Lauren McGough has always been interested in birds. Growing up in Oklahoma, she spent time bird-watching. She also read about people who hunted with birds during the Middle Ages.
“A lot of falconers will tell you that we were born falconers but just didn’t know it,” McGough told TIME for Kids. “Something had to spark that realization that this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.”
That spark came when McGough was 14. A library book inspired her. It was called A Rage for Falcons. The book is about modern falconry in America. “It seemed like such a crazy idea to have a bird of prey be a willing hunting companion to humans,” McGough said. After training for seven years, she became a master falconer.
Falconry has existed for thousands of years. One of the oldest kinds is hunting with golden eagles. It began in Mongolia, in Central Asia. McGough went there to learn the practice.
Traditionally, eagle hunters are men. But McGough was welcomed when she arrived in Mongolia. “I think they were happy that someone was interested in learning,” she said.
Training an eagle takes months. Hunters must build trust with a bird. “These animals are very independent and capable of living by themselves,” McGough said. “My goal is to convince the eagle that life is better with my help.”
McGough worked with a 2-year-old eagle named Alema. She trained Alema by hand-feeding and rewarding her. Alema was released into the wild once McGough finished her training.
Now, McGough rehabilitates injured eagles in the United States and South Africa. She is excited for the future of falconry. “Once you know about falconry, you start noticing all kinds of birds around you,” she says.