by LEN LEAR
When Tom Stanton, now 62, was growing up in West Oak Lane (he now lives in the Glenside area), he watched a Walt Disney TV show one Sunday night in 1958. It was called “Rusty and the Falcon,” and it was about a 10-year-boy who found an injured falcon and took care of it. The boy and the bird became best friends, and Rusty flew the bird every day.
“I was the same age as Rusty, 10, when I saw the show,” recalled Tom. “I knew then that someday I would have a pet falcon. I can still remember every scene from the show. I got every book I could find on falcons and read them cover to cover. Not only can they exceed 250 miles-per-hour in a stoop, but they can see eight times better than humans.”
After graduating from Cardinal Dougherty High School, Stanton joined the Marine Corps. He later had his own air freight business from 1970 to 1973. He then joined Federal Express, which had started just three months earlier, in May of 1973.
“I was just the second person hired as a courier at the PHL airport station and helped the company get started in Pennsylvania,” said Tom, who is still employed with Federal Express today.
But Tom never lost his passion for large predatory birds. “In my teenage years I was told of a man who lived on Highland Avenue in Chestnut Hill. His name was Corny McFadden. I had no idea that this master falconer would influence me the way he did in the sport of kings.
“He opened his home to me and showed me what it takes to become a falconer. I was so eager to learn about raptors. I was like a sponge, and Corny could see it. He told me I had to make a gauntlet of my own. He was very impressed the day I brought one to him, and from that day on we had an unbreakable bond between us.”
In 1985 Stanton passed a test (one must answer at least 80 questions correctly out of 100) and qualified to receive his permit from the Pa Game Commission as a certified falconer. The applicant must also have his/her mew (enclosure for trained hawks) pass an inspection by the commission. At the time there were fewer than 50 in the state.
To become a falconer in Pennsylvania, one must find a sponsor, someone who will be responsible for the applicant and his actions for three years. as he or she teaches the art. An applicant would be an apprentice for two years, then a general for five. After seven years one can become a master. “I personally know of no master falconer who can take on an apprentice at this time,” said Stanton.
“As a master falconer, I can now keep only three birds of prey. Corny McFadden died in 1971 at the age of 59. His best man from his wedding sponsored me 14 years later. His name was Jim Rice, another legend in the sport of falconry. Lou Woyce, Jim Rice and Corny were three of the best falconers and friends in Pennsylvania at the time, and I knew them all. I had no idea the company I was in at the time. Today I see their names in so many articles and books across the country. I’d also like to pay tribute to Roy Frock and Bill McBride, who also were mentors in my life at the time.”
According to Wikipedia, falconry (or “hawking”) is a sport that involves the use of trained raptors (birds of prey) to hunt or pursue game for humans. In modern falconry the red-tailed hawk and Harris hawk are often used. And the terms “falconer” and “falconry” now apply to all use of trained birds of prey to catch game. Some views of falconry state that the art started in Mesopotamia, but some say that it started in the Far East.
The earliest evidence comes from around the reign of Sargon II (722-705 B.C.). Chinese records from 680 B.C. describe falconry. Falconry was probably introduced to Europe around 400 A.D., when the Huns invaded from the East. Frederick II of Hohenstaufen has been noted as one of the early European noblemen to take an interest in falconry. He is believed to have obtained firsthand knowledge of Arabic falconry during wars in the region (between 1228 and 1229).
Historically, falconry was a popular sport and status symbol among the nobles of medieval Europe, the Middle East and East Asia; in Japan the sport is called “takagari.” Eggs and chicks of birds of prey were quite rare and expensive, and because the process of raising and training a hawk or falcon requires a great deal of time, money and space, it was largely restricted to the noble classes.
According to Stanton, “Being a falconer is now a part-time job seven days a week.You have to spend at least an hour or two every day with the bird — feeding,changing its water and cleaning its mew. The reason the Pa Game Commission and Fish and Wildlife Service allow those of us who hold permits in Pennsylvania is to hunt small game with our birds during the hunting season.
“After training, the tame birds look at us as partners. Very few people have what it takes to possess and care for one these raptors. Not only is it an honor to be allowed to care for these birds, but a responsibility that most people could not deal with. After 45 years I still see something new from them, watching them flying free in the sky and then returning to me for the night in the safety of their mew.”
Quail is the main diet Tom’s birds are on. The birds weight must be checked before he takes them out to hunt. They must have a good appetite because if their weight is too low, they may just fly away in search of food. Tom takes them out every chance he can except for Sundays. Cold weather is fine for them, but Tom avoids snow, heavy wind and rain. Falcons and hawks can live up to 20 years, and Golden eagles, which are also used by falconers, can live to 50. (Tom is a father of five children — Tom, 30, Bob, 27, Joe, 24, Mike, 20, and Jen, 18. “My passion for birds of pray only gets stronger as I age,” said Tom, “and the thrill I get every time my bird is sitting on my fist as we walk through a sunny snow-covered meadow is like I am 10 years old again.”
To reach Stanton for educational visits to schools, etc., contact him through firstname.lastname@example.org