By: Sabrina Maristela
Ashbrook Scholar Katy Wickberg, originally from Colorado Springs, CO, has been involved in the sport of falconry since she was 9 years old. At the age of 19, that means she’s been in the sport for nearly half of her life, and will reach that point in the next couple of years. “I became involved in falconry at 9 through a mentorship program at the US Air Force Academy (USAFA). You don’t have to be licensed for their team– it all operates on Sam Dollar’s license, and I got licensed at 12 with Sam as my sponsor” says Wickberg.
Now a sophomore at Ashland University, Wickberg has decided to share her knowledge of falconry with the Ashland community. She founded “Ashland Falconry” in Fall of 2018, and serves as the organization’s president and in-house licensed falconer. Because she was first introduced to the sport of falconry through a collegiate team, it seems appropriate that she’s starting her own team here at AU. Ashland Falconry is only the second student-run collegiate falconry team in the nation.
“We’re actually really different from USAFA’s team though,” clarifies Wickberg. “They focus a lot on showmanship, which is a wonderful thing, but I very much want our team to be focused on the heritage of the sport, which is hunting.”
The sport of falconry is the practice of trapping, training, and hunting with birds of prey. It is 6000 years old and recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage sport. Wickberg hopes to share the tradition and practice of falconry, which includes teaching about different birds of prey, hunting with the birds, and even taking a couple of members on as falconry apprentices. Apprenticeships are very serious in the falconry community, as the mentor’s license is fully responsible for the apprentices. It takes a minimum of two years of apprenticing to be licensed.
However, not all members of the club are interested in becoming licensed, and with 32 active members, Wickberg is just excited that so many people are interested in what she loves. She is especially excited to start hunting. “I think that’ll be a great opportunity for everyone to get a new perspective on not only the sport of falconry, but on hunting as a whole,” says Wickberg. “I’m also looking forward to doing ‘manning days’, where anyone and everyone will be welcome to come hang out with the birds and do homework or just relax, and of course we’re hoping to be flying a bird at the football games in the fall.”
Ashland Falconry’s birds are housed in mews just off-campus near the football stadium. Last semester, the team trapped a female Red Tailed Hawk named Ismae (pictured above and left), and this semester they also have a male Harris’ Hawk named Eddie. Both Ismae and Eddie are currently in residence at AU. Wickberg says that caring for a bird consists of “having her fly to my glove for a piece of food from various distances on a long leash called a “creance” or flying free, which means she’s untethered. Just having her spend time around people to get used to us is also a crucial part of training, as is taking her hunting for squirrels and rabbits.” Additionally, Wickeberg reports of Ismae that “She’s doing wonderfully– we’ve had less than one month of training together, and she’s ready to hunt, which is a really great turn around, especially with how much the weather has been fluctuating lately (which affects her weight, and through that, her behavior).”
Wickberg also works for the Ohio School of Falconry (OSF) (on top of being a full-time student and Ashbrook Intern) where she teaches classes and cares for the birds. Joe Dorrian, owner of OSF, came to AU on Friday, November 15th to celebrate World Falconry Day with Ashland Falconry. He brought a male Harris’ Hawk named Irwin and a female Barn Owl named Quinn to campus. Along with Ismae, Wickberg and other club members tabled in the Student Center with the birds, teaching students, faculty, and staff about them for three hours.