How cool would it be to tell your friends that you hunt with a falcon, hawk, or even an eagle! Well it is a real thing and has been around for thousands of years. It is called falconry. Sometimes it is referred to as hawking if you are using a hawk, however it is understood that it falconry refers to the art of hunting with any type of bird of prey. Someone who hunts with one of these animals is typically referred to as a Falconer (no matter what kind of bird you actually use) or an Austringer (a person who flies hawks specifically, however most people just default to falconer).
Falconry is seeing a surge in popularity around the world, however it is still used as an actual means of survival by many groups of people (such as in Asia). Because of this surge, there are a growing number of regulations that exist to regulate both the birds that are used, who can use them, and the license required.
There are many different birds that are used, both for hunting, and just for show, however the main types that are used are falcons, hawks, and eagles. Hawks are by far the most popular and easiest birds to start out with. They type of bird used is typically dictated by what type of animals you are hunting. For example you would not want to use an eagle to hunt squirrel,, and you would not be able to use a Peregrine Falcon to hunt deer or fox. Typically falconers will use hawks to hunt small to medium sized ground game (squirrels, rabbits and things like that), falcons to hunt air game (pigeons and water foul), and eagles to hunt the larger falconry game (fox, hares, wolves, and small deer to name a few).
Choosing your first bird is usually an easy choice because in the United States, you have to begin with a Red Tail Hawk or American Kestrel. The Red Tail Hawk is a very common falconry bird because it is relatively easy to train, powerful, and versatile. After your two years of apprenticeship, you may move on to other birds if you choose. When choosing a bird at any given level of expertise, it is important to keep in mind that with larger birds, they may attack small children, cats, and small dogs.
Falconry equipment is quite extensive, and will take a significant investment initially. It is important that you use quality gear to ensure dependability and comfort to you and your hunting partner. Some equipment that you are going to need is an acceptable place to keep your raptor. This is called a mews and will typically hold your falconry tools as well. You will also need an enclosed area to train your bird and is often attached to the mews, but is not required. A basic falconry equipment list would include bird hoods, anklets, jesses, leashes, perches, travel boxes, avian first aid kits, glove or gauntlet, bells, and some form of pack or other storage device for team kills. There are many other things that you may need or want, but this article is not meant to give you an exhaustive list.
As far as falconry training is concerned, it takes a lot of patience, understanding, and respect. The main things that you will want your bird to do, is respect you, come to you when the command is given, and get off the kill once offered something else. There are other things that birds can be trained to do, but these are the essentials. Training your bird to do tricks and other things is not the intent of the relationship and it is important to keep in mind that the bird is not a pet, but an animal business partner. An experienced falconer can train a trapped wild bird in around a month.
In the United States, you need to have a falconry license in order to get a bird and begin your training with it. You need to start out as an apprentice for two years, and you will need a sponsor to train you during this period. You will need to pass a state test, and have your mews and gear inspected by the state. After two years you will have the option of getting your general license, which will allow you to have two birds, and choose from a larger variety of birds. After 5-7 years, depending on your state, you will be able to go for your master’s license, which will allow you to have 3 birds and choose from a larger variety of birds. It is important that you look up your state’s specific regulations before getting started.
The most important aspect of falconry that one needs to understand is the actual relationship that you build with your hunting partner. Many people in the US trap their bird from the wild. These birds are not domesticated and choose to stay with you because of the benefits they get from your relationship. Every time a falconer releases his bird for the kill, there is a possibility that it will not return and just fly away. The vast majority of the time, the bird chooses to come back to you because of the plentiful food, protection, and other things that your side of the partnership offers. These animals are not pets. Many falconers choose to trap, train, hunt, and then release a bird every hunting season. There is no problem with doing this, because you are simply going your separate ways after benefitting from each other for the period of time you were together. Your relationship with your bird thrives on a mutual respect for each other, and a mutual appreciation for the benefits of the partnership.
I wish you well as you decide on if this hobby may be something that you are interested in. Falconry is growing and it is important that it grows with people who are willing to take the time to do this properly and understand everything that is involved.