Couples across the United States are hiring birds of prey as ring bearers for their weddings.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the use of hawks, falcons, and other birds of prey as ring-bearers has become popular among animal-loving brides, renaissance fair buffs, and Harry Potter-lovers who developed a fervent adoration for owls thanks to Hedwig from the series.
“Harry Potter obviously did something for this line of work,” falconer Jonathan Gonzalez told the outlet. Gonzalez is one of several falconers across the US who have begun to market their services to love birds far and wide. He owns Raptor Events - a business based in Long Beach, California - that offers all sorts of raptors and reptiles for educational shows as well as a variety of events including birthdays and weddings.
Gonzalez has been working with birds since high school, and decided to pursue a career working with raptors after graduation. He pursued an apprenticeship and later obtained a license from the state of California that allowed him possess and train raptors.
He told the outlet that he prices typically wedding services at $1,200, not including travel costs. He noted that he typically uses either his lanner falcon Marty or Eurasian eagle owls, such as Ollie or Marvin, for the job. The birds are trained to fly on queue down the aisle to the arm of a bride, groom, or other member of a wedding party. The birds also do a meet-and-greet after the ceremony. His birds participate in four to five weddings a year, and thus far, all have gone well.
“They have never gotten poop on a dress,” he quipped. To avoid any surprise droppings, Gonzalez said he tries to avoid feeding the birds before the ceremony. After they complete their tasks, he noted that he prefers to treat them with quail meat to avoid smellier options like dead mice.
He said his strategy is to blend in with the guests throughout the ceremony, but when it’s showtime for the birds, he takes off their hoods and lets them fly. The rings are usually safe and secure in a pouch tied to a contraption attached to the raptor’s ankle. He encourages his clients to place fake wedding rings inside instead of the real ones just in case the birds take off to the sky and never come back. Thankfully, this hasn’t happened, according to Gonzalez.
One client, Jessica Huete, told WSJ that she and her husband opted to trust Marty the falcon with their real rings for their San Diego wedding ceremony. She said: “We said: ‘It’ll be a sign if he flies off.’”
Another couple erred on the side of caution for their medieval-themed wedding, and chose to use fake rings for the ceremony. The bride, Christina Hermon-Hayes, told the outlet that it felt like the right decision for them at the time. She recalled that their ringbearer falcon “had like a tiny bit of stage fright for like five seconds,” she said. “Then he swooped really low, right in between the guests.’’
Not only do these unique twists on the wedding ceremony set the event apart, but it’s also an opportunity for people to inadvertently learn about raptor conservation, Michele Losee - who runs the nonprofit International Raptor and Falconry Center - said to the outlet.
“They think they’re being cool,” Losee explained. “But really they’re leaving with a whole lot more knowledge about what they can do with raptors.”