Seeing past the setback, an engineer turned falconer


Photos courtesy of Winged Solutions

Ken Miknuk (1980's) spent most days of his childhood outdoors, hiking with his best friend Jeff. “…One day Jeff said, ‘Hey there’s a guy who has a hawk in his backyard and he lets it go and it comes back.’ And I told Jeff he was full of [it.] So we walked down to the guy’s house… and he explained what falconry is and it was just something that had to be.”

But Ken wasn’t always on track to become a falconer. As a student at Fresno State during the 1980’s, Ken studied mechanical engineering and worked to support his three children. After graduation, he was hired by Old Navy as a material-handling engineer.

Shortly after, Ken was diagnosed with Central Serous Retinopathy (CSR), an eye condition that causes migraines as a result of extensive reading and concentration. His engineering career quickly came to an end, making Old Navy’s Pacific Distribution Center, located just four miles southeast of Fresno State, his very last engineering project.

Life dealt Ken a bad hand, but he learned to count the cards. He knew he could make something of his love for falconry and decided to go all in.

“One day my wife and I were in the car and I was just pissed off. And she said, ‘…Let’s invest our life savings and our children’s future and go for it.’… Now, she’s retired and I have ten huge accounts.”

Ken’s business, Winged Solutions, focuses on abatement, entertainment, and education. For a few months out of the year, he and his team fly their birds at resorts and golf courses that struggle with excessive amounts of pest birds.

“It’s analogous to if you were swimming in a pool and saw a shark. You would be motivated to find a new pool. So that’s what we accomplish by flying falcons.”

They also work to enhance the guest experience by giving educational ‘hawk talks.’ One guest, Dave Hathaway, the then project engineer for the LA Football Club (LAFC) stadium, came to Ken with the idea of making one of his falcons the club symbol.

A few days later, Ken spoke with LAFC’s owner and President Tom Penn who arranged for a private flight demonstration.

“…They reserved the Coliseum for me, the freaking Coliseum — it was so cool.”

“All the VP’s and owners came out and saw the falcon fly…and I said, ‘…You’ve got four weeks to sign a contract because the babies are being born and I need to buy them and raise them specifically for this.’ And we had a signed contract in four weeks, which is unheard of in that industry.”

Now, at every home match, Ken and his birds perform a pregame show. The falcon makes several passes across the stadium, attempting to attack a revolving lure decorated with the opposing team’s crest.

“Her top speed at a dive inside the stadium is 88 mph,” says Ken. “You hear the crowd freaking out the entire flight.”

On top of entertainment, Ken devotes a lot of his time to education.

Similar to his ‘hawk talks,’ he gives lectures and demonstrations at elementary schools while seamlessly integrating science lessons.

“You come in for one hour and you are just the coolest person on the planet, I mean they are just in awe. And it’s meaningful.”

Knowing that his work addresses important and powerful issues, such as evolution and the environment, Ken hopes to continue educating young minds and says it is one of “the most empowering feeling[s]… [he’s] ever had in [his] life.”

While falconry may not have been the path he thought he would take, every detour has changed his life for the better.

“I got the CSR…we lost our only source of income….had the whole pity party…and as it turned out, it was one of the best things that could have happened to our lives. You don’t always know good luck when it knocks on your front door.”

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