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The Modern Apprentice



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Staying legal is sometimes complex in falconry as it is a sport highly regulated by complex federal and state laws. Even those who strive to keep legal may only be meeting the spirit of the law and not holding to the letter of the law or meeting the individual interpretations that different officials apply. Others may not have kept all the documentation that they should to protect themselves. This is a collection of thoughts on how to make sure you are in compliance. It is not to be taken for legal advice; I am not a lawyer. I also recently heard from law enforcement officials that they didn't understand the behavior of falconers or why falconers were so standoffish towards law enforcement. I have provided some thoughts below.

First, don't do anything illegal.
Second, understand both the spirit of the laws and the letter of the laws. Laws vary from state to state. This is a mixture of thoughts from a variety of regions and states. With the new federal regulations, some states adopting them and others not, there is currently a patchwork of regulations across the country. This section is not being updated to the letter of today's Washington regulations and is being left with the older, more demanding, regulation details. Be sure to read your state regulations to understand them.

  • Always have your paperwork up to date.
  • Keep copies of everything. Keep copies of paperwork you fill out, papers agencies send you, checks, and any official cards. Keep copies of import/export permits, letters from people for whom you have cared for birds in the past, letters from the state or federal agencies concerning falconry, facility inspection reports, license copies, permit copies, and any paperwork you fill out that is sent to agencies. Consider keeping a scanned copy in PDF format, and consider if that should or should not be on a computer or other hardware drive. If you fax information, keep the coverletter and fax report that shows what number the information was faxed to, the total number of pages faxed, and the acknowledgement that it was transmitted fully.
  • Keep your paperwork for at least 5 years, and this means that you must keep the paperwork related to a particular bird for an additional five years after that bird is no longer in your possession. By law (50 CFR 13.46) you must keep it for 5 years, but holding it for longer should not hurt, and keeping it stored permanently is a very good idea.
  • Keep your paperwork in chronological order, make copies so that if the originals are lost or damaged you will have copies.
  • Do not lose your paperwork. Although I know of no falconry example, some licenses are considered void if they are not able to be produced by the holder. Just don't lose it.
  • Don't relinquish control of your license. Although awkward, legally handing over your paperwork to anyone and physically releasing your hold on it can be construed as relinquishing control of it. A few cases (non-falconry) have been upheld that although the documents were produced and handed over for the intent of inspection, the confiscation was within the limits of the law.
  • Always have your bird accompanied by a copy of the proper paperwork. Carry a copy of your paperwork with you whenever you are with your bird - traveling or hunting. Although unnecessary it can resolve many issues. Put a copy taped inside the hawk box, a copy inside the first aid kit, a copy inside your hawking bag, a copy inside your car, and a copy on your mews. Copies are cheap and take up almost no room, so use this to your advantage.
  • If you are housing or handling another person's bird in their absence, be sure to have a letter signed and dated stating that you are caring for the bird in their absence. This sort of letter is now good for 180 days. A sample template can be found on the Publications page.
    If you are handing a bird over to a very trusted friend, also consider granting Power of Attorney. Theoretically this means that the person could write another 180 day temporary possession paper and sign it for you. It also means he could sell your house, though.
  • If you are leaving a bird in the care of another falconer, leave them at least with a signed letter. Contacting your raptor vet and leaving a note with him explicitly stating that the falconer who is caring for your bird during your absence may authorize veterinary work is also a good idea.
  • Keep records. If in doubt, when you send mail to the department officials send it via certified mail, keep track of phone conversations, names, and topics. If you need to track a payment, a postal money order can also be tracked.

  • Keep all falconry equipment in one place, preferably not in the house. Keep it in a separate shed or building if possible, or at the very least in your garage. Keep all necessary equipment such as your legally required scales and food in this location. If there is an inspection that goes further than a basic inspection, the rest of your home is not open for a falconry inspection without a specific search warrant.
  • Keep your mews clean. Not just for the comfort of your hawk and her health, but to ensure that any stray bird that gets into your mews and loses a feather or may be killed by your hawk is cleaned up. Bones or feathers in the mews might be suspected to indicate prey items you have intentionally fed to your bird, and could include prey not legal to possess. Clean out feathers, bones, castings, and any feathers that could be interpreted to indicate prey that should not be fed outside of accidental take situations.
  • If you have a personal or hunting diary, keep it elsewhere.
  • Some falconers also post a sign on the door to their mews informing that the bird is kept according to federal and state laws and interfering with the facility is prosecutable. A sample template can be found on the Publications page.
  • If your mews could inadvertently be opened, keep a padlock on the door.
  • Have a copy of the latest pertinent rules and regulations printed out and carry that with you or put it in your mews/weathering yard.
  • If you have a doubt whether something is legal or not, ask.
  • Consider a no trespassing sign at the entrance to your property, however make sure that this sign does permit FedEx and general mail delivery. A sign stating "All inspections regarding falconry, rehabilitation, game, or raptors shall make arrangements for an appointment. Appointments are taken upon reasonable request by calling 555-1212."
    If you plan on voice recording or videotaping your mews or facilities, you must state this with something like "Visitors may be monitored by video camera and/or voice recording while on premises."

  • If you are inspected, be cordial, courteous, and cooperative. Do not be confrontational. The people who are inspecting are from Law Enforcement and they typically have already reviewed your paperwork and know what they are coming in to review.
    Be polite, give information, and make sure you are honest.
  • When inspected, greet the inspectors and establish the protocol up front. A basic inspection should take less than 30 minutes. If this is more than a basic routine inspection, then there needs to be a search warrant. Ask to schedule all but the basic inspection for another time when you can arrange to have your attorney present.
  • Do not lie or try to pull a fast one on inspectors. They are not idiots and are there to do their job. Don't make it difficult for them to complete their inspection. Lying to an inspector is a felony.
  • Unless presented with a legal search warrant, inspection and review of your paperwork can be conducted outside or in a designated place of your choosing, like your mews. The exception being if your dwelling also serves as the facilities where your bird is kept. Otherwise, keep the records with the bird. One falconer I know keeps the paperwork in the mews and paperclips the business card of a good attorney as a subtle and unspoken hint that they are informed and above reproach in their activities. I also include the business card of my veterinarian displaying that this bird is cared for and displayed in case of emergency.
  • If you are inspected by any officials, State or Federal, have a portable tape recorder at hand and let them know the conversations will be tape recorded. Keep a record of the day, time, number of inspectors and their names as well as the general overview of the inspection.
    If you have not alerted inspectors that you are recording the communications by means of a sign on the property, and you wish to record the proceedings, you must alert them before recording. A conflict may be avoided by saying, "I'm sorry, I have a terrible memory. Do you mind if I record this?"
  • If you are ever inspected, the location where you keep your hawk's food may also be subject for inspection. If your freezer is outside your house, this restricts inspectors from entering your house to inspect your freezer. Make sure your freezer is completely legal with regards to game and possession limits - review its contents occasionally.
  • If you are asked about activities of another falconer, do not guess what the other falconer may or may not have done - simply refer the questioner to the other falconer. If asked, a polite response of, "That's not something I would know, and so I'll point you to Mr. Smith as I would hate to give you the wrong answer because I was ill informed."
  • If you are asked about information other than that which directly involves a facilities inspection, politely wrap down the facilities inspection and insist that any other questions should be in the presence of your lawyer. Make an appointment for such an interview.
  • Don't answer vague questions and don't answer with vague answers. It is not your role in this to provide extraneous information or decipher what is being asked for. Everyone wants to cooperate and even assist law enforcement, however your role is simply to answer questions relating to your falconry honestly and succinctly. Don't lie, don't bend the truth. If you must respond to a question that you are uncomfortable with, a response such as, "That is not a part of my facilities, my hunting, or my falconry," or, "That is not pertinent to an inspection," may be appropriate to keep to the issue. Falconers have no obligation to respond to questions not pertaining to the inspection of falconry equipment and papers.
  • Although the regulations merely state that you are to have certain furniture, regulators may infer that you are to use them, or use them all the time. If in doubt or have circumstances that might arise where your legality will be called into question, hedge on the side of over-legal and put out the bathpan filled with water, even if your bird would never use it. Although proper raptor management may mean not always having a bathpan available, regulators may not understand this. Officials should understand that you are disinfecting or cleaning the pan and that it has temporarily been removed.
  • Without a specific search warrant, your computer is never subject to viewing, inspection, or confiscation.
  • If you are found to have a paperwork problem, you should do everything you can to correct it. However, if you do have a problem with your paperwork, expect a citation. According to NAFA legal counsel Frank Bond, if a citation is given and the falconer agrees (usually through signing the citation), all permits and licenses may be subject to revocation under 50 CFR 13. Signing any paperwork is your agreement with a citation. Legal discussion may be warranted between a cited falconer and the permitting offices to have assurances that if the fine is paid (acknowledgement of guilt) then permits and licenses will not be revoked. This may not be the outcome, but it is a possibility.
  • If you are cited, seek legal advisement immediately! Your legal counsel should pay particular attention to CFR 50.13 which addresses "reconsideration or appeal."

  • Do not take more than the legal limit of game per day. Do not have more than the legal limit for holding in your home, even in your freezer, even if it is destined to be fed through the bird's moult. It is still not legal, even if the intent is to provide the bird the best nutrition. Some states do not consider dressed game against the possession limit, others do not consider dressed and cut up game against their limit. If you plan on freezing game you take through the season for your bird's moult food, make sure you are possessing it in a legal manner.
  • Do not remove live game from the field. Staged releases in the field and catch-and-release practices are acceptable, but many states restrict transporting live game to another location. This includes the intent to stock another field.
  • Bring your Accidental Take form with you while you hunt as it is to be filled out prior to leaving the field. Although you can record the following before leaving the field on a separate piece of paper, having the form, or a copy of it, is a good idea. It requires: falconer's name, falconry permit number, date, species, sex (if known) of the quarry, and exact location of the kill.

  • Be sure you know which trapping methods are allowed in your state. Some states, such as Washington, have legislation regarding certain types of traps that make this a grey area of the law. Bal-Chatris, pigeon harnesses, and even Dho Gazzas may fall into this category, but appear to be legal. (Without case law specifically addressing falconry trapping, we can only extrapolate current case law regarding gill nets, USDA categorization of BCs as separate from body gripping traps, and the I-713 language and intent.)
  • Be sure you are within your wild take limit for any 12 month period.
  • If your state requires bands, make sure they are properly attached and on the bird as soon as possible (in the field if your state gives bands before trapping). I would even make a copy of the band itself to keep in your files, or have a picture of your bird with the band on for your records.
  • If somebody else has trapped for you (or taken an eyass) and you are not present at the trapping, be sure they fill out a 3-186 and do a formal transfer to you. Receiving a bird that does not have the proper paperwork with it will put you and your license in jeopardy. Even if your intent is honorable, you do not want to receive an illegal bird.
  • If trapping for another person, you may not accept payment in any form (money, favors, etc). This legally is not a favor that the person did for you (indicating he is repaying something), it is a gift.
  • Label your trap. It is illegal in many states to use a trap, snare, net, harnessed bait bird or other implement that is employed in an attempt to capture a raptor without said equipment being legibly marked with the name and address of the user. Some states specify that unattended traps must be labeled. No trap for a raptor should ever be completely unattended except for a Swedish Goshawk Trap.

  • Don't let anyone talk you into anything you are skeptical of. Some folks are out there wanting to make trouble and you don't need to be a part of it. If you don't think something is legal, don't get involved. If somebody begs you to take a lovely bird off their hands as they "just can't take care of it" and it happens not to be properly papered, don't try to be kind and help the fellow and the bird out - that's not legal. The best intentions can lead to the worst results, and there have been instances of entrapment by agents of law enforcement to lure falconers to engage in illegal activities.
  • You will need to notify the state, and possibly the feds, if you: change address, lose a bird, have a bird die, change your name, or have any other status change.
  • Do not allow your license to lapse, even if you are between your apprentice and general and do not have a bird. Always have a current license covering you.
  • You will need to renew federal papers by Dec 31 of its second year - they are valid for no more than 3 years from when it is issued or renewed, and will expire on the date designated on it.
    When to renew:
    Falconry permit - expires in a maximum of 24 months from the date of issuance; always expires December 31 prior to the end of the 24 months
    Hunting license - expiration varies - Washington and some other states this expires March 31 of the next year; for Minnesota and some other states, this expires on the last day of February; for Iowa and still other states, this expires on December 31.
    Club memberships - typically expire on Dec 31 of each year

Some states have very specific laws and regulations to be aware of. Your falconry and hunting license are not quite the same as a driver's license. Going hunting or even just traveling with your bird to another state involves more than you may think. If you are visiting another state with your bird (driving or flying) always call the Department of Wildlife of the destination state and find out what regulations they have. Be aware that these can change and go into effect in the span of a day. The intent is to prevent diseased animals from crossing into their state and immediate lock downs are sometimes necessary. Just because you remember a state having one set of regulations does not mean that is still how they read.
  • States such as Washington have no regulations on entry or exit. States such as Oregon have an exit permit required. And states such as Colorado and Utah have an entry permit required. Others will require both or another form of registration. This is usually as simple as getting a health certificate within 30 days of traveling and then calling the proper state department for an ID number. In the case of Utah, the Department of Agriculture is the department that assigns the entry permit IDs.
  • Some states are looking for specific statements from the vet who issues the health certificate positively identifying your animal as not having a particular disease.
  • If you are flying, call the airline and verify what they require for paperwork and for the bird's accommodations during the flight. Make sure you are speaking to a knowledgeable person as sometimes the staff is mistaken, even on what their own airline requires. Verifying any FAA regulations can clear up any confusion.
  • For hunting licenses, some states such as Washington and Texas require those born after 1972 to have completed a Hunter Education course. Others, such as Kansas, require those born after 1957 to have completed a class. As far as I know, all states honor all other state's hunter education cards. In order to be able to hunt in any state whenever you want to, taking a Hunter's Education course and carrying your card as now will allow you more freedom later, and taking one sooner is easier than trying to take one later. One recent local Hunter's Education class had space for 30 enrollees - and turned away 160.
  • North Carolina also requires something called a Green Card which can take several weeks to obtain and costs about $10. If you plan on hunting out-of-state in North Carolina, be sure to request a Green Card application well in advance so that you can receive it by the time of your planned trip.
  • The MBTA regulations are technically 16 US Code 703 et seq. They cover 832 species and are constantly updated. There are currently 30 types of MBTA permits issued. Raptors were covered by the regulation in 1972. Title 50 CFR is the administrative implementation regulations. Parts 1 - 16 and 18 - 199 of or interest to all MBTA permittees. 50 CFR 10 contains the list of native species. Part 13 contains the general permit procedures including the process for suspensions, revocations, reconsiderations, and appeals. Part 21 is the miscellaneous section and many additions come under this heading including selvage, education, and others.

Give yourself a voice
  • Join your local or state falconry club. In Washington, we have the WFA, which is an excellent organization, and apprentices under the age of 18 receive free membership.
  • Join NAFA.
  • If you are a hunter, join the NRA and other hunting organizations.

Dates to Remember
  • March 31 - Washington State's hunting permit expires
  • April 1 - Accidental Take Report forms are due cataloging the previous year's accidental takes


I strongly encourage all falconers to carefully print, read, and understand the following and keep copies in your mews or preparation area:
US Fish and Wildlife Service Title 50 CFR Part 21 (Migratory Bird Permits)

I strongly encourage all falconers to carefully print, read, and understand the following and keep copies in your mews or preparation area:
Washington State Title 232 WAC Chapter 30 (232-30 Falconry Regulations)

3-816A Online Reporting Page (for states on the new federal regulations)
3-186A Online Filing Form

Notes for Law Enforcement Officials
I recently had a great discussion with several state law enforcement officials. In the course of the discussion, I asked if there were any issues or topics that our association members should be aware of, or anything that we needed to be aware of within the community. The officials let me know that our falconers were highly respected by them and good partners - when there were issues it was rarely the falconers, and even then only a specific individual or two.

They then turned the question on me and asked why falconers tend to be so sensitive to encounters with law enforcement, even in routine encounters. I had never thought such a topic needed to be covered, and had thought it to be self-evident. However, they genuinely were interested. I realized I owed that community a small write-up on this topic, too, to help them understand our community. It is not to be taken for legal advice; I am not a lawyer.

These were long-time law enforcement officials who have seen a lot of programs, practices, and myths come and go. They remembered vaguely a 1984 operation and how it netted no real criminal activity. Operation Falcon was largely a case of entrapment to uncover illegal activity that was not actually occurring:

This used the myth that falcons are being sold to the Middle East for millions of dollars. An attractive myth, but still a myth. Consider the market for race horses. Certainly there are a few top earners who are so prized that they sell for obscene amounts of money, but the vast majority are available for a few thousand, or end up being sold for meat market prices as dog food. There are birds that sell for extreme amounts in certain markets, but these are sourced through breeding projects where the birds can be bred, selected, trained, and purchased, and these are very rare. The reality is that in the state of Washington when there was a limit of three Gyrfalcons per year that may be taken from the wild, these birds simply are not so desirable that falconers will take them - not even for free. And the ones that are taken tend to be returned back to the wild. Falconers regularly pass these birds to each other, for free. The state of Washington has had Peregrine take for several years, and although there is a waiting list for these birds, frequently people pass up their opportunity to get a free Peregrine. The envisioned black market where fortunes are made is simply a mirage.

In 2004 more than 50 falconers were simultaneously inspected across the US by state and federal authorities in an effort to sweep the state of the imagined illegal activity. There were some very sad stories of people being interrogated, property confiscated including computers and papers and birds. Birds died in the care of federal authorities. There was not one single case or violation that was charged against any falconer.

The mentality of falconers is that they are constantly under the microscope and with just one dispute in an interpretation they could lose their permit and the birds they love.

When law enforcement shows at a falconer's door, encounters a falconer in the field, or casually meets a falconer under other circumstances, the falconer tends to be on the defensive. If officials showed up at your house and started asking questions without any context, say they wanted to see all the proper paperwork on your dogs and cats and could be removing them on the spot if there was a dispute, you would similarly be defensive. How would you react? If you see plain clothes officials looking through the windows of your house, as they have done to ours, how would you react? If you come home to law enforcement officials on their hands and knees combing through your yard in search of some stray feather, as they have done to people I know, how would you react? Your heart will be racing, you will demand to see ID, and be very careful with this situation.

A falconer sees law enforcement stand on their front porch, and they will react in certain ways. They will likely be formal, polite, but curt. Do not be offended if you are not welcomed and invited in, and they instead leave you outside and bring the required equipment out to you. Falconers tend to be informed on some points of law enforcement encounters. Many have read through and watched advice such as:

A falconer will want to understand what you want, and will seek to provide it, to the letter of the regulations. They are not trying to be evasive, and are not trying to hide anything. Their behavior is not driven by guilt, but by caution. When they let law enforcement know that the proceedings are being recorded by audio and/or video, it is to protect the proceedings and protect them, not because they are trying to cause problems for you. The inspection isn't about you, law enforcement, it is about protecting the falconer and their birds from the perspective of the falconer. Law enforcement showed up on their doorstep making demands, not the other way around, and so the falconer is working from this perspective of defending themselves.

The falconer will probably first try to understand what you need to satisfy the situation, and this will probably start with a review of the appropriate paperwork. They will probably show you their falconry permit card, or a legible copy, and their 3-186A papers for each bird they currently possess. They will want to ensure you are satisfied before moving on. Commonly the paperwork that officials are aware of does not match what is present or what the falconer possesses. There may be several reasons for this. Up until very recently, 2009 I believe, all transactions were submitted via mail and on paper to both federal officials and state officials. Some states kept the papers without entering information into a database. The federal authorities entered only wild take into a database, but not reports of loss, escape, release, or death. As such, pulling the data from the database would show that the falconer possessed birds that he had since released, and he had the papers to prove. Some states, such as Washington, have had their computerized records corrupted. Washington's database was corrupted in 2007 and they have stopped entering data in anticipation of the new federal database system. When federal officials dig deeper, they usually manage to find the papers, possibly at one of the regional offices. Papers could also be lost in the mail, at the department, or misfiled into another folder. The federal database has been down, has had errors, falconer records have been unavailable, and sometimes the advice from officials has been to conduct transactions over email with the officials responsible for entering information at another date. If discrepancies are found, dig deeper to uncover the most likely cause rather than assume malicious intent on either the part of the falconer or officials handling paperwork.

The regulations state that certain equipment must be possessed, or the materials to make the equipment must be possessed. The falconer may have this equipment on the bird, or have an extra set laid out just for satisfying the points of the inspection. They will produce the anklets, jesses, leash, swivel, bath pan, and weighing device per regulations. Again, they will want to ensure you are satisfied that the regulation criteria have been met before moving on to other points.

The regulations require some housing of some sort. It is left up to the falconer to meet the needs of the bird in whatever way they see fit. It is perfectly legal in most states to only have a perch - the perch can weather the bird outside or inside the house. The house does not need to be inspected as simply having the structure is sufficient, but the perch would be able to be inspected. As long as the management is reasonable then the system is acceptable. Even a bird who has been injured or is sick may be from other aspects. Your dog or child may become injured or get sick and that doesn't make you an unfit parent or owner. Accidents happen, even when using the best techniques and practices.

If the bird is lost, temporarily with another person, or is breeding, it will not be able to be inspected itself. Bothering a breeding bird can upset an entire breeding project and even injure the chicks. Better to return at a later time when this is able to be accomplished without adverse effects. Inspecting of the bird is typically done at a distance as she may not accept a stranger up close or trying to touch her. From several feet away it can easily be determined if the bird is the right species, is alive, and appears to be in reasonable health. Inspections of bands or microchips could be done if that is a concern, or photographic evidence may be produced to help ease this. (Be aware that microchips are notorious for migrating in birds due to the thin skin. Migrating microchips are difficult to locate for identification purposes and may cause problems in the bird if they migrate to a sensitive position. Some veterinarians insist on placing a microchip in the avian muscle to prevent migration.) There may be additional birds if the falconer is temporarily holding birds for others, rehabilitating wild raptors, propagating raptors, or involved in abatement activities. Exotic birds such as a Lanner Falcon, a Barbary Falcon, or a Eurasian Eagle Owl are fun to look at for anyone, including law enforcement, however are not subject to inspection.

These are the main points of the inspection and will satisfy the regulation requirements in most states, however many law enforcement are genuinely interested in falconry and have questions that will come up during the inspection. Be sensitive if the falconer is not forthcoming with unrelated information. From the falconer's perspective, this is a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't situation. Consider first the issue of federal officials asking a question. It is a felony offense to lie to federal officials, and in some cases incomplete statements have been prosecuted as felonies. When I have been inspected and a federal official has asked, "Wow, so what all do you hunt with these birds?" My first reaction is to ask if this is a necessary question to satisfy the inspection. Please understand that I am not trying to be rude, but you as an official are asking me official questions. If I forget to add in pheasant because I bought a pheasant tag a few years back, are you going to prosecute me? I don't want to chance it. I have been asked by federal officials, "So who all do you hunt with?" I want to know if this is part of the inspection and, if so, will go through my records to provide what is necessary. But again should I leave out a person, a person that may have visited with a group of us in the field but didn't have a hawk that day, are you going to prosecute me? This is what is in my mind. This is why we may seem unfriendly or uncooperative. We are being exactly as cooperative as the regulations require. Anything beyond that will require a search warrant - not because we have anything to hide, but because this is official business and we must do it officially. Just skimming a book like Three Felonies a Day can give some perspective of what falconers, and any citizen, see as being on the line.

Falconers understand that their permit allows for an inspection that the regulations are being followed at any reasonable time of day. Most even have a copy of the regulations printed out and will refer to it should a conflict arise. Some have a reasonable inspection report form printed out from which they will drive the inspection. Please be sensitive to falconers and the birds they love when conducting official business.

To learn more about the level of violations of MBTA regulations, read through this report Longitudinal Analysis of Cases, Violations, and Citations involving the MBTA Regulations from January 1, 2000 through April 20, 2005

If you do not have a standard inspection form developed for your state and your regulations, consider working with your state falconry association to develop one based on your precise regulations.
Sample inspections report form. I have several copies of this printed out and available with my falconry papers so that if I am inspected by officials, I have a method to drive the inspection and ensure I have met the criteria of our regulations. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife coordinated with the state falconry association to produce an inspection report form that allows law enforcement and mews inspections to standardize on. Falconry Inspection Report form

All images and text Copyright © 2004 - 2020 - Lydia Ash