For those of you who are not familiar with the term jesses, it is a falconry term. Jesses are traditionally made out of leather and falconers use it to tether a hawk or falcon. Now in modern days, many wildlife education facilities use jesses to attach a leash for use during handling when they have a raptor on the glove. I have worked with three different wildlife education facilities over the past five years, and all three places had different philosophies about the use of jesses.
Jesses are typically placed on raptors otherwise known as birds of prey, which include owls, falcons, hawks, and eagles. Some facilities also place jesses on larger corvids like crows, ravens, and blue jays. I know that some facilities disagree with the use of jesses on corvids because they have weaker legs. Those places either don’t use the corvid for the glove or they present the bird on the glove without any restraints.
In Europe, some falconers and wildlife educators are heavy handed, in other words, they use the glove and jesses to “throw” the raptor during flight shows. They “throw” the raptor to guide it in the direction they want it to fly in and to signal the raptor that it is time for the next step in the flight routine.
As you can see in the picture of Nelson below he is wearing dark brown leather jesses and a braided leather leash is attached. Now I do agree that there are valid reasons for the jesses and leash just as there are valid reasons for putting a collar and leash on your dog. One of the biggest is safety for both the bird and the public. If Nelson was to bait, meaning he something were to spook him then he would attempt to jump off the glove and fly away, but since he cannot fly he would just fall. This increases the safety of the public because the bird might crash into the public. Say you had a large four-pound red-tailed hawk thrashing towards the public with large talons it would not end well.
Here is a picture of Sammy who is a gray phase, Eastern Screech Owl in his enclosure wearing jesses.
Now my opinion is that jesses do serve a purpose but I believe that jesses should only be used during training and presentations. At the center, I currently work for the ambassadors, which are the animals used for presentations, wear jesses 24/7. I find some of the ambassadors pick at these jesses or the jesses get wrapped around the legs hobbling the bird when they are in their enclosures. I wish that Nelson didn’t have to wear jesses, but I am just a student at the center still learning the trade. I bet many of you have had to deal with practices that the boss implemented that you disagree with.
What do you guys think about jesses? Have you seen jesses used at zoos or wildlife education centers? Are jesses a necessary evil?