“I like working with animals rather than shooting them.”

Gill Sherry

What do you do if you’re the victim of a hit and run accident in which you lose one of your limbs? Well, if you’re Jamie Dempsey, you leave hospital within three weeks, return to work within six weeks, and then pursue your life-long dream of becoming a falconer.

Jamie was just 21 years old when he was hit by a 40-ton truck and left for dead at the side of the road. He lost his left leg below the knee as a result of the impact. However, he believed the best physiotherapy was to get home and get back to normal life.

“The mental side of it is very challenging for a lot of people, but I’d made my mind up, I’m getting over this. And I wanted to prove a point to my father. He was really hurt by what happened to me, so I was really set to get on with things and to make him proud.”

He certainly did that. In fact, since the accident in 2001, Jamie has helped countless people in similar situations.

“I like to help a lot of people. I do a lot of stuff like go to hospitals and help amputees, take people to the gym and help them to walk and stuff like that. I like to give people encouragement. That’s something I’ve always liked to do.”

As a child, Jamie was raised in the family home at Culzean and attended Maidens Primary School and Carrick Academy. His father wanted Jamie to follow in his footsteps and become one of the gamekeepers at Culzean, but Jamie had other ideas.

“I got to an age where I realised I didn’t like pointing a gun to animals, so I came away from that side of things. I think I inherited my mum’s soft side. I like working with animals rather than shooting them.”

At the time of the accident, Jamie had just secured a full-time position as a greenkeeper at Turnberry and was able to return to the job with a new prosthetic limb. But he soon realised there was too much walking involved. Fortuitously, another opportunity was just around the corner (literally) with Turnberry Adventures, and Jamie jumped at the chance to get involved with the falconry.

“I was born into it so it’s second nature. I picked it up really quickly and started doing falconry shows full-time. I worked there for two or three years and then had the opportunity to take over the birds.”

At one point Jamie had 53 birds, but due to a downturn in the economy, didn’t have the income to sustain the business.

“I ran the falconry up to 2017 but then took a break from it. It was just the way things were, it was time to call it a day. I built a successful lodge business and became a fully qualified sky diver.”

For a minute, I think I’ve misheard him. His mischievous grin tells me I haven’t.

“Some friends asked me to do a tandem sky dive. I’m terrified of planes and I’m terrified of heights. I couldn’t sleep for a week!”

Jamie went on to do 187 jumps only stopping when forced to do so by the pandemic.

“I never got to sky dive after that, but I’m a qualified sky diver now. I love that kind of thing. If I’m not doing something exciting, I’m bored.”

Jamie spent the next six years doing a variety of different things but his passion was falconry and he missed his birds. So, spurred on by a day out watching the birds of prey at Blair Drummond Safari Park, he began to think about returning to the sport.

“I left that day thinking about it, went home, and then the next day I drove down to Maidens and bumped into Raphael from Case Sport. He said, ‘Just the man we’re looking for!’”

Co-incidentally, Case Sport, the company now managing Turnberry Adventures, had discussed the possibility of Jamie reintroducing falconry at the resort. Jamie couldn’t have been happier.

“I met up with Andrew Case, we got chatting, and we came to the agreement that we’d build a place here for the birds. I’m super-excited.”

Jamie is hoping the new falconry will be open by the end of February and he plans to offer various experiences including falconry introductions and hawk walks. In the meantime, it’s all about the birds.

“I have 11 now. I have two golden eagles, Harris’s Hawks, falcons and owls.”

Jamie’s face lights up as he begins to talk about the birds and how he spends his days.

“Generally… you’re up at eight in the morning, the birds are out onto the lawn, you have to do all the cleaning and the food prep. One thing you have to do is weight management because all the birds have a flying weight. One of the falcons flies at 2lbs and 12oz and I maintain that flying weight each day. If I was to feed that bird too much today, then tomorrow it won’t fly because it’s not keen enough. You have to maintain the weight. It’s not starving or hungry… birds of prey in the wild will go up to two weeks without food, that’s why their life spans are not as long as the ones in falconries.”

He goes on to tell me that golden eagles can live in the wild for up to 40 years. This increases to 60 years for those in captivity. Similarly, falcons in the wild will live for around 15 years, depending on how successful they are at hunting, whereas those in a falconry will live for 30 years.

“A bird of prey will spend over 20 hours a day just sitting in a tree. When you see a bird of prey flying in the wild, it looks majestic, it looks beautiful… but it’s only up there for one reason, because it’s hungry. It will not waste its energy, it’s out there because it’s looking for its next dinner. This is why they gorge themselves, they eat as much as they possibly can because they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”

Unlike in a falconry where the birds receive regular but varied meals including all of the necessary nutrients.

“You’re working with the bird, not against it,” he confirms. “Owls love being petted, they love the attention. Hawks and falcons are different. The relationship is hunting and flying, that’s it. They are never pets. The only domestication you can do is train them, contain them and get them flying.”

Apparently, by the time the young birds are fully fledged at around 16 weeks old, Jamie already has them flying.

“I’ve raised them,” he says. “I’ve imprinted them. You teach them to jump before they fly and then you just work from there.”

I can’t get the thought of their sharp beaks and powerful talons out of my head and ask if that poses a risk.

“You could get a nick or a scratch… but the only scratches I’ve got on my hands are from the cat! You get to a point where the birds are absolutely sound with you.”

At the mention of talons, however, he has more information to share, using his own clenched fist to demonstrate.

“A golden eagle’s talons have 15 times more crushing power. That’s how they can take down a deer. The power is unbelievable.”

One of the things he loves about falconry, he says, is sharing information with others.

“I just like to give as much information about birds of prey as I possibly can. There’s so much to tell people. When I sky dive and I pull my parachute at 3,500 feet, it comes to my mind that a golden eagle at that height can see a white Arctic hare in the snow, blinking. How they can see that? For me, it’s all about seeing the smile on people’s faces, that’s the number one thing for me. That’s the reward in the falconry business.”

I must admit, hearing all about the birds of prey whilst surrounded by fields and woodland, I can certainly understand the appeal of falconry. So what advice does he have for those interested in taking up the sport?

“To learn the fundamental skills of falconry, it’s always best to spend some time with somebody who has a good deal of experience. And do not get a bird of prey unless you are prepared to give that bird your time every single day… just like a farmer who has to be there for his animals.”

It’s been an absolute pleasure chatting to Jamie and hearing all about his plans for the new falconry. But it’s not just the birds he’s passionate about, his home is just as important.

“I got the chance to leave Turnberry about 20 years ago and be head falconer on the east coast of Scotland… but I couldn’t see a tree for miles! It was too bare and too open. I’m a home bird, I love it here. And you just can’t beat the west coast, it has the best sunsets!”

I can’t argue with that!

As I say farewell to Jamie, he has these final words to share: “The accident wasn’t the end of my life, it was the start of my life. I think I was dragging my feet before… and then, for some reason, it woke me up. I’ve done so much with my life.”

For more information or to arrange your own falconry experience, visit www.casesportatturnberry.com