In the small town of Anna Paulowna in the northern part of the Netherlands, kids are studying to become falconers. Dutch photographer Loek Buter first noticed some of these young trainers at a local bird show, totally unafraid and completely comfortable with the hawks and owls on their arms. Vogelkinderen, which translates to “bird children,” is Buter’s portrait series of the children training under falconer Karel Geurts. All between the ages of nine and 15, they spend much of their free time after school, on the weekends, and even on vacation, working with the birds. Here, Buter shares some of his favorite images.
Photo: Rik knew he wanted to become a falconer from the moment he trained his cockatiel to fly from the bed to the desk in his bedroom. His Red-tailed hawk is named Katana after the Japanese word for sword, which he decided on after feeling the sharpness of the bird’s talons.
Nick in the open field with his hawk Myra. Nick knows a lot about birds, as do all of the other falconers-in-training. They are like walking Wikipedia pages of bird knowledge, rattling off everything from Latin names to attack speeds.
Lisa with a barn owl named Snoepie. Directing the bird and the child was always a challenge for this project. I tried to wait for a moment in which the thoughts of the bird and the kid seemed to connect. But when a rabbit or a sparrow would zip by, the bird would get overexcited and we had to start all over again.
Many of the children own the birds they’re training, as Dave does his barn owl Tristan. Owls like these are common first birds to train as they have a reputation for being easy to get along with. Dave’s bond with the bird was palpable, and he was quick to call it one of his closest friends.
Angie, here with Myra, is the daughter of the group’s falconry teacher Karel Geurts. She grew up with birds from a very young age. What struck me most was that these children spent all their time outdoors taking care of animals instead of caring about their Instagram or Facebook profiles.
Ruben holding an American Kestrel called Milou.
Tim with his Red-tailed hawk, Tatjana. Tim owns several birds and has started his own business showing off his birds and their abilities throughout the country.
Kevin holding a Bengal Eagle Owl named Boedah. This image is a success for me as it shows the calmness between the bird and the child through their eyes and posture, which was a goal from the onset.
Falconry is a tradition that goes back to nearly 2000 B.C. In this image of Sheila holding a Barn Owl called Liam, I felt a sense of timelessness, a connection between men and animals going back a long time.