Raptor Force

The PBS Nature series looks at the intersection between falconry and science with Raptor Force. The episode airs this evening, 8 PM ET.

Hat tip to Karen Spivey.

I hope to have some comments later when the program airs.

Update: They had a lot of nice photography on the show, though I think that they borrowed some film from the NatGeo “Wolves of the Air” program, or at least it was strongly reminiscent of scenes from that program when they showed Harris hawks in the desert. There were some problems here and there in statements, such as saying that Harris hawk “stacking” behavior has something to do with the top bird having a better vantage due to the few additional inches of height, and not saying anything about the work done that teased out the dominance hierarchies that underlie “stacking”. The other clinker I recall clearly was saying that the near-silent flight of owls was perhaps due to not interfering with the owl’s own hearing in flight, when a fairly obvious alternative explanation would be that they don’t wish to have the prey hear them coming. Or, rather, that noisy owls likely would less often surprise prey items than more silent-flying conspecifics.

I thought the technology tie-ins were fairly weak elements of the show. While military aircraft video certainly makes for guy-gripping TV, there really wasn’t much depth at all in explaining how raptor biology actually was part of some technology transfer to aviation. The whole bit about development of a raptor backpack-cam could have been condensed down to “our tech guys did a great job getting us this video”, rather than sucking up precious program time showing us a guy soldering circuits in his basement. I’ve been that sort of guy before, but even I recognize that that is not what makes for informative television.

All-in-all a better hour of television than most, but it could have been even better than it was without much more effort.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

4 thoughts on “Raptor Force

  • 2008/02/25 at 10:22 pm

    It will be repeated several times this week. If anyone missed it, check the schedule on the PBS site.

  • 2008/02/25 at 11:48 pm

    I saw this episode when it was first shown about a year ago and I am inclinded to agree with your criticisms. I thought they used up too much time on the aircraft stuff and I would rather have seen less of the trial and error backpack camera sequences. Interesting, but should have been trimmed from a one-hour program. That stuff on the Harris’ hawks in the desert was right out of “Wolves of the Air”.

    However, I was happy to see falconry represented the way it was and to see Steve Layman and Steve Chindgren in the field doing what they do best.

  • 2008/02/26 at 6:56 am

    Better show than the Oscars anyway.

    I had to guffaw at the notion that the hawk could get a better vantage point by standing on another hawk. My wife said ‘Why don’t they just stand on a higher post?’ And I didn’t really get the whole point of putting the camera on the falson. Seems to me a high speed camera from the ground would be a better choice. I can understand mounted stress sensors or GPS to look at migratory routes or some such thing, but I didn’t get the camera so much.

  • 2008/02/29 at 6:58 pm


    I would have to agree with your commnets. Hubby and I watched the program and had to laugh a little at the time spent on the guy doing the camera mount on the bird. What a waste of time, but I like the tie in to the aircraft tech. Otherwise it was decent (I agree with Dave that it surpassed the Oscars in any case). Later.

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