Falconry Part 2: The Basics

Most falconers would agree that the ancient art of falconry requires plenty of patience, perseverance and time. Training birds of prey (raptors) is a lengthy and complex process, but can be extremely rewarding. With the goal of protecting the birds, most countries have strict laws with regard to the capturing and keeping of raptors, requiring that training be done under the supervision of a licensed falconer. When one considers that many important training details vary between species of raptors, individual raptors, as well as to where and when it is best to undertake training, it is clear that consulting a professional falconer is essential for the raptor as well as the would-be falconer.

Although most falconers are of the opinion that there is a bond of mutual trust between themselves and their birds – the bird trusting the falconer to provide food and protection and the falconer trusting the bird to come back when released – raptors are non-affectionate animals that have no ability to accept a submissive or dominant role in a relationship. Birds of prey are both intelligent and opportunistic and have come to realize that the falconer is the easiest and most dependable source of food and protection. So when a raptor obeys commands from a falconer, it is not because the bird is seeking approval, the relationship is purely a matter of convenience for the raptor. The Harris’ Hawk is the only known exception with regard to falconer-raptor relationships and is known to respond affectionately to its owner.

Many falconers recommend starting off with a kestrel (a small species of falcon) because a light weight bird is easier to handle for falconer training. For those who are serious about pursuing falconry as a sport, it is not recommended to start off with a Harris’ Hawk. The reason for this is that these birds will still hunt successfully despite any mistakes that the novice falconer may make, thereby not allowing the novice to develop true falconer skills.

If taking a bird from the wild, the best age is under a year old while in juvenile plumage. It is estimated that between 30 – 70 percent of these birds, known as passage’s, would die within their first year, so capture of a juvenile hawk does not impact on raptor populations. It is strongly suggested that birds that are in adult plumage (haggards) should not be captured. They are more difficult to train for return, and the capture of an adult bird can negatively impact the local pool of viable breeding adults. There are many pros and cons with regard to hand-rearing a fledgling (downy bird that cannot yet fly) and this should only be undertaken by experts.

Many people are under the mistaken impression that falconry is easy and an unusual way of passing the time. However, the relationship between a falconer and his bird cannot be compared to keeping a pet bird. To do justice to the art of falconry requires financial outlay, plenty of time and a deep sustained commitment. Experienced falconers agree that the effort is well worthwhile.