We grilled a Medieval Times falconer about what it's like to wrangle birds of prey for a living.
I Want Your Job finds Torontonians who make a living doing exactly what they love to do, in any field, and for any salary, and asks them how they did it.
“It’s pretty funny, the reactions I get when people ask me, ‘So, what do you do?’ and I’m like, ‘Uh, I’m a falconer at Medieval Times,'” says Nathan Enkel. It’s a job he’s held for nearly two years, but his history with feathered friends is a little longer than that.
Enkel worked at a parrot aviary while in high school, hand-feeding baby birds and their parents. Before that, he had taken a course on falconry, “because I was a huge nerd and my parents paid for me to go.” It was there that he learned how to handle and train birds of prey, and to keep the birds from slaughtering one another.
“Birds of prey aren’t social at all,” explains Enkel. “Falconry is a lot of making sure that your birds don’t kill each other.”
Below, our interview with Enkel about his murder-preventing occupation.
Enkel: So, three years ago, I really needed a job. Bad. I was applying everywhere. So I sent an application in to Medieval Times just saying, “I’d love to work with the birds. I have the experience. Whatever you guys would want. I could just be the guy that cleans up their poop and changes their water.” I got an email in the middle of the summer about a position being opened, and because of my prior experience I was the first person that they had hired in a while from outside. Usually, people who’d get the falconer job started somewhere else in Medieval Times and worked their way into it. But because I’d already had all that bird experience, I was lucky enough to jump that hoop.
What does the show itself look like?
I come out into a purple light, which is quite funny, and I walk to the middle, and then the king says, “Behold the sport of kings!” That’s when I throw the bird, and she starts flying. Then I start swinging the leather lure that she chases. Falcons hunt birds, not ground prey, so they want to follow something that mimics a bird flying. She kind of does a figure eight about 10 to 12 times around the arena, and then I will call her and she will know that I’m going to throw it straight up for her to catch. And then I let her grab it, and she lands with it.
Are you responsible for training the birds, as well?
They’re mostly really trained. I mean, these birds have been there longer than I have. One bird is 17, another is 16, and the youngest one is six. More than anything, I just maintain the training they already have. The oldest bird just goes on autopilot, like you could actually be terrible at it and she’ll make you look good. The youngest bird, my boss, and I have been working on her stamina, because she’s a little lazy. That would just involve longer times in practice, like doing 14 passes instead of 12. But that’s about it.
And the birds are all female?
Yes. Traditionally you would hunt with a female because she’s bigger than a male, so she’d take down more food. But also, that’s just what we have. There’s no real difference other than the considerable size difference—the male’s about a third smaller.
What’s the most difficult aspect of the job?
Drunk people wanting to pet the bird. That’s probably the most annoying thing. I usually answer the same question like 20 to 30 times every show: “No, you cannot pet the bird. Yes, she does bite. No, she’s not sad.”
What about your job do you think would most surprise people?
I guess maybe having to prepare the food for the birds. I take a frozen quail from the freezer and have to thaw it, and then I have to clean it. So, I remove the feathers and the head and the esophagus and the digestive tract. That’s probably the most surprising and grossest part of my job. It’s a little nasty sometimes. They’re pretty good quail but sometimes I’ll get ones that have an egg in them, and that’s gross.
Photos courtesy of Nathan Enkel/Medieval Times.