"Falconry is my biggest passion in life. For many of us, our pursuit in the sport is a very spiritual place, and going out with your bird into good habitat and chasing wild animals with it is just very personal."
Scott McNeff, falconer

One night at a dinner party, I (Amanda) had just met Scott when he casually mentioned that he had a hawk in his car and asked me if I wanted to come see it. I had never seen a bird of prey up close before and had no idea Scott was a licensed falconer. When he invited me to go out “hawking” with him, I had to go. And I had to bring my camera, of course.

I was immediately hooked. In addition to it being a visually stunning sport to watch, I realized there were a lot of great sounds as well: the bells used on the hawk’s legs, the whistles and sounds the falconers use when working with the bird, and Scott was such a great explainer of it all. That’s when I contacted Sam.

Scott McNeff with His Hawk
Scott McNeff adjust the headgear on his red-tailed hawk. (photo: Amanda Kowalski)

Despite the fact that falconry has been practiced worldwide for thousands of years, it is a relatively new sport in North America. Currently, there are just over 4,000 federally licensed falconers in the United States. When Amanda showed me some of her photos and asked if I wanted to tag along with her and Scott, I said yes.

The Challenge of Capturing Images and Sound

There was a lot of waiting around and then sudden action. It meant running through the woods with gear — cameras, lenses, recording rigs, and microphones. We had to move fast and hope that we were close enough to capture the action when it happened. I’m amazed that Amanda got the shots she did of the moment the hawk actually caught the squirrel.

A red-tailed hawk in flight. (photo: Amanda Kowalski)

The Surprise of It All

I’ve never gone hunting in my life and wasn’t sure how I’d take to it. What I was most struck by was Scott’s deep reverence for falconry, his intimacy with the bird, and his knowledge about everything from trees to weather to squirrels.

I would have thought hunting would be violent and ugly, but in this form there was something inherently beautiful about it. I saw the art. I admire Scott’s care for the hawk, his dedication to the practice, and his respect for what he and his hawk kill. As he says in the video, everything they catch is either fed back to the hawk or ends up on Scott’s dinner table.

Samantha BrounSamantha Broun is an independent radio and mutimedia producer. She currently works with Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts where she manages the Peabody Award winning website, Transom.org. Samantha’s work has aired on National Public Radio as well as the Cape and Islands public radio stations.

Amanda KowalskiAmanda Kowalski is a freelance editorial and portrait photographer based in New England. Trained in traditional black and white documentary photography, she is currently shooting with a digital SLR. Amanda’s clients include The New York Times, National Public Radio, Children’s Hospital Boston, Public Radio International, Universal Music, and Sichuan Quake Relief.

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You can find more of Amanda and Samantha’s work at SoundLight Media.

Share Your Reflection



 Wow, very fascinating! You can tell he has great respect and love for what he does. Thanks for a glimpse into this captivating and private partnership!

amazing photography played in to the narrative

I think this is a really fascinating exploration of the partnerships between humans and animals.  We've turned animals into pets or just beasts of burden, and this reminds us that there are amazing times where there is a true partnership.  I'd be curious how this relates to the experiences people have with working dogs.

Thanks, great review to the important points. Some really great thoughts here, very comprehensive. I appriciate that!

I think this is so sad that he would actually catch a 4-5 month old hawk in the wild for his enjoyment. How can this be spiritual? It may be a partnership, but this hawk belongs free in the wild living its own life- not tethered to the wrist of a human being.

Don't delude yourself, there is no spiritual partnership here. If this wild bird were not bound and blindfolded it would have flown away with no regard to you. What an incredible human ego to think he is assisting the hawk. I really just want to cry for the suffering of this controlled/confined wild animal. Do you really think the hawk prefers to arrive in a car. Would you drive if you could fly?

It is such a misfortune when people with no actual concept of the real world feel compelled to criticize and put down others (and yes I see where people will claim I'm being hypocritical, but I've seen what happens in the real world). I especially relish the audacity to dictate what constitutes a "spiritual experience" Those trolls that disparage falconers, be it for taking a "noble bird from the wild" or "taking delight in the killing of another animal" are really beyond all help. I have seen, first hand, animals die of disease, malnutrition, and injury. Rehabilitation centers area swamped every summer with birds of prey that are so weak they actually allow humans to pick them up and place them in boxes. Research has shown survival rates among birds of prey are as low as 25%, 1 out of 4 chicks will die in the first year. Scott just guaranteed that one of those young will survive and learn valuable hunting techniques before it is set free. I honestly hope the 2 posters who showed their true ignorance by claiming the bird should be "free to live its own life" are allowing themselves the same freedom: I hope they don't have a job that forces them to do things they rather not, or be somewhere when they'd rather be somewhere else, I hope they're free to feel the pangs of hunger and figure out how their next meal is going to come, how their going to survive a life-threatening injury without someone providing medical care, and I hope they feel death's hand constantly hovering over them. I suppose they'll just continue to shake their head in sorrow to think of all the precious animals that die horrendous deaths at the hands of Mother Nature, but continue to post in righteous indignation that a human should deprive any animal of said opportunity! For my part, I found the work to be very well done and can appreciate what Scott is doing.