Latest News from BPCA

12 May 2021

So you want to fly hawks?

BUSINESS | PPC103 MAY 2021

Paul Wilson owns a small, family-run wildlife and pest control company: Independent Wildlife Management. He spoke to PPC about flying hawks as part of your pest management toolkit.

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Before you enter into the world of wildlife and bird control with hawks, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is your family behind you 100%?
  • Do you have start-up capital?
  • Do you have the time to make this work?
  • Do you have the knowledge to succeed?

If you answered yes to all of the above, then that’s step one on your journey.

Before I answer these questions from my perspective, remember: everyone works differently, and what works for me could be very different for you. Everyone finds their way to do things, and that’s okay.

Is your family behind you 100%?

For me, this is a critical question, as, without the back up of my family, I could not have carried on when things got tough and money became tight.

I have gone back to work for several companies over the years as a pest technician, especially when things have not gone to plan.

You have to think about the time you spend with your hawks, especially when you’re training a bird.

Can you sit in the house while manning your hawk so it can get to know your dogs, ferrets, children and noise from the life around you?

Can you take it with you when you visit family and friends so that it can travel in your car?

Can you be away from home when your employer asks you to travel across the country to cover a job?

Who will look after the hawk when you go on holiday? All our holidays are in the UK, and the hawks have been with us from Cornwall to Inverness.

For me, wildlife control is a way of life, not a job, and your family has to be part of everything you do.

Do you have start-up capital?

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You’ll need deep pockets if you’re starting from scratch. Before you even think about buying a bird, you will need to get the basics in place.

Mews/housing
I’m lucky as I have a construction background, and I built my own housing. But if you buy one or have someone make one for you, you’ll be looking at £500-1,000 depending on the room you have at home and how many birds you need.
You will need lights, sockets and heating to keep you and your hawks warm on those dark winter evenings. That alone could cost you a minimum of £200 just for an electrician, plus all the fixtures and fittings.

Telemetry/tracking
Do not fly your birds without the ability to track them. I have seen used telemetry for £250, but for new equipment you can spend over £1,000. This is something you can’t go without, as a lost bird is something you do not want. As well as the lost income, the bird’s welfare is critical. I lost a hawk a few years ago, and I let that bird down. I do not want that feeling again, and neither do you.

Pest control insurance
If you are self-employed or a sole trader, you will need pest control insurance covering the work you do and the animals you use. If you’re a BPCA member, having the correct insurance is a requirement anyway.

General equipment
Bow perches, bird baths, weighing scales, gloves, anklets/jesses, and everything else you pick up along the way can easily set you back several hundred pounds per bird.

Travel boxes
The hawk will need to travel in your van. For the safety of the bird while travelling, a travel box can be made or bought. I have both types, some built into the van and some bought online. For a large travel box, you can pay around £150. The cost soon mounts up when you have three or four birds in a van.

Chest freezer and food
You will need a freezer to keep all your hawk food in. I am sure your family will not share the freezer space with day-old chicks, wood pigeons or squirrels. You can buy a good second-hand one for between £50-100. If you can afford it, buy a new one. Make sure you have a reliable supply of frozen food when you first start out.

Transport
If you want to be self-employed or sub-contract, then you will need a reliable van. The cost of this includes the vehicle, insurance, fuel costs and maintenance. Without a new van, I don’t think I could travel around the UK as confidently as I do, knowing I will arrive at a job on time and not let anyone down. My van is now three years old, and it’s still in mint condition, but every van has its day, and I will trade it in soon.

Veterinary bills
Make sure you have a vet that has an excellent working knowledge of birds of prey. I do have a good vet, but apart from visits for a check-up, I seem to be lucky up to now (touch wood). However, I know falconers whose hawks have been injured by squirrels. These bites can be very deep or even take off a talon.

If you have a target of £3,500 for the essential start-up cost, not including the hawks’ cost, and you come in under that, you have done well.

Do you have the time to make this work?

First of all, see question one. Your family must be on board with this from day one.

There are no two ways about it: you won’t get to spend as much quality time with your family as you would like, especially when you’re first setting up and might have a full-time job plus your own business to get off the ground.

If you are already working up to a 10-hour day to bring in a living, can you then come home at night and spend all your free time building mews/housing, training and looking after hawks, making travel boxes etc?

Can you spend £3,000 on equipment, knowing your kids will go without a holiday this year?

Hawks can take over your life, don’t let them take over your family. You need to find the right work/life balance.

Do you have the knowledge to succeed?

The more knowledge you have of the wildlife and pests we catch, the more successful you will be. Hawks are just one piece of the jigsaw and can start you off in bird control, but you must be able to use every method you have at your disposal to survive in our field.

Trapping, shooting, proofing, habitat management, as well as your hawks, will all be needed for you to build your successful pest control business.

Have excellent working knowledge of all types of wildlife and, if you can, learn to catch moles, rabbits, birds, squirrels, fox and mink.

Be confident in setting traps. There are courses you can take for this, and they are worth taking.

If you’re flying hawks, you’ll be doing a lot of bird control - are you fully up-to-date with your knowledge of the relevant legislation and how to apply for licences?

Prove your professionalism by studying and passing your Level 2 Award in Pest Management. It’s not mandatory to operate as a pest controller in the UK, but why wouldn’t you give yourself all the knowledge you can to succeed?

If you can, talk to other pest technicians who have falconry and wildlife knowledge. Our biggest wealth of knowledge can often come from each other and industry experts like the technical team at BPCA.

When I started pest control, I worked with two people, Steve Quick and Dee Ward-Thompson, who gave me their knowledge for free. That was the spark I needed, and if they are reading this, I’d like to thank them both.

I am also happy to pass on any knowledge I have - if you contact me I will try to answer your questions.

PS. If I can do this for a living, so can you. Good luck!

Get in touch with Paul

If you have any questions for Paul about flying hawks, drop him a message via his website.

iwm@iwm24.com

Source: PPC103

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