Southern California / USA

Falconry Experience at Catalina Island

The falconry experience at Catalina Island was one of the first things I booked for my recent trip in May. I love animals and take any chance I can to learn about them. I’m happy to say that my expectations for this adventure were very much exceeded. From the insanely beautiful park setting at Descanso Beach to the friendly and knowledgable instructor, I loved every part of my experience with the falcons of Catalina Island. Below is a summary of what I experienced as well as some tips on what to expect if you’re considering booking the experience for yourself.

Falconry Experience sign at Descanso Canyon

How Long is the Falconry Experience at Catalina Island?

I booked the first time slot of the day at 9:45am, and it was listed as a 75 minute experience online. In reality it ended up being about 2 hours, but that’s because our group was having such a great time towards the end. We could’ve left early if we were on a tight schedule, but we weren’t so we stuck around until the very end. We were also advised at time of booking that we needed to arrive 20 minutes early, so in the end we were at the falconry experience from 9:25am to 11:45am.

Grass and cabanas at Descanso beach
View of the cabanas at Descanso Beach across the grass

Where to Meet the Group

The meeting point for the Falconry Experience at Catalina Island is just past Descanso Beach Club. From the Avalon port, head towards the round, iconic Casino building. Continue past the casino and you will see beautiful Descanso Beach Club, a private beach where you can rent cabanas and chaise lounge chairs for the day. Just up the walking path, past Descanso Beach, you will see the check-in area for the Falconry Experience. In this area you will see check-in booths for some of the other day activities offered at Catalina, like the Zip Line Eco Tour and the Aerial Adventure. There is a restroom located right near the check-in as well.

Check in area with information
Check in booth

How Many People Are on the Tour?

There were 12 people on the tour I booked, and it was a sunny Saturday in late May. I saw a large group lined up and waiting for the next tour after mine as I was leaving, so I think if you’re looking to book a less crowded time slot, go with the morning time slot. I chose the morning tour to avoid crowds, but also because I wanted to see the animals before they got tired or before the day got too hot. It turns out I was correct about avoiding the heat, but I did learn that they rotate out the birds for tours, so the birds flying in the morning experience will be different than the ones in the afternoon experience.

Holding a falcon at Descanso Beach
Falcon Experience Instructor Dave

What to Expect for the Falconry Experience at Catalina Island

The Flying Demonstration

Our instructor Dave met our group at the check in area, and he had a beautiful white spotted falcon with him. We all stood on the grass and listened to Dave’s introduction about the falconry program at Catalina. He then introduced us to the bird and gave a demonstration of her flying abilities. She flew above us over the grass area, and even parked herself on a post under the shady trees while we saw 2 bald eagles fly overhead! Once the bald eagles were out of sight, our falcon came back out and played a bit of a game with Dave by trying to catch a lure.

Standing on the grass at Descanso Beach during the Falconry Experience at Catalina Island.
View of the ocean during the falconry experience

Flying the Hawk

The best part of the Falconry Experience at Catalina Island was getting to fly the hawk. We were introduced to a beautiful Harris hawk named Willow, and given a bit history and instructions on what to do next. I was wondering how our group of 12 would all get to participate in the activity, but our instructor Dave already had it planned out. He had us split up into groups of two, and then the groups spread out in far corners of the grass area. Each pair was equipped with a falconry glove.

When it was my turn to interact with the hawk, I put the glove on and the instructor’s assistant came around to hand me a bird treat. I then held out my glove with the treat enclosed in my hand, called the bird’s name, and in flew Willow, gliding along with her impressive wingspan. She landed effortlessly on my glove, her large talons holding on tight, while she found her treat in my glove. I got to balance her there for a bit while my husband got some photos. When it was the next person’s turn, they called Willow and off she went. We took turns doing this until everyone had a chance to participate.

Falconry Experience with a Harris Hawk at Catalina Island
Flying the Harris Hawk named Willow

Meeting Other Awesome Birds

After the Harris hawk had visited everyone in the group, we were then led to another close by area where our instructor Dave introduced us to a few more beautiful birds they keep for the conservancy program. I’m sure the birds shown during this part of the experience vary per time of year, but during mine we got to see two Lannner falcons and an Eagle-owl. Dave held on to these birds and brought them around to each of us so we could pet them. One of the falcons was still baby with some down feathers here and there. He was so cute, and Dave let us know that we were helping the baby get used to humans by petting him. We pet the owl as well and got to pose next to him for some pictures.

This was a great part of the tour, and a chance to ask all the questions that hadn’t yet been answered. Dave had another tour starting after ours, but he didn’t rush us at all and took the time to show everyone the birds and answer all the questions. You could really tell that he cares very much for the birds and loves educating others about them. There was a table with some souvenirs and a tip jar. It was cash only, so be sure to bring some cash if you want to take home a souvenir! I bought a cap that says Catalina Falconry on it. I had a wonderful experience and would recommend the Falconry Experience at Catalina Island to anyone, all ages included.

Meeting other birds at the Falconry Experience at Catalina Island
Introducing the group to the owl

What to Bring and Wear on the Falconry Experience at Catalina Island

  • Hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. You will be standing in the sun for the entire experience.
  • Comfortable shoes. You will be standing most of the time, and on grass, so flat shoes are recommended.
  • Water or snacks if needed. I didn’t see any water fountains nearby. If absolutely needed, the Descanso bar and restaurant is nearby, but I would come prepared with your own water.
  • Weather appropriate clothing, depending on the season during which you’re visiting. You will be outside the entire time, so be sure to dress reasonably.
  • Cash for a tip for the instructor and extra if you want to purchase any souvenirs at the end of the experience.
  • Camera. There are some great photo opps on this experience!
Holding a falcon
Up close with a falcon

Where to Book Your Catalina Falconry Experience

It’s recommended to book your spot ahead of time online for the Falconry Experience. Head to the Visit Catalina Website to sign up. The dates and times offered may vary by season, so be sure to check early and see if the experience will be operating during your visit. If you’re booking a weekend like I did, be sure you grab the early time slot for the best chance at beating the crowds.

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Catalina Island Falconry Experience
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