Catalina Falconry Experience at Descanso is one of only a handful of programs in California that offers guests the unique opportunity to don a falconer’s glove and have a trained bird of prey land on their out-stretched hand.
The interactive, educational program is led by Dave Long, who also happens to be fire captain for the city of Avalon.
The art of falconry dates back to ancient times, when people used birds of prey to hunt for food.
“Somebody was doing exactly what I’m doing thousands of years ago,” said Long, a second generation falconer who was first introduced to falconry as a young boy by his father.
Today, falconers practice their art to raise awareness of these majestic birds and promote conservation efforts to ensure their continued survival.
One of Long’s birds is an anatum peregrine falcon, a species common to the west coast that was nearly wiped out in the 1970s due primarily to the use of the pesticide DDT.
After reaching a low of only five mating pairs in California, the anatum peregrine falcon was taken off the endangered species list in 1999, thanks in part to the conservation efforts of falconers like Long.
Guests at the Catalina Falconry Experience gather on a plateau overlooking the Pacific on the west side of Descanso Canyon, where they get a brief history lesson before seeing the birds in action up close and personal. Guests also get the opportunity to have their picture taken with one of the birds.
Among the stars of the show is a Harris hawk named Duke.
Not quite a year old, Duke is one of Long’s more sociable birds, and is typically the one who thrills guests by flying to and landing on their gloved hands. “It’s a pretty unique experience,” said Long.
Paxson is a 2-year-old gyrfalcon, the largest of the falcon species. Long named him in honor of the late Paxson “Packy” Offield, great-grandson of William Wrigley Jr., and former chairman of The Peregrine Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving threatened and endangered birds of prey worldwide.
Guests can enjoy watching Paxson soar around the canyon in pursuit of a falconer’s lure, which Long waves in the air as part of a well-coordinated exercise called “flying a falcon.”
Another crowd favorite is a 2-month-old Eurasian Eagle-Owl named Ruby.
When full grown, she will be one of the largest owls in the world, with a wingspan of nearly six feet. She’s still too young to fly, but guests have the opportunity to play with her and feel her incredibly soft, downy feathers.
Operated by the Catalina Island Company, Catalina Falconry Experience is open Saturday, Sunday and select Fridays and Tuesdays through mid-September. Tickets are available at any Catalina Island Company ticket booth or by calling 877-778-8322. For more information, VisitCatalinaIsland.com.