The Sport Of Kings
‘Ere Kes! Birds of prey in Grenoside? It’s like a ruddy Barry Hines novel in here…
Charlie Pass’ back garden is a bit out of place for the suburb of Grenoside, Sheffield; in it are 10 fully-fledged birds of prey.
Born and raised in the area 19-year-old “Chaz” is a part-time tree surgeon but a full time falconer. Pass has been flying birds of prey for almost a decade.
“I came home one morning from work and my dad had one round the back. He said I’ve got this and I’ve been thinking about getting into it. I went and bought one two years after that and since then it’s just gone up and up.”
Falconry isn’t cheap to take up. Minus a vast array of necessary gear, a Harris Hawk – a beginner’s bird – rings in at £300. The “complicated” falcons and goshawks go for more.
“I paid £2000 for a goshawk round about six months ago. I came back one day and it had been eaten by another one of my goshawks. The jesses must have pulled through its anklets and it got to the other bird and ate it. Luckily he didn’t go for anything else. It’s dog-eat-dog in their world.”
For Pass though, falconry isn’t about the money: “If you’re going to get a bird you get a bird as good as you can. It’s how you make it.”
His current collection includes a goshawk, two snowy owls, a Lanner falcon, a Gyr-saker falcon, two Harris Hawk brothers, an American red-tail buzzard, Blossom the barn owl and a 12lb European eagle owl named Bonnie.
“It’s not a hobby for me. It’s like a passion, a sport. A lot of people I know will have a bird but they won’t fly it, they’ll have it to show. But it’s got wings and it’s meant to be flown. A falcon can get to the English coast in a day from here. You’ve got to keep them fit and loyal.”
Falconers need permission from landowners or farmers to fly and hunt with their birds. Pass flies them locally and also down in Lincoln.
Each week the ten birds get through 300 day-old chicks bought from a local supplier.
“What we feed ours are quails, rabbits and anything they catch is their reward. Buzzards are more like a road-kill bird so they’ll find anything they can and if it’s rotten they’ll eat it anyway. ”
Each of the birds is on a diet so strict Olympian Jessica Ennis would blush. And for good reason too:
“If they’re not hungry they’ll just sit in a tree all day. I’ve waited hours for them to come down because I haven’t got the weight right. They are weighed every day. That’s the most crucial thing in falconry, weighing them. It’s a fine line between losing them or keeping them close to you.”
Pass and his team are available to hire at www.sheffieldfalconry.co.uk or find him at “Woodhead-falconry” on Facebook.