KIDS IN ACTION
The Girl Who Trains Falcons
Eleven-year-old Ishibashi Misato has two unusual pets: a Harris' hawk and a peregrine falcon. Misato thinks of the two birds as members of her family, but they are more than just pets. Every day Misato spends time training them to scare away the crows that cause problems for local farmers.
Misato is a fifth-grade elementary school student in Takeo, Saga Prefecture, and has loved animals since she was very young. Her father is away from home a lot due to his work schedule, so helping to take care of the birds keeps Misato quite busy. Her responsibilities include feeding, weighing, and training Momotaro (a male Harris' hawk) and Shiro (a female peregrine falcon whose name means "white"). Sometimes when Misato has to stay late after school for kendo club practice, her grandfather looks after the birds for her. As the whole family has taken care of the birds since they were chicks, they are quite tame. Momotaro and Shiro are kept on special leashes when they're not out flying, but they can still be mischievous. When inside, they often scatter things around the house and get scolded by Misato's grandmother.
Momotaro was born in Canada, where he was bred in captivity. Now six months old, he only weighs about 700 grams (1.5 pounds) but has a wingspan of nearly one meter (three feet). It is illegal to catch or keep as pets eagles, falcons, hawks, owls, or other birds of prey that live in Japan, because these birds are endangered and could become extinct. Therefore, people who want to raise these types of birds have to buy birds imported from other countries.
Crows cause a lot of damage to farmers' crops in Japan. Misato's father is a member of a group that promotes natural farming methods, and crows like eating the persimmons and pears from the group's orchard. Her father knew that in some countries airports use falcons to keep away flocks of birds that can interfere with airplanes. He wondered if he could figure out a way to use falcons to keep crows away from the orchard. After collecting and studying information on different training styles from Japan and other countries, Misato's father devised his own falcon-training method.
Misato and her father began training Momotaro to drive crows away when he was very young. When Momotaro flies up to perch on a power line, dozens of crows gather around him and start cawing and going wild. But Momotaro doesn't fly away; he stays put and drives the crows away. Momotaro has been flying around the orchard for two months now, and although crows get as close as the nearby rice fields, they don't come into the orchard.
A previous pet of Misato's died of an unknown illness, and she carries around the sad memory of that loss. But she says she would like to continue learning more about animals and nature and to become a vet when she grows up. Eventually she hopes to create a world where people and animals can live together in harmony. Hopefully she can use her experience training hawks and falcons to make her dream come true!