The Unlikely Parallels of Working with Raptors and Working with People

The Unlikely Parallels of Working with Raptors and Working with People

The West Coast College of Massage Therapy has a diverse and fascinating student body with so many interesting lifestyles and hobbies. We sat down with Joey Norris; a Term 5 student who is also a falconer, to talk about his experiences and the surprising similarities falconry and massage therapy share.

Joey and Mohave

How long have you been involved in falconry?

I’ve been practicing falconry for eight years, during this time I’ve worked in film industry for four years. It’s not really a job, not really career but a way of life because you can’t leave the birds. Someone has to be there to look after them at all time.

Falconry has a long history in combat. While I was training, doing martial arts, I overheard my mentor, who was my fighting partner at the time, talking about a falconry workshop. I was like woah, you’re taking a falconry workshop? She said no, that she was running it! A few month later I was firmly entrenched, and I signed up to do all the dirty work. I kind of forced my mentor to keep me around.


How would you describe your relationship with the birds?

A lot of people have a tendency to treat them like pets, they want to walk up to them and pet them and kiss them. You cannot domesticate them, they are emotionally complete. They’re not a pet, they’re a companion. When I walk in in the morning, they will tell me whether or not they are happy to see me. You know, by the way they hold themselves. You learn how to read the body language, and the way they move. They have similar facial expressions. Obviously, they have a beak or a bill, not lips so they can’t smile like we do but you can learn to see how the feathers or certain types of feathers on their face are positioned and angled.


Is there one bird that you work with or have a connection with more than others?

It’s just like we have friendship’s, I can get along with anyone in my class but there are obviously a few people I get along with the most. We don’t consider them owned, because when we fly them, there’s nothing stopping them from not coming back, they choose to do so. My mentor has a good relationship with all of them but she has an unbreakable relationship with captain of the team -as we call him- Saber. The things that he’ll let her do is amazing. He’ll let her get in and nuzzle him or pet his feathers or scratch his head, all sorts of stuff. Not everyone can do that. Saber is amazing, so he’s not going to hurt anyone else who tries that but he’ll give you the warning, like “get the heck out of here, I’m not going to let you do that.”

My relationship like that is on and off with Mohave, a Red Tailed Buzzard. He terrifies most people because he’s huge. But when I work with him, he just cheeps away like a little baby, like a chick. It’s ridiculous! When were at home, at his place, I let him be boss. When he’s having a bad day, he’ll stomp his feet at me you know, to say “give me my food”  and he’ll be all bossy but when we’re on set and it’s work time, I’m the boss. You have these cool different kinds of relationships.


Have you been doing much since you started school?

I don’t have any time for this since I started the program. The only time I have done anything with my mentor since I started has been on long weekends and the breaks, because when I’m in school, it’s full time.


 Why do you want to become an RMT?

I’ve always wanted to help out. I’m into martial arts, and I’ve noticed throughout the years, whenever you train with someone for a long period of time, you get comfortable with each other. A guy has a sore shoulder or a sore wrist from what you were doing, you want to help out. You stretch each other out; you massage each other; you want to help each other out. Whenever we did that, everyone wanted me to do it, they would say hey you’re really good at that, you should be a massage person-thing! At the time I didn’t know what it was really; to be a therapist.


Do you plan on continuing falconry after you graduate?

I’m going to do falconry after I graduate, I don’t know how but I’m going to do it. It’s always going to be a part of me. One of the major things I’m looking forward to doing post-graduation is going to be a martial arts instructor in Thailand. I was invited to work in a camp out there and the master there, who is a world champion, is into falconry. When he heard that I was a falconer, he that they could build a section of the camp where I could go out with my own native bird and keep practicing my art there.


What similarities have you found between massage therapy and falconry?

The relationships or the personal interactions are very similar. The first time I ever saw Mohave, he had just come out of a 12 hour flight, he was just a kid, maybe 12 weeks old and he was terrified of everything. He was scared of the sky, believe it or not. He always wanted to be under trees.  He was on my glove for about 13 hours straight, it’s a training technique called manning, and we were working together for his benefit, to help project care. After 13 hours of him being mortified of everything, including me, I fell asleep on the couch while we were watch a movie and I had my arm outstretched. He walked over and started preening my eyebrow. He was trying to clean my face. This was his way of trying to connect with me.

Working those long hours are normal, especially on set, so you form those relationships, you are working together to create this beautiful thing: a film. It’s the same sort of thing here, you’re working together for however long it takes to make someone feel better, especially if it’s something chronic. I like that sort of relationship.

 Thanks to Joey for sharing his exciting experiences with birds of prey! Want to share your story? Contact [email protected] to be featured in our blog. As always, WCCMT would love to see you on LinkedIn, our New Westminster Facebook Page or our WCCMT/CCMH Facebook Page so you can stay connected with our community.

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