Ancient hunting practice ruffles feathers in North Carolina

CARY, N.C. — Blanchard, a 22-week-old pet rooster, was killed while strutting in his owners' yard Saturday morning by a hawk that should have been hunting for rabbits.

Ann Richard and her husband, Dieter Griffis, got the startling news when the hawk's owner paid a visit to their Green Level Church Road home to apologize. The owner told the couple, who were too distraught to catch his name, that he had been hunting with his hawk on a farm across the street.

The hawk, which was released to hunt rabbits during an extended North Carolina falconry season, flew to the couple's property and mauled Blanchard, a light Brahma chicken, a breed originally imported from India and named for its white base coloring.

"We walked around the house and saw the dead rooster, and we were pretty angry at that point," said Richard, 53. "We felt violated. It's like somebody walking on your property and shooting your pet."

The hunter apologized and offered $45 for the dead rooster. Griffis, 62, told the falconer to take his hawk and get off his property.

"People can't just come over and shoot your chickens," said Griffis, who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years. "It angers me that this sort of hunting is still allowed in an area that's pretty much subdivisions instead of being rural like it was 15 years ago."

Griffis and his neighbors own chickens even though their property is within the borders of Cary, a town that bars backyard hens and roosters. The couple's rural zoning allows it.

Falconry is heavily regulated in North Carolina. Practicing the ancient sport requires permits and licenses that are issued only to future bird owners who have completed weeks worth of training and facility inspections.

In 2007, the North Carolina Falconers' Guild had 130 licensed members, according to an article in The News & Observer.

Though the wild birds are supposed to be trained to stay relatively close to their owner, it's hard to control exactly where they fly.

In this case, the hunter was on private property next to a subdivision in an area designated by town zoning laws as rural and appropriate for hunting. Falconry season for rabbits and squirrels continues through February, according to N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission rules.

Unless the area is rezoned, the hunting can continue.