The noble sport of falconry has been around for many years, with kings and noblemen flying their birds to hunt. To see them in flight is an unforgettable experience and for anyone looking to own a bird of prey the first thing to understand is that it’s not a decision to be made lightly. Bear in mind that you’ll be handling a wild creature that needs to be flown on a regular basis, not to look at or be used as a fashion accessory. Start by taking a course with an experienced falconer and then see how you feel. The British Falconers Club define an ‘experienced’ falconer as someone with at least five years training.
If you’ve decided you want to be a falconer then the next thing to consider is finding the right accommodation. A bird of prey requires fully-enclosed ‘mews’ such as a modified wooden shed for initial training every night. When the bird is partly trained it should be tethered to a perch with a bath in reach under some kind of shelter to protect against bad weather or the sun. The ideal place to have this is on a lawn that may need to be fenced to keep out dogs and foxes.
It’s essential that the correct training methods be used as a bird of prey shouldn’t be treated like a pet and won’t appreciate being fussed over. The training starts of with weight control as the bird must be hungry in order to fly. Weigh the bird at the start of every day, reducing the fat weight by about 10% and adjusting if necessary. It’s important to consider that ‘flying weight’ isn’t a fixed figure and will need to be adjusted as the bird’s mass and fitness develop.
The next step is ‘manning’ which means that you’re getting the bird used to all the things it has to see in a captive state. The bird will have to be taught to take food from a glove, requiring a reduction in weight. Carry the bird around while its eating to help it grow accustomed to loud sounds and scary sights. It’s recommended to use ‘tirings’ for meals which are pieces of meat with bone in them. The bird will eat slowly and the longer the meal the more ‘manning’ experience it will have. Choosing not to use ‘tirings’ will make training harder.
Whatever bird you choose to train should be kept on a diet of raw meat only. Feeding them a variety of food is important which can include rabbits, rats, mice, quails and vitamin supplements.
After choosing your bird you should invest in radio tracking equipment to protect against loss. A bird that’s trained properly is unlikely to fly away but it’s better to take precautions. A reliable system is likely to cost more than the bird, though you’ll be able to use it for many years.
- All British birds of prey are protected by the Countryside and Wildlife Act of 1981. This gives the Secretary of State for the Environment the power to grant licenses to take birds from the wild for falconry purposes. Taking or importing a bird without a license is illegal.
Hawks moult in summer and are flown during autumn and winter when many people are working full time. Beginners should take that into account and make sure they dedicate the right amount of time to exercising and hunting with the bird.
Falconers must have full legal access to a large area of open country. He or she can’t fly their bird without permission from the landowner.
Experienced falconers choose their bird based on the landscape they have permission to fly over and the prey available. Peregrine falcons aren’t recommended for beginners because it takes a lot of experience and very few have access to land spacious enough to do a Peregrine justice.
Owning a bird of prey is a privilege and they should be handled with respect. Expand your knowledge as much as you can before deciding whether you have the time and patience needed to be a falconer.
Here are some links to intensive falconry courses.