Falconry, also known as hawking, is a form of hunting which involves the use of trained hawks and falcons to prey on other animals. Falconry may be considered one of the oldest sports, dating back over 4,000 years ago in Egypt and China that is still practiced today. Falconry was considered a status symbol, restricted to noble classes, in medieval Europe and a way of obtaining food. Falconry still exists today with more than 3,800 licensed falconers in the United States.
Historically, falconry was not only a popular sport but was considered a status symbol among the aristocracy of medieval Europe. Legend has it that a Persian King watched a falcon kill another bird and ordered his men to capture the falcon. The king kept the falcon with him at all times, learned many lessons from it and was considered the first falconer. The origin of falconry can be traced back to 2000 BC through ancient writings, drawings and artifacts. There is debate as to when and where falconry originated, however, some historians place its origin in Asia around the second century A.
D. and then spread west, while other historians place the origin in Arabia or the Middle East based on records dated 8,000 BC, found of a king who used birds of prey. It is known that by the fourth century, falconry had spread through Western Europe and Britain. Most of the information about falconry comes from its popularity in medieval Europe and the Middle East during the middle ages. The sport of falconry began to decline in popularity during the 1700 and 1 +-*. 800s because of the decline of nobility and the increased use of firearms to kill animals for food and for sport.
However, by the 1900s, its popularity was renewed and the largest falconry association, the Peregrine Blub was established in the United States. Falconry is now legal in the United States in all states except Hawaii and the District of Columbia. State and federal licenses are required to practice this sport. Falconry not only exists today in the United States but also is practiced throughout the world. Originally, the purpose of falconry was to obtain food to eat, however, nobility (Kings of Britain, Russian Czars and the Holy roman Emperors) shifted this purpose to one of social entertainment.
Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Sicily and Jerusalem was considered to be the greatest falconer of the medieval age. Falconry became so popular that it became regulated with a strict set of customs called the Laws of Ownership. These laws dictated what type of birds could be owned by various social ranks. The table shown below gives a partial listing of social rank and appropriate bird. There were also severe punishments including time in jail to anyone who harmed a falcon’s bird nest, eggs, and young or took a falcon from the wild that did not belong to you.
One of the most severe punishments was given to a person who flew a bird above what your rank permitted. This punishment was having your hand cut off. Social rank and appropriate bird (adapted from original table) King| Gyr Falcon| Prince| Peregrine Falcon| Knight| Saker| Squire| Lanner| Lady| Female Merlin| Priest| Female Sparrowhawk| Knaves, servants, children| Kestrel| Adapted from The Ancient Art of Falconry The players in this sport are the falconer and his or her raptor. The falconer is the person that handles or trains the raptor.
Their principle responsibilities were to ensure that his master’s birds of prey, raptors, were fully trained, well-fed and ready to hunt when called upon. The raptor is a bird of prey with a hooked beak for tearing meat, and powerful, hooked talons for grasping and holding prey. Not all raptors are suitable for falconry. Suitable raptors can be grouped by the way they are flown at the prey and are divided into three categories: broad-winged hawks, short-wing hawks and long-wing hawks. The broad-wing hawks (Buteos) include the Golden Eagles, Buzzards and Harris hawk that hunt rabbits and other ground game.
They are also known as the “bombers”. The short-wing hawks (Accipiters) are used to hunt other birds in wooded or bushy terrain and include goshawks. They are called the “attack helicopters. ” The long-winged hawks, considered the “true” falcons, are considered the “fighter jets. ” They hunt other birds, such as waterfowl in open country. The Peregrine Falcons, Gyrfalcon, Lanner Falcon and the American Kestrel are included in this group. The different physical characteristics of these raptors allow the hunter to vary his or her hunting method.
Each of the various physical characteristics allows adaptation to their hunting environment. The buteos will usually perch in high trees and then dive on the prey out in the open, hence the name “bomber”. Because the Accipiters have short wings, they can easily maneuver and can chase their prey through the various terrains, similar to “attack helicopters. ” The long-winged hawks, “fighter jets”, circle hundreds of feet in the air and then stoop at very high speeds (averaging 25-34 mph and reaching up to 200 mph) to knock their prey out of the sky using their feet as fists.
Broad-winged-buzzardShort-winged-Goshawk Long-winged-Peregrine Falconmonacoeye. com goshawk dove4. jpg mysideofthemountain. wikispaces. com The relationship between the falconer and raptor is very important and training a falcon is not easy. Although the raptor is not a pet, it is trained to accept the presence of their trainer in their natural pursuit of prey. Great skill and patience is involved when training falcons. A falcon responds to its trainer not out of affection or fear but out of the association of a trainer to its only source of food.
The first stage of training is called manning. In this stage, the tethered raptor becomes accustomed to being handled and eating food from a gloved hand. During the next stage, a tethered raptor is rewarded with food for flying short distances and returning. The use of a hood on the bird kept the bird calm and prevents distractions while it is preparing to fly. Once a tethered raptor has learned to fly to his trainer consistently, the raptor can be brought out to an open meadow where they are taught to rise from the owner’s wrist on command and gain the experience of hunting.
The introduction to the swing-lure is part of this next phase of training. A string is attached to one of the bird’s claws and the bird had circled around it would be reeled in at the falconer’s command. When the raptor makes a kill, the reward is only a small piece of the kill because only hungry raptors hunt. If the raptor is not hungry, it is possible that it will not return to the falconer. One of the misconceptions is that the raptor will bring back its kills to the falconer.
The falconer must find his raptor; some use a dog as part of the team, and exchanges a fresh piece of meat for the catch. irportjournals. com Falconry became popular again in America in 1920 after an issue in the National Geographic Magazine published an article “Falconry, the sport of Kings”. Unfortunately, just as interest in falconry was peaking, the raptors were beginning to die due to synthetic chemical poisons such as DDT. This poison caused reproductive failure in many of the raptor birds including the peregrine falcon. The United States banned the use of DDT and enacted the Endangered Species Act that gave protection to some bird species including the Peregrine Falcon.
Two U. S. falconers, Tom Cade and Heinz Meng, began a captive-breeding program to lead repopulation efforts of these endangered species. Their program has been very successful by breeding and releasing thousands of peregrines. The practice of modern day falconry is very similar to traditional falconry with some minor modifications. These modifications include: use of transmitters, type of birds used and the ability to use captive-breed birds. Often transmitters are now placed on the falcon in order to help a falconer locate his bird from several miles away.
The type of birds used in modern falconry has increased. Birds such as the Red-Tail and Harris’ Hawk are two new additions that have been successfully used. Finally, ancient falconry required that a falconer trap his own bird from the wild. Today, falconers have the ability to selectively breed and hybridize their own birds. This came about during the time of repopulation efforts of the endangered Peregrine Falcon. Modern day falconry is currently being practiced in many countries around the world including the United States and is legal in all states except Hawaii and in the District of Columbia.
The biggest change from traditional falconry is the restraints and legalities under which falconers must practice their sport. A falconer must possess both a state and federal license in addition to serving as an apprentice for 2 years under a licensed falconer. Only at this time, can the falconer possess either an American kestrel or a red-tailed hawk legally. Presently, there are over 10,000 licensed falconers in the United States. Falconry seems like a very interesting sport that I would definitely be interested in learning more about. If I had enough money and time, I might consider becoming a falconer as one of my hobbies.