I LOVE owls! I have long wondered how to go about owning one. Birds are fascinating creatures that have intrigued me ever since owning parrots many years ago. I am struck by how much personality can fill such tiny bodies. So, when a chance encounter in Goshen led me to meet Thomas Cullen IV, owner of Falconry Excursions. I knew I wanted to learn more about what he did. He graciously agreed to an interview to give us all a peek into his bird filled world. The visit with Tom and his flock did not disappoint in any way.
Flying High with Falconry Excursions of Goshen
The birds live with Tom at his beautiful house in Goshen, NY. From the minute we got out of the car, we were greeted by his big, friendly dogs. They did demand lots of petting and scratching before they finally let us enter the house. Once inside, my partner and I kinda forgot about Tom for a second as we were greeted by these adorable little babies on the dining room table.
We must have spent 5-10 minutes taking pictures and playing with them. After reluctantly pulling ourselves from the wobbly youngsters, we found a nice seat outside by the pond for our talk.
Tom grew up around birds. As he told us during our visit, he didn’t have much choice of doing anything else. Birds were in his blood. His father already had a long and illustrious career in falconry and started the family’s breeding operation and TC Management Company which provides pest control using their birds. As Tom put it, “we normally get called in for jobs everybody else can’t figure out”.
Starting as far back as 1996, they were called in to design and implement the JFK bird strike program. Tom Sr. was also hired by the NYC Parks Department to control and manage the Bald Eagle Release Program at Inwood Hill Park in which 15 adolescent Bald Eagles were relocated to an artificial nest in the trees of Inwood Hill Park. We can now see numerous bald eagle pairs within 50 miles of NYC with most of the birds coming from this program.
It was around this same time that Falconry Excursions was also born. Tom told us he was always having friends over to meet and fly the birds, but when he started getting calls from complete strangers to come and see the birds, seeds of the new business idea began to grow. Starting officially in 1998, Falconry Excursions has been taking people hunting with the birds for 20 years. The excursions help to introduce people to the world of falconry, giving them an amazing experience they will not soon forget. But Tom has also helped guide new falconry enthusiasts helping them learn and get licensed. Additionally, with the entertainment side of the business, his birds have appeared in commercial ads and movies as well.
As we talked, I asked Tom what was his favorite part about the business, and he quickly answered, the babies. He still really enjoys the breeding aspect and having generations of birds to raise and work with. I can certainly see that…we didn’t want to leave the house where the babies were resting ourselves. Although, when we got our next introduction, we were certainly glad we did.
Meet Machu. Machu is a Spectacled Owl which is a large tropical owl from Central and South American Rain Forests. He was so beautiful and calm, although he was just under a year old. It is surprising to hold one of these birds that look so large, yet are really only around 2lbs. Tom told us how he was full grown by only 7 weeks old, but covered in a layer of soft downy, white feathers. As cool as this bird was, it was funny to hear Tom telling us that he wasn’t very bright, especially with the wise old owl adage we all hear from childhood in our heads. Sorry to burst your bubble, we learned from the source, that is just not very true!
Next, we went to visit the large bird cages to meet the rest of the flock. We saw Woodstock, a Ural Owl, a Eurasian Eagle Owl, a beautiful bonded pair of Snowy Owls, a Steppe Eagle named Artemis, a Ferruginous Hawk, a Desert Eagle Owl, a Saker Falcon, and the beautiful Cane, an African Crowned Eagle. Tom was really great at giving us background information on the different types of birds throughout the tour. It was hugely entertaining as well as educational. After visiting all the birds he had on the property, it was finally time to fly!
We flew one of Tom’s Harris’s Hawks in the yard, back and forth to a large tree. Wearing the heavy falconry glove, it was amazing to have the bird come at Tom’s whistle right to my hand for the treat it knew would be there. I can only imagine how much cooler it must be to go out into the field and actually go hunting with them. While Tom does excursion’s year around, he told us the best time to go is during hunting season which is from September to March. The cooler days are even better for the birds so they don’t get overheated.
Finally, it was time to go. We had a great time with all the raptors, and Tom was a wealth of information. If you have ever considered owning one of these beautiful birds, going on an excursion and meeting with Tom is a great way to see if it is really something you may want to get into. According to him, the #1 thing you need is time. Or, maybe you are just looking for a new and exciting experience. Trust me, you will not be disappointed!