Falconry in Washington State

Role and Responsibilities of a Falconer

Falconers engage in a delicate balance of training and partnership with their raptors. This ancient sport involves understanding the raptor's natural instincts and behaviors to hunt cooperatively. Falconers invest significantly in the care, training, and welfare of their birds, often considered athletes due to the physical demands of hunting. The sport is far from a casual pastime, requiring a deep commitment to both the bird and the environment.

Legal Framework and Regulation

In Washington State, falconry is regulated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Those interested in falconry must obtain a permit and adhere to a comprehensive set of regulations designed to protect both the raptors and natural prey populations. The regulations, detailed in state and federal laws, include statutes such as RCW 77.04.012, 77.04.013, and relevant sections of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC). These rules cover the capture, training, and hunting practices of falconry, ensuring ethical and sustainable methods.

Raptor Management and Conservation

Falconry contributes to raptor conservation efforts through careful management and rehabilitation practices. Falconers play a crucial role in maintaining the health and well-being of their birds, which involves meticulous care and sometimes rehabilitation or release back into the wild. The sport has historically contributed to the conservation of several raptor species, including the peregrine falcon. Falconry practices often involve breeding programs and educational outreach, furthering the conservation and understanding of these birds of prey.

Engagement and Education

Falconers in Washington are not only engaged in the sport for hunting; they are active in communities, providing education and fostering appreciation for raptors. Through demonstrations, talks, and educational programs, falconers share their knowledge on the importance of raptors in the ecosystem and the role of ethical hunting. This outreach is crucial in building awareness and support for raptor conservation and the ancient art of falconry.

Becoming a Falconer in Washington State

Introduction to Falconry

To become a falconer, one must understand that it's more than a hobby; it's a lifestyle that involves a deep commitment to the care, training, and hunting with birds of prey. These majestic birds are not pets; they are partners in the hunting process, requiring you to engage actively with nature.

Requirements for Falconry Permit

Becoming a licensed falconer in Washington State involves meeting several criteria:

  • Age Requirement: You must be at least 12 years old. Minors need a parent or legal guardian to sign the application.
  • Written Exam: Pass a written exam with a score of 80% or greater.
  • Raptor Housing: Have suitable housing, known as mews, for the raptor.

Steps to Becoming a Falconer

  1. Find a Sponsor: Seek out a mentor within the falconry community who will guide you through the process. Contact jen.mannas@dfw.wa.gov for a list of potential sponsors.
  2. Educate Yourself: Immerse yourself in the world of falconry. Understand the laws, raptor care, diseases, and the responsibilities that come with being a falconer.
  3. Submit Application: Complete the Falconry Application form, endorsed by your sponsor, and submit it to the falconry manager.
  4. Prepare Your Mews: Build or acquire appropriate housing for your raptor, ensuring it meets all safety and comfort standards.
  5. Pass the Exam: Study for and pass the required written exam.
  6. Schedule Inspection: After passing the exam, arrange for an inspection of your facilities.

The Written Exam

The exam covers various aspects of raptor biology, care, falconry practices, and legal regulations. It's comprehensive and designed to ensure you're fully prepared for the responsibilities of falconry.

Transfer of Falconry Permit

If you're moving to Washington with an existing falconry permit, you need to submit a Falconry Application along with your current permit for transfer. While you won't need to retake the written exam, your facilities will still need to pass an inspection.

Reporting and Licensing

  • Report Changes: All changes, including acquisitions, losses, or escapes, must be reported on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.
  • Hunting License: Ensure you have the appropriate WDFW hunting license to legally hunt with your raptor.

Falconry Associations

Joining falconry groups like the Washington Falconers Association and North American Falconers Association is beneficial for community support, education, and advocacy.

Classes of Falconers in Washington State

Apprentice Falconer

  • Duration: Minimum of two years under the mentorship of a General or Master falconer.
  • Sponsorship: Requires a sponsor who serves as a teacher and guide.
  • Raptor Possession: Allowed one raptor at a time, typically an American kestrel or red-tailed hawk from the wild. Under certain conditions, they may possess other species.
  • Regulations Reference: Governed by WAC 220-420-070.

General Falconer

  • Age Requirement: Must be at least 16 years old.
  • Experience: Requires completion of at least two years as an Apprentice.
  • Upgrade Process: Apply for upgrade with a Falconry Permit Upgrade application endorsed by a General or Master falconer.
  • Raptor Possession: Can have up to three birds for falconry at a time and may trap several additional species from the wild.
  • Mentoring: Eligible to sponsor an Apprentice after two years of practice.
  • Regulations Reference: Governed by WAC 220-420-060.

Master Falconer

  • Experience Requirement: Minimum five years as a General falconer, demonstrating hunting proficiency and care for multiple raptor species.
  • Upgrade Process: Submit a Falconry Permit Upgrade application along with evidence of five years of practice at the General level.
  • Raptor Possession: Can possess up to five wild-caught raptors, including trapping peregrine falcons with special permission. No limit on captive-bred raptors but must use them for hunting.
  • Special Authorizations: May apply for golden eagle authorization with adequate experience.
  • Regulations Reference: Governed by WAC 220-420-050.

Falconry Application Materials

Falconry application packet

Other Falconry Applications

  • Falconry Renewal Application [Word | PDF]
  • Falconry Permit Upgrade Application  [Word | PDF]
  • Non-resident Raptor Capture Request Application
    Non-resident Peregrine Capture Request - application period opens March 20 and closes April 15.  Please use the above application.
  • Washington Falconry Permit Reinstatement Application  [Word | PDF]

To request a Falconry Packet through the mail, please email Jen.Mannas@dfw.wa.gov or call (360) 688-3866.

Falconry Seasons and Regulations in Washington State

Licensing and Permits for Falconry

To engage in falconry in Washington State, individuals must have a valid falconry permit and a current small game hunting license. Additional specific licenses may be required for hunting certain species or in particular areas, such as a pheasant license for hunting in western Washington and migratory bird stamps for hunting migratory birds.

Hunting with Raptors: General Rules

If a raptor captures quarry during a closed season or protected species, the falconer must release the quarry if uninjured. If the quarry is seriously injured or killed, it must be left at the site, although the raptor may feed on it. Any accidental take of sensitive, threatened, endangered, or candidate species, or out-of-season game animals, must be reported immediately using a specific WDFW form.

Bag Limits and Restrictions

Upland Game Birds & Forest Grouse

  • Bag Limits: 2 pheasants (either sex), 6 partridge, 5 California (valley) quail or bobwhite, 2 mountain quail (W. WA only), & 3 forest grouse.
  • Possession Limit: Twice the daily bag.

Mourning Dove

  • Bag Limits: 3 mourning doves.
  • Possession Limit: Three times the daily bag.

Cottontail and Snowshoe Hare

  • Bag Limits: 5 cottontail or snowshoe hares.
  • Possession Limit: 15 mixed bag.

Ducks, Coots, Snipe, and Geese (except Brant)

  • Bag Limits: 3, mixed bag including ducks, coots, snipe, geese, and mourning doves.
  • Possession Limit: Three times the daily bag.

Turkey (Eastern Washington)

  • Bag Limits: 1 turkey, either sex, per turkey tag with a maximum of 2 turkeys per season.
  • Possession Limit: 2 (turkey tag required).

Closed Species

Certain species like jackrabbit, pygmy rabbit, sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, and ptarmigan are closed to falconry hunting, reflecting their conservation status or specific state regulations.

Falconry Associations

Falconers are encouraged to join the Washington Falconers Association and North American Falconers Association for community support, education, and advocacy, particularly during the apprenticeship period.

Conclusion

Falconry in Washington State is a regulated activity with specific requirements and limitations designed to ensure ethical hunting practices and the conservation of wildlife. It is essential for falconers to be familiar with the regulations, bag limits, and species restrictions to maintain compliance and support sustainable hunting traditions.

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Disclaimer:

The legal advice provided on Wild Advisor Pro is intended as a summary of the hunting, camping, hiking, and fishing laws and regulations and does not constitute legal language or professional advice. We make every effort to ensure the information is accurate and up to date, but it should not be relied upon as legal authority. For the most current and comprehensive explanation of the laws and regulations, please consult the official government websites or a qualified legal professional. Wild Advisor Pro is not responsible for any misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the information presented and shall not be held liable for any losses, damages, or legal disputes arising from the use of this summary information. Always check with the appropriate governmental authorities for the latest information regarding outdoor regulations and compliance.