The Owl Whisper: Interview with Mark Joseph Good
Interview with master falconer Mark Joseph Good,
from Woodland Hills Birds of Prey.
December, 2021 I Kátia Boroni (Journalist I MTB: 002.0435/MG)
Mark Joseph Good is 63 and has a long trajectory in Falconry, starting in the late
80´s. He was trained by a Native American Cherokee named Jerry, and after 7 years of falconry studies and practice he became a master falconer in the US. He runs the Woodland Hills Birds of Prey, working with environmental education and also assisting rehabbers. In this interview he tells us about his start in falconry, his connection with owls and the rehabilitation process.
How everything started
My full name is Mark Joseph Good. I use my middle name to honor my late father, Joseph Martin Good. I am 63 years old, I was born in the USA in Baltimore Maryland, currently living in Florida, USA. In 1978 we moved to Colorado chasing the Rocky Mountain Dream that he sang about. Jerry was living there too. As things would have it one day John Denver showed up on an eagle hunt for pronghorn antelopes. He was so impressed that he composed the song "The Eagle and the Hawk " due to this encounter...pretty cool.
When I was a park ranger many years ago I performed a campfire program with a live screech owl. I knew nothing and the program was bad.So after the show this spooky guy hanging in the shadows approaches me and tells me that I sucked... what ? It was Jerry. Within the year I was training with him with his Golden Eagle Copper. Really cool!
For a period of time Jerry and I worked together under contract to Anheiser Busch. Our program was called Masters of the Wind. I have trained many species including Golden Eagle, Bald Eagle, Mexican Eagle ( Caracara), Eurasian Eagle Owl, Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Barn Owl, Screech Owl, Red Tail Hawk, Osprey, Mississippi Kite, Swallowtail Kite, Peregrine Falcon , American Kestrel , Merlin, Harris' Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture and others. I have experienced additional species with falconer friends and their birds. Over 30 years has offered me many opportunities to become hands on with quite a few raptors.
His first birds and the start of “Woodland Hills Birds of Prey”
My first hunting bird was a Red Tail Hawk named Duster. My second falconry bird was a Harris ' Hawk named Terra. She lived for 32 years before passing from a stroke. She was one of the 10 oldest living Harris' Hawks in all of North America at her passing. I volunteered time at several rehabilitation centers that I could better learn species identification and medical treatments. Then I'd assist them with captures and general handling...feeding...etc. I still do it locally.
My first owls were actually little Screech Owls...then a Barred Owl...then a Barn Owl...the Great Horned Owl arrived somewhere in there. That was our start. People started requesting programs and Woodland Hills Birds of Prey was born. Our largest crowd to date was 5000. I prefer small venues and have done groups as small as 4 or 5 people. Every program is special to us. We sell t- shirts and hats to assist in costs.
I noticed that I was gravitating towards owls more than other raptors. My Native American Sponsor did NOT support it. Owls are considered bad luck and evil to our Native Cultures. A sign of death. This troubled him greatly but I moved a direction that I was comfortable with: Owls.
To understand my sponsor and owls, one needs to research the Native American tribes. He was Cherokee. Their beliefs are deep and difficult to change. I am not a Cherokee and I do not fear the spirits that control them so being with owls has no ill effect on me. I respect their beliefs but do not fear them.
For falconry the sport is different with an owl but interesting in its own right. My favorite raptor is the Eurasian Eagle Owl. Just over 7 years ago I acquired a 38 day old owlet and named him Thorin. He is now the star of our programs and my almost daily hunting partner.
Owls speak to me...beyond my ears but to my heart. Wild owls interact with me. They visit my home/ property. I personally am kind of nocturnal so working with owls always suited my schedule.
So currently we maintain only owls at Woodland Hills Birds of Prey. We keep government permits to do what we do here. Legalities are strict. I can have other raptors and was offered a Golden last year but that’s a bird needing one on one attention. I refused.
Helping wildlife rehabbers
First I need to say that we are not wildlife rehabbers. In the USA that is a different kind if wildlife permit also highly regulated. I assist rehabbers when I can within my skill set. My government permits are for sport falconry and exhibition.
Most rehabbers keep adult females on hand of certain species. Chicks are adopted to mom bird and raised in captive state. Flight cages allow for hunt training. If healthy they are released when catching food in their own. It works well.
In the USA each state has their own laws regarding raptors. Some , I am told do not allow rehab there but it's changing. If an adult bird can be fixed...they fix it for release. If a permanent injury situation they may or may not keep the bird alive. Species makes a big difference too...rarity, etc. Many are kept for educational purposes to teach in schools, etc.
You cannot legally keep a North American Raptor as a pet...but non native birds you can.
Wild raptors should be kept wild if being returned to the wild. Injury repairs and such determine this outcome. Educational birds that cannot be released need 100 % attention, repetitive training and lots of love. 2 of my current owls were wild hatched.
Shiloh – Great horned owl
Shiloh is my Great Horned Owl, I guess she is 32 years old. She was named after a horse that a girl I knew owned. She was poisoned as a first year wild bird in 1991 and I kept her all these years.
She was wild born and parent raised. In her first year she attacked a man 3 times and had to be trapped. Vet exam showed rodent poison heavily in her system. She almost died. Cataracts started forming on her one eye almost immediately. She was offered to me for educational purposes and I trained her for falconry...more or less just to keep her healthy.
Years went by and the good eye also failed. Vets wanted 10,000 American dollars to do her surgery. We could never make it happen at those prices.
She has taught thousands of people since 1991. I hand feed her everyday and handle her when she is in the mood. Her house (mew) measures 12 feet X 12 feet under the oak trees in the country. She's my Queen Bee! A great bird!
Shiloh is tattoed on my forearm.
The shield is my Wildland Firefighter Insignia.
I served for 31 years.
Thorin – Eurasian Eagle Owl
Thorin has his own story. Years back a smuggling group was bringing living owl eggs to the USA dressed up as Easter Eggs. Most eggs died. 3 were impounded in San Fransisco and suspects arrested. One egg hatched at a raptor breeding facility and the bird was named Bomber. Bomber mated with Hissey. Thorin was born just over 7 years ago. He is my pride and joy.
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