A rare bird of many talons

Maybe he's too flighty to be called a pet, but he does call an arm his roost

He's handsome. His moves are bold and swift. He dines on quail. Is this a big-time broker or a hotshot lawyer?

No, these are the attributes of Birdie, a seven-month old male peregrine falcon belonging to UBC graduate student and falconer Christian Duhme.

"There is a beautiful co-operation between human and falcon in this sport," says Duhme. "The bird must know what I am thinking and I must think like a raptor to make it work."

Although falconry is "the most exciting pastime imaginable" to Duhme, he discourages people from taking up the sport on impulse. Not only does it require a lot of time and dedication, but birds can be easily harmed or killed through inexperienced handling, he says.

Aspiring B.C. falconers can keep raptors, or birds of prey, if they obtain a permit from the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks.

About the size of a crow, peregrine falcons are one of the fastest birds on earth and can dive vertically at speeds greater than 300 kilometres per hour. They are found on every continent except Antarctica and live mostly on a diet of birds ranging in size from sparrows to ducks. Rewards of quail tidbits keep Birdie coming back to his master instead of flying away. When he's not hunting, Birdie rests on his perch at the end of a long leash that allows him to move around freely without being confined to a cage. Falcons have recently been taken off the endangered species list in Canada. Successful captive breeding programs have meant the cost of the bird has been reduced to about the same price as a pedigreed pup.

Duhme belongs to the Northwest Falconers which is one of two clubs in B.C. devoted to falconry. A fan of the sport since childhood, he obtained his first bird, a goshawk, eight years ago. He received Birdie when he was a fledgling of three months. This won't be any fly-by-night relationship, however--falcons can live up to 20 years. Duhme, who is completing a PhD in Genetics, thinks he and Birdie will stick together for quite a while. Birds of a feather, you understand.