get an official playing field, and distinguish between species which are prohibited and those allowed. This is a way for players to be more responsible with their passion",  Le Duc Thuan, head of the Hue Hunting Birds Society, said earnestly.

Story: VO NHAN - Photos: HAN DANG

Design: QUANG THIEU