What is Falconry?
Falconry is the sport of pursuing live prey using a raptor bird such as a falcon, hawk, or eagle. While falconry is a sport and a hobby, it is also considered a lifestyle given the immense amount of time and energy required to become a skilled falconer. Unlike a rifle or a bow, which can be hung on the wall and ignored until the next hunting trip or competition, raptors require care and attention 365 days a year.
It is difficult to determine precisely when falconry originated, but some historians believe the practice arose between 4000 and 6000 B.C. in Mongolia. Falconry's original purpose was hunting instead of sport. It was not until the sixth century A.D. that falconry became a sport. Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, falconry was extremely popular among the royal class and was known as the "sport of kings". Today, it's estimated that 10,000 individuals around the world legally practice falconry.
Falconry typically requires open expanses of land with the appropriate game for hunting. While falcons require larger spaces such as desert and moorland to hunt for prey, hawks are able to hunt in smaller fields and sometimes farms. If the falconer does not have access to this type of land, they must obtain permission from the property owner to use their land to practice the sport. Falconers should avoid areas with gun hunting, roads, power lines, and barbed wire fences.
Here is the essential falconry equipment you should have:
- Glove: Used for protection against the sharp talon of the raptor
- Hood: Used to calm the bird
- Leash: Used for tethering the bird
- Permit: Because all raptors are protected by law, falconers must obtain the necessary permits before practicing the sport
- Raptor: Falcons, hawks, and eagles are all suitable raptor birds for the sport
- Scale: Used to keep track of the bird's weight
- Telemetry: Used for tracking the bird when it has flown away
The objective of falconry is to use a hawk, falcon, or eagle to hunt and return prey to its master. There are several styles of hunting that vary between the different types of raptors. Falcons typically hunt other birds in flight and tend to travel long distances. Meanwhile, hawks usually hunt ground game such as rabbits and pheasants. They do so by flying from the fist of the falconer in an accelerated burst of speed to quickly close in on their quarry.
Rules and Regulations
Unlike other sports, there are no established set of rules that falconers must follow. However, all raptors are protected by state, federal, and international law. This means that potential falconers must acquire the necessary permits and licenses before obtaining a raptor and getting involved in the sport. Oftentimes this includes taking a written falconry exam and getting the appropriate signatures. Some states even require hunting education courses to obtain a falconry license.
Falconry relies on cooperative hunting techniques between the falconer and his or her bird. The most common hunting technique used by falconers is to turn the bird loose and allow it to perch in a tree or other high vantage point. From that point, the falconer attempts to draw out prey by stirring up ground cover, tapping tree trunks, and shaking vines. The raptor then follows its master, realizing that his or her activities produce opportunities to catch game.
Here is the common lingo and slang in Falconry:
- Raptor: large birds of prey such as falcons, hawks, and eagles
- Falconer: someone who flies a falcon
- Austringer: someone who flies a hawk
- Game or quarry: animals hunted for sport, including rabbits, squirrels, and small birds
- Dummy bunny: Lures used by falconers to engage their bird's natural hunting behavior. Dummy bunnies are used for hawks and eagles who hunt animals on the ground, while winged lures are used for falcons who exclusively hunt other birds.
Because falconry is an ancient sport that dates back thousands of years, many of its most famous participants are historical figures.
Here are the most famous falconers you should know:
- Genghis Khan: Famous for leading an army of fierce Mongol warriors, Genghis Khan and his men were also master falconers. They'd use golden eagles to hunt foxes, jackals and even wolves.
- Frederick II of Hohenstaufen: The Holy Roman Emperor, King of Sicily, and King of Jerusalem was such an avid falconer that in 1274 he wrote a comprehensive book about the sport entitled "The Art of Falconry".
Here are the most popular Falconry leagues you should know:
North American Falconers Association (NAFA): NAFA was founded in 1961 to encourage the proper practice of falconry and the conservation of the birds of prey used for the sport. The association currently has approximately 2,000 members globally and is the largest falconry organization in the world. There are a multitude of falconry clubs affiliated with NAFA throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Events and Competitions
Here are the most popular events in Falconry:
Fazza Championship for Falconry: Known as one of the most popular falconry competitions in the Middle East, the Fazza Championship takes place in the United Arab Emirates and is deeply rooted in Emirati culture. The competition is a celebration of falconry, which is considered a cornerstone of cultural heritage in the United Arab Emirates and other Arab Gulf countries.
Utah Sky Trials: Held annually in Utah for 45 years, this competition allows falconers to show off their birds' skills at the end of the hawking season.
How do you become a falconer?
Prospective falconers must go through a rigorous process to become involved in the sport. Many states in the U.S. require people to pass a falconry exam, obtain a permit and a hunting license, and be sponsored by a General or Master falconer. Those looking to become a falconer will also need to acquire a raptor and the other necessary equipment.