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Getting Started with the Kite

by William Murphy
Reproduced with the permission of the author and the editor of the California Hawking Club newsletter


A fairly recent innovation that has become very popular for training longwings is the use of a kite. Among its benefits, the kite teaches birds to fly high in windy conditions in order to reach a lure suspended hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet above the falconer. Such flights build conditioning, endurance, and strength in falconry birds.  I want to mention at the outset, however, that although the use of kites is a very effective conditioning tool, it is certainly no guarantee for creating a high flying, effective game hawk, nor will it solve all falcon training problems.

For those who would be interested in using a kite for training, I want to let you know what you need and how to get started. First of all, obviously you need a kite. Originally, Delta Conyne kites were used. They had the advantage of being able to take fairly heavy bait into the air and could withstand brisk breezes. Their angle of climb was relatively shallow, however, so for the kite to rise sufficiently, a large amount of line was necessary, and the kite itself was often a long distance from the falconer once it achieved sufficient altitude.

Dramatic improvement in kites used for falcon training was a result of the efforts of Dan Leigh, the world's foremost delta kite maker. Dan, an Arizona native who now resides in Wales, makes a variety of kites that can fly in conditions varying from very light winds to winds in excess of 25mph. Long used by European and Arab falconers, Dan's kites first made their way to American falconers through his Little Bear model, which was sold through Into the Wind kite company of Boulder, Colorado. This versatile and effective kite flies at a steep angle in light winds and is capable of carrying fairly heavy bait. It is also reasonably priced at around $90. Recently Into the Wind has also offered other Dan Leigh kites, manufactured in China, but to this point, they are rarely in stock.

For those who want to obtain their kite from the master himself, kites may be ordered directly through Dan, but the process is time consuming and expensive. For those who are willing to persevere, a Dan Leigh kite is comparable to a finely crafted hood, combining art and function. He has a series of kites specifically designed for different wind speeds. His lightest wind speed kite, the Clipper GPX will take a half quail airborne in 3mph winds. The easiest way to contact him is by phone, but be sure you are phoning during business hours in Wales. I spoke with Dan recently, and he said that he was comfortable with Into the Wind mass producing his kites in China and that he thought the quality was decent. I am personally content to take the time and expense to acquire what I consider the best, but I realize there may be negligible difference between his hand made kites and the Chinese mass produced copies.

Once you have obtained a kite, the next thing you need is line. Naturally the lighter the string, the less weight the kite has to lift. Although Spider Wire is very light and very strong, it is nearly invisible in the air and has the potential to sever a falcon's wing if things should go wrong, especially in higher winds. Kite stores sell Dacron kite line at various strengths, and 80 lb. test is more than sufficient without becoming too heavy to lift. In wet conditions, however, Dacron absorbs water and thus becomes heavier and less effective. I use Power Pro HiVis line because it is strong, water resistant and very easy (even for me) to see. I am using 250 lb. test, which is the same weight and diameter as Dacron 80lb. test.

Once you have the string, you need something to wind it on. Many falconers use winches or reels powered by portable drills, but I have always feared a thousand feet of line out and no power to reel it in. I started using a hose reel, which was effective, but bulky and awkward. My next attempt was an extension cord reel, which can easily accommodate 2000 feet of string. Its drawbacks include the energy it takes to reel in and its light weight. One day, I had it ripped out of my hands in a brisk wind, and I watched it scoot away at 15mph. In a rare burst of mathematical insight, I realized that at 15mph, I would have to run at a four-minute-mile pace to catch it. Fortunately for me, it snagged on a dirt clod after a few hundred yards. I am now using a Gallagher Geared Maxi Reel. It was developed for stringing electric fences, has a 2.7:1 gear ratio, and is also heavy enough that it will not be taken away by the wind.

Once you have the kite and the line, you need a bait system. Many falconers prefer parachutes for bait release, and they work very well for those who have they area to retrieve the bird where it lands. They also have the advantage of separating the bird from the kite line to minimize potential for accidents. I personally prefer a slider system because I can guarantee where the bird will return to earth. The system consists of a Cannon Quick Release system attached to a small pulley. When the bird pulls on the bait, the Quick Release separates from the line and the bird slides down with the bait. Sometimes it is necessary for the falconer to run the line down with a carabineer to keep the angle steep to help the bird descend quickly. Dan Leigh sells a release system that is also very effective. It utilizes a line clip which is manufactured in England for carp fishing.

Two other auxiliary pieces of equipment I recommend are an anemometer and a range finder. With them, I no longer guess at the strength of the wind or the height of the bird. I use a Kestrel 2000 anemometer and a Nikon Laser 1200 range finder. Neither is essential but they provide helpful information.

I will not be presumptive enough to instruct you how to train a falcon with a kite, but I strongly recommend that you find articles by David Scarborough, who pioneered kite training. You will also find several valuable sources of information on the web. The wonder of Google is that you can reference any person or piece of equipment I have mentioned, and it will be available to you. I have also compiled I a list of where equipment may be found:

Dan Leigh Kites http://www.deltas.freeserve.co.uk/home.html

Into the Wind Kites http://www.intothewind.com/

Power Pro HiVis line and Cannon Quick Release http://www.cabelas.com/

Gallagher Geared Maxi Reel: Cheapest prices on E-Bay.

Anemometers and range finders are also available on E-Bay. Quality and prices vary

Copyright©2009 William Murphy