A White Bear Lake man has a passion for an activity -- falconry -- that dates back thousands of years. Falconry is the practice of capturing and training raptors to hunt. It's a way of life for Frank Taylor, the man we meet in this installment of our series Minnesota Sounds and Voices.
Taylor's raptor companion is Mim, a red-tailed hawk who has trained and hunted with him for eight years. She lives in an enclosure, called a mews, in his back yard.
Taylor traces his passion for falcons and hawks to grade school.
"Just the shape of the bird captivated me, and I wanted to draw those wings and legs."
Frank Taylor has a day job as a driver for a transportation company, and he's also a gifted artist. There are lots pictures of raptors on his wall -- many of them created by him.
But his passion is falconry, which soaks up a lot of time and requires devotion.
Taylor says he was in high school in St. Paul when he acquired his first falcon, and spent years attaining his status as master falconer, which allows him to obtain a permit to capture and keep raptors.
Current federal and state regulations require a year of study, two years as an apprentice, a written test, a state inspection of the bird's home and five years of falconry -- a total of eight years -- before a person can become a master.
The care and keeping of a hunting bird takes time as well -- including a daily weight check and a diet of small critters like rabbits, quail and rodents to keep the bird fit.
"You've taken this bird from the wild, so it's your responsibility to make sure she stays healthy and gets everything she needs," Taylor said.
There's regular training.
"What you train them to do is to accept you as a hunting partner, where they're not afraid of you."
And then the hunting trips.
Before he had Mim, Frank Taylor trained and hunted with falcons, including one that led him on an overnight chase. That episode included hiring a pilot to locate the bird and Taylor tramping over hill and dale to bring her back home.
Taylor says red-tailed hawks like Mim are easier to manage than falcons. He acquired her when she was four months old.
His permit allowed him to lure Mim into a specially designed raptor trap that doesn't harm a bird's legs or flight feathers. Like most young birds, she was destined for a very short lifespan.
"Mim had a high infestation of worms, and she would have died."
Because she was caught as a wild bird, Taylor says Mim has instincts that will help her survive when she's released. Taylor, who is 63, plans to release Mim into the wild when he no longer has the mobility to keep up with her.
"If I let her go, in three days she'd be a total wild bird again -- wouldn't have to worry about her."
In the wild, hawks and falcons might live for 10 years, but in captivity their life expectancy is 40 years, according to Taylor.
Frank Taylor is devoted to Mim. He strokes her tenderly and treats her with the loving care you would expect an owner to show a pet. Except Mim is not a pet.
She appears to recognize Taylor, or maybe the sound of his voice. With the offer of meat and some whistles of encouragement from Taylor, Mim hops onto the thick black leather glove covering his left hand.
But he understands the relationship is all one way.
"She knows that I'm just the same as a perch. She has no affection for me."
So if a critter won't cuddle, purr or lick your face, why bother?
For Taylor, it's all about the beauty of raptors and the thrill of watching them hunt.
"When you watch that bird, when it kicks in gear and uses everything it's got to try to catch it, and then you see the quarry throw in everything it's learned to get away from that particular predator -- that's a drama in nature not that many people get to see up close."