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With restored sight, Banner the falcon has relearned the world

  • Banner, the world-famous Lanner falcon, is doing well after the world’s first-ever falcon cataract surgery six years ago and now she sees her owner, Nancy Cowan of New Hampshire School of Falconry in Deering, as her mate.

  • Nancy Cowan, of New Hampshire School of Falconry in Deering, N.H., looks at Banner, the lanner falcon made famous for being the first of her kind to have cataract surgery in 2014. Six years on, Banner is doing well and has bonded to Cowan. “She sees me as her boyfriend, husband, whatever,” Cowan said.

  • Banner, the world-famous Lanner falcon, is doing well after the first-ever cataract surgery six years ago.

  • Banner, the world-famous Lanner falcon, is doing well after the first-ever cataract surgery six years ago and now she sees her owner, Nancy Cowan of  New Hampshire School of Falconry in Deering, as her mate.

Published: 2/9/2020 10:11:13 PM
Modified: 2/9/2020 10:11:11 PM

DEERING, N.H. — These days, when Nancy Cowan greets her famous falcon named Banner, she offers a bow and utters a little “chup” as a hello.

Banner, who went through a landmark cataract surgery in 2014, does the same in return. This bird of prey and her falconer have a unique relationship — the human saved the falcon from an early demise by insisting that Banner’s eyesight be corrected, and thanks to animal imprinting, the falcon now sees Cowan as her mate.

“She sees me as her boyfriend, husband, whatever,” explained Cowan, who runs the New Hampshire School of Falconry with her husband, Jim, on their property in Deering, N.H.

The imprinting process started after the surgery that gave Banner new lenses in her eyes so she could see again. Everything to Banner was new again and she needed to relearn the world, Cowan said.

“Banner’s eyes were very blurry because she had stitches in the eyes. She had lots of medications and stuff poured into her eyes,” Cowan said. “We got her home. We thought she could see but we weren’t sure.”

The same perch she sat on every day, the same one she could easily master without sight, became a foreign object. Even her favorite meal, a freshly plucked quail, was strange to her.

Cowan reintroduced Banner to her surroundings through her sense of touch. Once her talons touched the perch, she was able to identify it. The same went for the quail.

Months after the initial procedure, the Cowans discovered one of the implanted lenses in Banner’s eye had curled up, leaving her with enduring poor sight.

Cowan got back to work.

After a human goes through cataract surgery, a follow-up procedure using lasers to clear up any scar tissue is routine. Cowan found a doctor at Concord Eye Center willing to do the procedure and then pleaded to the New Hampshire Board of Medicine to allow a human procedure to be performed on an animal. Once again, Cowan prevailed.

After the laser cleared up her vision, Banner was seeing the world anew. That’s when she began to view Cowan as Mr. Right.

When falcons get ready to mate they will make a food transfer, Cowan explained.

“That’s the male’s job to bring food to the female,” Cowan said. In exchange, the female will offer a piece of food back to the male.

Twice a year, during the mating season for falcons, Banner will excitedly greet Cowan when she delivers a quail and offer a piece back. That was the telltale sign that Banner was in the “mood for love,” Cowan said.

Cowan is considering whether she could breed Banner, a lanner falcon, with a male gyrfalcon she has at the school. But that’s just an idea.

Besides the occasional desire for avian hanky panky, Banner’s life has mostly returned to normal for a captive bird of prey, except for one thing: She isn’t used for hunting anymore.

“If I can just handle her and have her have a happy life, interact with her as an imprint, that’s all I want to do,” Cowan said. “I’m not going to ask her to go into an environment where if she doesn’t come back to me she’s going to get killed within a day or two via great horned owl or red tailed hawk. I’m not going to ask that.”

Visitors still come to the school looking for Banner, who was quite the local celebrity after her story went international.

“It was fantastic,” Cowan said. “In London, they were very excited. It went all over the world. She’s world-famous.”

As a result of Banner’s celebrity-status and all she has learned from the bird, Cowan is working on a second book, which has the working title Eyesight and Insights, she said.

“Boy, they teach you a lot of things that you never would have suspected when you have 11 birds you’re dealing with. You really get a different viewpoint of the world than you do normally,” Cowan said. “So the insights will be there and the eyesight part is going to be about restoring Banner’s vision. And that’s a long story.”

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