North American barn owl, Banshee, performs a maneuver under the direction of Dale Arrowood at a festival.
Falconer Dale Arrowood has worked with birds of prey for decades and the thrill of watching a bald eagle take flight still leaves him speechless.
"It doesn't matter how many times I've flown a bald eagle. I've spent 7,000 to 9,000 hours with eagles and I've never seen an eagle in the world that my heart doesn't jump through my throat,"Arrowood said.
While Arrowood won't be bringing any bald eagles with him to the Big Haynes Creek Wildlife Festival in Conyers, he will perform flight demonstrations with owls, falcons and a vulture at the upcoming event on Aug. 25 and 26 at the Georgia International Horse Park.
Arrowood operates Winged Ambassadors, a Georgia-based business which presents educational raptor programs using birds of prey which can no longer live in the wild.
Accompanying Arrowood to the festival will be Czar, a Eurasian eagle owl; Solomon, a barred owl; Stratus, a red saker falcon; Nimbus, a Barbary falcon; Quasimodo, a black vulture; Helaman, a red tailed hawk; and Lobo, a Harris hawk.
Arrowood will present two programs each day, at noon and 4 p.m., and in between, the birds will be available for photos with festival-goers.
In his 30-minute program, Arrowood will have some of his birds fly from perch to perch in the horse ring at the GIHP. He may also bring a remote control rabbit to simulate how the birds hunt.
"We'll demonstrate how they fly their quarry down, the maneuvers they go through. It's always been well received," said Arrowood, who estimates he presents up to 200 flights a year.
Arrowood will also discuss the role the birds play in their native natural environment, and the importance of preserving habitat. Arrowood said that he is not a "tree hugger" but rather more a realist about the fate of the planet if humans are not wise about how they use resources.
"You can't stop progress but we do have to find some way to make things compatible with the environment," he said.
A retired law enforcement officer, Arrowood said he learned falconry through mentors including Jim Fowler, of Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom" fame, and a native Georgian. Fowler provided him guidance with classes he needed to take at Cornell University, and from 2000 to 2006 Arrowood assisted Fowler in a bald eagle program at Calloway Gardens.
Arrowood said humans have used falconry to obtain prey for thousands of years.
"It's the oldest form of hunting known to man," he said.
The key component in training the birds of prey is obtaining the proper weight for the bird, said Arrowood. If the bird is too light, it won't have the stamina to perform. Likewise, if it is too heavy, it won't want to fly.
Fowler said he wouldn't describe his relationship with the birds as affectionate, but they do have unique personalities.
"They're not loving but they do know that if they hang with us, they get fed," said Arrowood.
Fowler said he admires the raptors because they are at the top of the food chain in the wild and he describes them as "beautiful, resilient, resourceful and graceful."
"They represent complete and total freedom," he said.