When it comes to feeding the birds in his back garden, breadcrumbs and bacon rind just won’t do.
For Mirfield falconer Derek Hopkins has more than a dozen birds of prey to keep fed and watered – and that means a meaty diet including day-old cockerel chicks and pigeons.
Derek, who has been keeping raptors for the past 35 years, has a wide variety of birds, including goshawks, peregrines, saker falcons, gyrfalcons and a magnificent golden eagle.
In the summer months – when it’s the breeding season for their natural prey and the birds are moulting – Derek keeps them tethered in the garden.
But in the winter, the birds take flight over the Yorkshire Dales, where they can hunt grouse, partridge and blackbirds.
Derek, who works as a home delivery driver for Tesco, became interested in the sport through a friend who kept a tawny owl. Derek’s first bird was a kestrel.
By law, birds of prey kept as “pets” must have been born in captivity.
He said: “It’s not just a hobby – it’s a way of life. It’s the thrill of watching the bird chase it’s natural prey.
“You have to have the landowner’s permission and depending on what quarry you are going for you have to have a licence from Defra.”
And he said: “I don’t fly them in urban areas – they like chasing dogs!”
Derek likens building up a collection of raptors to owning a fleet of top-of-the-range cars.
“It’s expensive to start up,” he said. “It would cost you about £1,000 to start from scratch. A harris hawk, say, would cost about £300. Then there’s telemetry – when you put a transmitter on a bird so you can track it in flight.”
Falconers can pay up to £5,000 for a golden eagle and £4,000 for a grey or silver gryfalcon, said Derek. A white male gyrfalcon can cost thousands of pounds more.
Keeping birds in peak condition is also critical. Each bird has its ideal weight for hunting – combining power and stamina. “During the hunting season you have to keep the birds hungry, but not starving,” said Derek. “Some people would see it as a hassle, but I don’t find it hard work.”