Sean Hayes is one of the best falconers in the world. Even though the sport has been around for decades, Hayes is helping to make it relevant for modern times. Devoting his life to the hawks, Hayes also shows young people of color not to be discouraged as they pursue their dreams.
When Hayes was a child, teachers told him he should aspire to mowing lawns as a profession. Or be a garbage man. But he had other ideas.
His love for the outdoors drove his decision to work with the Falcons. When he first encountered raptors, he was naturally concerned about their welfare. Eventually, he began to train them.
“I may not have the biggest wallet, but I look at these mountains and it’s cool for me,” says Hayes. “I just want to be outside.”
Training is based on trust, not discipline
First, he makes the bird feel comfortable with him. It involves immense effort with seemingly minimal rewards in return. Hawks do not respond to discipline, so training is based on a trusted partnership.
Sport is consuming. You invest everything in a bird and “before you know it, it’s taking over your life,” says Hayes.
His work is now admired around the world, but he still has to keep a close eye on the negativity that comes with his complexion. Once he had a falcon stolen. Another time he faced a verbal racist attack.
Whether Hayes acquires his falcons through captive breeding or the wild, he is completely dedicated to them.
Hayes documents their weight, the temperatures they are exposed to, and the speeds at which they move. He even checks their droppings to make sure they are processing food properly. An unhealthy falcon is a reflection of the falconer, Hayes believes. In balance, Hayes also aims to have positive energy around his birds. “My energy matters,” he says.
He used to participate in falconry competitions, which took him all over the world. He has now quit competitive falconry. Instead, he often attracts large audiences by lecturing on birds.
It discusses the required bond between bird and falconer as the basis for performance. When he releases a falcon to catch prey, he hopes it will return. In training, Hayes travels extensively in order to introduce his bird to a wide variety of prey. If he releases his bird in places where there is not enough prey, the bird will not trust him. He won’t come back.
The fastest animal on earth
Historically, falconry was a way for villagers to gather food. They are exceptional predators. Built for speed, the Falcon can fly at speeds of up to 400 km/h. Their eyesight is 8 to 10 times sharper than that of humans. Pointed wings and a slender body allow the bird to fly quickly and undetected. Even the beginnings of aviation were modeled on the shape of a falcon.
In those days, you wouldn’t have seen someone the color of Hayes with a falcon. Today, it seems unfathomable that skin tone can affect how accepted a person is. But Hayes proves that none of that matters when you’re chasing your dream of excellence.