An Arial Hunting Companion: The Raptors Of Falconry

April 17, 2015

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An adult golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) resting on its handler’s glove. Chris Barnes/Flickr

Soaring, gliding on atmospheric currents, the feathered fauna we’re looked down upon by embody not only elegance, but predatory prowess. The raptors, birds of prey, are the pinnacle of airborne assault. South America’s harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) is capable of navigating through the leaf-littered canopies, hone in an unsuspecting two-toed sloth, then carry it off with talons only an X-Men member could mirror. And what’s most impressing is that same eagle’s ability to tote the twenty-plus-pound mammal in flight. Naturally, it was only a matter of time—in 200BC, to be exact—before man would capitalize on the hunting prowess of raptors; and so, falconry was born.

Members Of The Arial Hunting Pack
The raptor class of birds can be broken down into two main categories: Diurnal (active by day) and nocturnal (active by night) species. When considering the ideal hunting companion, it’s imperative to consider this temporal variable. But, for the most part, the animals best suited for falconry are diurnal in their habits. With that considered, we’ll divulge suitable raptors that have a proven track record for becoming well-behaved, trainable companions.

Mighty As The Phoenix; The Eagle
Despite their visual appeal to the masses, eagles, generally speaking, are not widely used in the falconry world; golden eagles were historically used by Mongolian Emperors as companion animals and status symbols. With their large size comes an equally massive personality trait—an inflated attitude. Eagles seem to follow one mantra more than any other: “I’ll do what I want, when I want to, and how I want to.” And it’s this inner dialogue that draws a red-line through their potential as a companion bird.

Wisest in the Still Darkness; The Owl
An icon of wisdom; a cunning huntress. While owls have a better paved track-record with trainability than their larger ilk, there’s one blindingly—or should I say poorly lit—behavioral quirk that inhibits them from being a suitable choice animal; owls are almost completely nocturnal. While some European species have been trained to adopt a moon-less hunting pattern, this often times leads to a distraught animal, plagued by physiological aliments. So if you’re willing to do some hunting at twilight, or even night, then owls could prove to be successful companions.

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Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) m.shattock/Flickr

The Cream of the Crop; The Falcon
Low-‘n’-behold, the raptor that gave the sport its moniker—falcons. Revered for their willingness to collaborate, the ever-calculating falcon has been touted as the raptor of choice by nearly every falconer. The current future enthusiast has the option between two birds; North America’s prairie falcon (Falco mexicanus) and kestrel falcons (Falco sparverius). Both birds represent the ideal choice for any novice, but it’s the kestrel falcon that’s the most popular among apprentices; “apprentices” are any falconer with two-years of experience or less under their “wing.” Given the proper care and training schedule, the bond between apprentice and his bird—a bond stitched together by empathy and mutualism—can last twenty-years or more.

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A perching prarie falcon (Falco mexicanus) Pete Gregoire/Flickr

Falconry isn’t simple a sportsman’s part-time hobby; it’s an interpersonal relationship between an animal that when looking at back at you—looks into you. And no trophy kill will ever trump that.

A kestral falcon, courtesy Lauren Tucker

A kestral falcon Lauren Tucker/flickr

―Science writer and green journalist, Matthew Charnock



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