Falconry

Red Tail Hawk Buteo jamaicensis in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Red Tail Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis, North American native (photo: Kathy Diemer)

I recently attended an event featuring birds of prey interacting with humans; a demonstration to illustrate the tradition called falconry.  In simple terms, falconry is the practice of using a trained raptor (falcons, which attack in flight and hawks, that catch prey on the ground) to hunt game in the wild.  Ancient records indicate that falconry was developed throughout the Middle East, Europe and Asia, dating back to 2000 B.C.   With the introduction of firearms, falconry began to decline during the 17th century. However, since the early 1900’s it has once again become a popular sport in the U.S. and Europe.  Falconry is legal in the U. S., with the exception of Hawaii and the District of Columbia.  A falconer must have a state and federal license, which involves serving as an apprentice (with licensed falconer) for two years, passing written tests and having their facility inspected to meet all health and safety requirements.

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus, found almost worldwide (photo: Kathy Diemer)

The decision to become a falconer is not to be taken lightly; requiring a commitment to provide the best care possible at all times, while understanding that falcons and hawks are not to be treated as pets.  Centuries old breeding and training techniques were considered essential to saving many raptors from extinction (as many as 30 -70% of all juvenile hawks and falcons die in their first year), and many of these methods remain virtually unchanged today. The belief is that through effective conditioning the hawk or falcon will accept the falconer as a “partner” during hunting practices, without sacrificing its natural instincts.

Harris's Hawk Parabuteo unicinctus in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Harris’s Hawk, Parabuteo unicinctus, Southwest U.S. native (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Training methods are complex, starting with the initial period called “manning” where the raptor learns to overcome its fear of humans while becoming accustomed to taking food from the handler.  The first days involve many hours on the part of bird and falconer, using repetition, positive reinforcement and food.  At this time, the bird learns the association of food (birds of prey require a carnivorous diet) with the handlers glove, and is encouraged to step onto the glove for food rewards.  The next phase involves allowing the bird to fly with a light line (creance), bringing it back with an enticing meal reward attached to a lure that resembles game.  In as early as three to four weeks, the raptor may be ready to fly freely to hunt with his/her handler.  This is an opportune time for the bird to fly away, but if the bond is strong between them it will return faithfully.  This bond increases with time and practice; representing a most unique relationship between human and wild animal.

Gyrfalcon Falco rusticolus in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Gyrfalcon, Falco rusticolus, largest falcon, Arctic Coast native (photo: Kathy Diemer)

For more information, terms and explanations on falconry, visit: www.ohiofalconry.org

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Comments

  1. Bravo! A breath taking view of these beautiful hunters- the Gyrfalcon is stunning!!! Keep them coming, Patty

    • Thank you, Patty! Part of me felt sad to see them in captivity, but the other part felt honored to be close enough to photograph their majestic features. Such a wonderful experience! And I truly appreciate your kind words, as well~

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