Falconry Part 1: Origins and Applications
Falconry is a sport that involves the training of birds of prey to hunt game for their trainers. Although not all birds of prey are falcons, the previous use of the term “hawker” when hawks were used for hunting has come to commonly be used as a term describing traveling traders. For this reason the term “hawker” has fallen into disuse, with “falconer” and “falconry” applying to the sport irrespective of the species of bird used.
It is not entirely clear when and where the sport of falconry started, but the most widely held view is that it began in Central Asia and the Middle East, possibly as long ago as 1000 BC. In the Middle Ages (5th to 15th century) falconry became a status symbol, as it was only the noble classes that could afford the time, money and space necessary to raise and train birds of prey. In Japan, the issue of status went so far as to place restrictions on who was permitted to hunt and which animals could be hunted, all based on rank within the Samurai – the military nobility.
There are several categories of raptor that are suitable for use in falconry. These are grouped into three classes: broadwings (eagles, buzzards and Harris hawks); longwings (falcons); shortwings (accipiters – commonly goshawks and sparrowhawks).
Falconry is currently practiced worldwide, although not always for the original purpose of hunting game. Falconry techniques are used fairly extensively in bird abatement – eradicating birds that pose a threat to human endeavors or profits such as farming, high air traffic areas where birds can cause airplane crashes and from factories that need to be contamination free.
Falconry techniques are invaluable in the field of raptor rehabilitation, where injured or sick birds of prey are nursed back to health with the goal of returning them to their natural habitat. During convalescence a bird’s muscles often atrophy, and falconry techniques are used to exercise the birds in preparation for their release.
If you have the opportunity of attending a display of raptors being put through their paces by a falconer, you are sure to be awe-struck by the abilities of these amazing birds as they soar upwards until they are a speck in the sky and then swoop down at lightning speed to accurately catch a small piece of meat tossed into the air. Then you will understand why many call falconry an art.