In the photo: Falconer kneeling in the forest with a Harris’s hawk, Bea, showing the bird’s relaxed demeanor post-hunt, illustrating a successful example of animal Reiki and trust-building in falconry.
Animals have always made more sense to me than humans, particularly birds, so it comes as no surprise to anyone in my life that I am a licensed falconer and certified in the Let Animals Lead® method of animal reiki. In May of 2023, I was given a Harris’s hawk, Bea, that was deemed “too difficult” for several other falconers to work with. The difficult behaviours that she came to me with included fearful reactions toward humans, self-harm, and hypervigilance. Fear and anxiety are the energy that Bea emanated when I got her. She had a tendency to pluck her feathers out, bate/jump away from my glove when I approached her with it, and would not stand on the glove if I was moving in any way, even if it was only to shift my weight.
The simple fact that she had been handed off by several falconers before she made it to me is enough to initiate anxiety in any creature that depends on social bonds. This is not to place blame on anyone because her behaviours were honestly quite challenging to manage. If I am being honest, Bea’s behaviours initially made me want to give up on her as well. However, Harris’s hawks are “most sociable than birds of prey…often seen in groups of three or more”. In the context of falconry, the falconer becomes the hawk’s hunting group. In his book “Understanding the Hand Me Down Harris’”, Eiser reiterates that “we must remind ourselves that the [hand me down Harris’] has dealt with at least 1 other trainer. If bating out of fear, earn her trust, be her partner, DNA dictates she needs this” (Eiser, 2019, p.30). Bea was absolutely bating and plucking out of fear because this bird’s trust had been broken by all the humans that had handled her before me. Therefore, I knew that my first step in working with this beautiful predator was to calm her fearful behaviours by establishing trust.
Animal Reiki for Animal Wellness: A Journey of Healing and Transformation for Bea
If I am being honest, Bea’s behaviours initially made me want to give up on her. She did not seem happy and I did not feel equipped to work with her particular quirks. It has been said that “everything the [hand me down Harris’” has experienced, good and bad, is a mystery to be solved” (Eiser, 2019, 16). Once I was able to determine that trust was the missing piece of the puzzle, that became my focus. This is where reiki came into play.
At this time, I was on a leave from my work and focusing my energy on learning animal reiki, which “is an energetic way to connect with animals…that allows them to relax and feel safe enough for their bodies and minds to begin healing from within”. It is a hands-off, compassion-based meditative practice that is invitational and can “help domestic animals—pets, rescues, and shelter animals—but it can also help wild animals”. Bea is not technically wild, as she was captive-born but she is still a hawk…a raptor…a dinosaur. One evening, after another frustrating training session, I decided to put Bea back into her house and offer some reiki to this dinosaur as I stood outside of her space. To my surprise, she fell asleep while I was practicing! From that moment on, I was committed to continuing my reiki practice with Bea. Before starting the next session with Bea, I asked her if she was okay with my presence in her space. Seemingly in response, she jumped from her low perch up to her sleeping spot so I conducted the session within her space and she fell asleep again!
From Bating to Free-Flying: Bea’s Remarkable Progress Through Trust and Animal Reiki
It was clear that something was happening in these sessions. My practice with Bea continued with the 6 pillars of the Let Animals Lead® method of animal reiki guiding my way. These pillars emphasize the autonomy and power of the animal. As my practice with Bea progressed, I found that I was able to shift my weight with her on my glove without her bating out of fear. Then I could take a step, then a few steps, then a few more. Before I knew it, I had her flying on creance (long leash) to me from a distance of one meter, then 5 meters, and soon enough she was free-flying to me. She was choosing me and it was becoming easier to choose her. I am elated to say that she is now a fantastic falconry bird that flies along with me and is unbothered by dogs or humans that may also join us in the field. Her progress over the last six months has been transformational. The anxious presence that Bea once emanated is gone and, like the phoenix, a new bird has emerged from the ashes.
Conclusion: The Power of Animal Reiki and Trust
Part of her success is the establishment of trust through animal reiki. I believe that another aspect contributing to her success has been the power of reiki itself. Though not every aspect of reiki can be or has been explained cognitively, reiki has been noted to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which comes with many benefits, including decreased heart rate and cortisol levels, leading to a decrease in stress and anxiety. Truth be told, I do not need reiki to make sense to me because I have experienced its power with Bea.
By Heather Antoni
Certified Let Animals Lead® Practitioner
Lay, Jacqui. 2010. “Bird Brained ‐ The Neurology and Neurophysiology of Anxiety in Birds.” AAVAC/UEPV Annual Conference.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. n.d. “Trauma.” CAMH.
Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. 2022. “Survey on Mental Health and Stressful Events, August to December 2021.” The Daily. May 20, 2022.
“Harris’s Hawk.” n.d. Audubon.
McManus, David E. 2017. “Reiki Is Better than Placebo and Has Broad Potential as a Complementary Health Therapy.” Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine 22 (4): 1051–57.
Prasad, Kathleen. 2024. “Animal Reiki Information.” Animal Reiki Source. 2024.
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