The (Exhilarating) Falconry Program at The Broadmoor in Colorado

Travel Features Falconry
The (Exhilarating) Falconry Program at The Broadmoor in Colorado

I could practically hear Sir David Attenborough’s voice as Earl, a peregrine falcon, sat casually on my hand while devouring a mouse—whole. It was as if I were immersed in Attenborough’s latest documentary, and he was reminding me of the circle of life. 

Earl, on the other hand, just kept shifting and gyrating his neck to shimmy the mouse down the chute, so to speak. And this raw, exquisite display of the natural order of the animal kingdom played out just inches from my face.

Welcome to the incredible, fascinating hobby of falconry.

What The Heck Is Falconry All About, Anyhoo?

Before my getaway at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., I knew nothing of falconry. Why would I, really? Considering that the sport of falconry got its start within the elite circles of nobles from Medieval Europe, the Middle East, and the Mongolian Empire, it comes as no surprise that I was a noob of the highest ranking.

I’m far from the nobility and the earls—my falcon friend’s namesake—who once dominated the sport. Noob or not, I’m wholly fascinated with the inner workings of nature, and learning about the hunting proficiency of birds of prey, and how people have collaborated with them over time, was a unique opportunity. So, there I was, watching Earl choke down his high-value reward for a job well done.

Raptors Are Not Retrievers

The foundations of falconry remain essentially unchanged. Training birds of prey to assist in the hunt for food has been around for about 4,000 years. Unlike, for example, a hunting dog trained to retrieve, raptors generally won’t bring the catch—like a pheasant—back to you. They’re trained to catch it as you flush it out of its hiding spot. From there, you do the retrieving and reward the bird. This is pretty close to what I experienced at The Broadmoor. The one difference was it wasn’t a legitimate hunt but more of a practice.

The Falconry Program at The Broadmoor

During a beginner lesson, The Broadmoor’s master falconer, Deanna Curtis, introduces students to various captive-bred, trained birds, including owls, falcons, and hawks. The class includes an initial flying demonstration and the highly anticipated moment of awe—when each student can hold a trained hawk on their (gloved) fist. In my newly swayed opinion, however, plan your stay to allow time to also take the intermediate lesson; this is where the real magic happens.


Level Up—Stay Long Enough to Cast a Falcon Yourself

Intermediate learners are taken to a nearby hiking trail to cast a falcon into the trees. As you walk along, the falcon will follow you, flying from tree to tree—waiting for your cue. Curtis will hand you a bit of raw meat on the down-low, hidden from the prying eyes of the bird in the distance. Once you place it on your glove, you might see some leaves move—but otherwise, silence.

And then there it is, barreling down on you like a graceful feathery freight train. It lands on your glove with gentle, surgical precision and reaps its reward. It’s an intoxicating mix of adrenaline and Zen that is entirely unique. Luckily, I got to spend a little extra time with Curtis and Earl, so I could soak up as much falconry lore as possible.

The Peregrine Falcon Can Fly 240 Miles Per Hour

Wrap your head around that avian astonishment for a hot second. The peregrine falcon can fly 240 miles per hour, making it the fastest animal on the planet. Sure, the cheetah gets a lot of fanfare because it can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in an astounding three seconds, but its top speed isn’t much higher. The peregrine is almost four times faster.

This bird will fly as high as 1,000 feet in the air before exploding into downward flight, hell-bent on its targeted prey. At the extraordinary speed of upwards of 240 miles per hour, you have to think about the sheer force of the air. With this in mind, Mother Nature gave the peregrine falcon a tubercle, an itty-bitty bone structure in its nostril that prevents air from being forced into its lungs while in its prey dive.

The Mews at The Broadmoor

As a perennial lover of puns, I think it’s a-mew-sing that the word mews looks and sounds like a type-o. It is, in fact, the falconry term for a birdhouse—and I’m downright giddy to use it in a sentence and—gasp—an Instagram hashtag.

And for those who are inclined to nerd out over etymology, spending time at Broadmoor’s mews with master falconer Deanna Curtis includes some world-class bar-trivia knowledge you won’t soon forget. Without missing a beat, she’ll change your understanding of some of the most popular idioms, such as “wrapped around your little finger” and “fed up,” all derived from falconry.

Cheers! To the Most Interesting Birds in the World

Of course, all of this happens seamlessly while learning about—and interacting with—the Broadmoor’s many birds. Curtis trains and cares for over half a dozen birds of prey at The Broadmoor, including Harris’s hawks, a barn owl, Eurasian eagle owl, lanner falcon, gyrfalcon — and my bestie Earl.

Ultimately, I had an incredible experience with  The Broadmoor’s Falconry Program. Under Curtis’ guiding hand, I cast the fastest animal on the planet into the air and watched a Sir David Attenborough-esque film unfold before my eyes. And, of course, I bonded with the most interesting bird in the world, Earl, the peregrine falcon. Dare I say—in proper Dos Equis style — that I think maybe—just maybe—“sharks have a week dedicated to him” and his hunting prowess.

Melanie Carden is a Boston-based travel and lifestyle writer.

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