Friday, June 03, 2005

New Jesses

Every year or so, Alice's jesses (the leather strap doo-jobbies on her ankles) get a little stiff and need to be replaced. This is not a fun job.

When I flew American Kestrels as a falconer I made the jesses myself. They were always the new style which consists of an anklet piece secured by a grommet and a separate removable strap that goes through the grommet. The idea is if the bird ever gets away, it could pull the straps out and wouldn't likely get hung up on a tree branch.

Since Alice doesn't fly free, I can use the traditional jesses on her. These are a single leather strap with a few slits in them. After flipping, twisting, inserting here and pulling there, they can be put on and are pretty much unremovable by the bird (but are removable by the human.)

I've always ordered the traditional jesses pre-made for Alice, but this year I decided to make them myself. I used thick kangaroo hide softened with Neat's-foot oil. And now you're saying "Kangaroo hide?!?" This is a fairly standard leather for falconry purposes because it is strong yet soft. It's only obtained from legally harvested kangaroos in Australia. And it's not cheap.

So once I had the new jesses cut, oiled and properly twisted, it was time to put them on Alice. She doesn't like this, which makes it into an ordeal.

In the past we've enlisted the "use" of a neighbor's dog while Alice and I are in my parked vehicle nearby. Alice is quite afraid of strange dogs, so she usually ignores whatever I'm doing to her to watch the dog. But changing out her jesses bugs her enough that she ignores the dog for brief seconds here and there to bite my hands--HARD. Yes, this often results in some superficial wounds.

This year we tried something different. We brought Alice out into our screen porch one evening, and she perched on my knee. (I was wearing jeans.) She's always a little leery until she gets a feel for where our dog is and what he's doing. As she craned her neck to find the dog, I calmly changed out her jesses....and didn't get bit once! (This was especially good since her beak was extra sharp and long and in need of trimming. More on that in the next Alice News.)

Hopefully the screen porch tactic will work in the future. Our dog will be 15 (in human years!) this year, though, so he may not be able to hold up his unknown-to-him part of the bargain.

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