What is Falconry?
Falconry can be defined as the taking of wild quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of a trained raptor. This ancient art is a very demanding endeavor, requiring a serious dedication of time and energy from the falconer. On November 16, 2010 the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added falconry to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity. Here's an overview for those who want to know more.
You may have recently read about this ancient art in a book or periodical, learned about it through television or radio, perhaps a movie, or may have even seen a trained hawk in action. Whatever the case, you were obviously impressed enough to want to learn more about the sport of falconry, and we appreciate your interest.
Few people thrilling at the brief, intense magic of a trained hawk in flight realize the intense demands placed upon one who aspires to be a falconer. Even fewer are willing to make the necessary sacrifices.
Falconry is not an "overnight" achievement. Becoming a Master falconer takes at least seven years; finishing your apprenticeship alone will take at least two. Your hawk requires a significant amount of time, every day, 365 days a year, and a bird in training requires substantially more time. Raptors, unlike a rifle or a bow, cannot be hung on the wall and forgotten until the next hunting trip. You might be oaky with this time commitment, but is your spouse okay with it? Your kids? Your career?
- Effort and Ethics
Of all sports in America, falconry is the only one that utilizes a trained wild creature. Falcons, hawks, eagles and owls are essential elements of our wildlife. The competent falconer takes care to follow sound conservation principles in the pursuit of the sport. Even though the federal government's environmental assessment states falconry has "no impact" on wild raptor populations, a careless, uninformed individual, attempting to satisfy a passing fancy, can do great harm to one or more birds and cast the shadow of discredit on the sport of falconry itself. Most falconers, therefore, before they will agree to help anyone newly attracted to the sport, will require evidence of a serious, committed interest in falconry. They just don't have time for anything else. The ethics of practicing quality falconry are an important part of a falconer's every day life.
Because all raptors are protected by state, federal, and international law, all potential falconers must obtain the necessary permits and licenses before acquiring a hawk or practicing falconry. This can take quite a while, since it includes taking a written falconry exam and getting the appropriate signatures. In some states, hunter education courses are required before you can get your hunting license. If you can't keep your paperwork straight, even in triplicate (three copies), don't consider falconry.
Most people immediately think of the cost of acquiring a hawk, but the price of the bird is only the beginning, assuming you can purchase one. In North America most apprentice falconers will be required by their sponsor to trap at least their first bird from the wild. You must have money to spend. Spend on food, shelter, equipment, veterinary costs, permits and fees, and travel. To keep it healthy, you must feed your raptor only fresh raw meat, preferably the exact same whole birds or mammals they would catch in the wild on their own. Housing and equipment requirements are mandated by state and federal law. You will need the money to buy the raw materials and you will need the skill to work with these materials and you will be inspected before you are permitted to acquire a hawk by state and possibly local officials. Most falconers also spend considerable amounts of money on books as a source of vital information and enjoyment. You will have to pay permit and license fees as well. Travel adds up fast, too; obtaining a hawk, visiting other falconers, training and hunting can put literally thousands of miles on your car and empty wallets quickly.
- Access to Land
You must have permission to enter adequate and convenient locations in which to fly a hawk or falcon and there must be appropriate game available. Remember too that in some locations written permission of the property owner is required. The falcons require wide open expanses of land where they may be flown high over the falconer, while hawks and small accipiters can be hunted in smaller fields or farms. Gun hunting, roads, power lines, urban settings and barbed wire fences may render an otherwise suitable location unusable because of the potential threats to the raptor and or the falconer.
- Are you sincerely interested in all aspects of wildlife and the out-of-doors?
- How badly do you want to learn? Are you ready to start at the bottom.. and stay there for two or more years?
- Can you listen to and follow other people's advice?
- How much have you already read? A serious commitment to becoming a falconer is often evidenced by a ravenous appetite for books or online information.
- Can you hunt? Not do you know how, which is a challenge in itself, but are you emotionally prepared? Falconry is sharing your life with a creature that has evolved over millions of years as a predator.
- After investing all this time and effort, do you really understand that, at any moment of free flight, your bird can choose to simply fly away and never return?
This is just a brief overview. It is not meant to be discouraging. It is meant to make you realize that the art and practice of falconry is months and years of hard work punctuated by brief moments of exhilaration, excitement and joy as well as punctuated by moments of sorrow, grief, stress and frustration.
If you feel you are ready to get serious, the next steps are to contact your local wildlife agency (state or provincial game department) for a falconry packet, join your local falconry organization, and join NAFA. Need a step-by-step recommendation on how to become a falconer? Click here.
Whether or not you eventually become a falconer, we hope that you will retain a friendly interest in birds of prey, their conservation, and the ancient art and sport of falconry.