Dogs make great hunting partners, but how would you like to try your hand at something a little more demanding? Welcome to the wild world of Falconry, where a bird of prey is your new best friend.
What is Falconry?
Falconry is a form of hunting that involves the use of a raptor, usually a falcon or hawk, to hunt down prey. It’s one of the oldest forms of hunting, used by the Mesopotamians way back in 2000 BC and it still has a pretty decent following today.
Falconry was a symbol of status and nobility in Medieval Europe and during the Mongolian Empire, and only the most skilled and dedicated practitioners are able utilize it in the field. There are some skeptics about the validity of the sport and concerns about the welfare of the birds, to the point that a few states in the U.S. even ban it, but hunting with a raptor is safe if done properly.
Time & Training
We won’t lie, falconry takes a lot of effort and dedication. In fact, The North American Falconer’s Association recommends participating in a two-year apprenticeship. That’s just to get started. They also claim that it takes at least seven years to become a Master falconer.
You’ll need to decide what type of bird you’d prefer to work with. There are four that are most commonly used: falcons, hawks, owls, and eagles. Each comes with its own unique set of challenges.
The fastest of the bunch is the peregrine falcon, so if you’re looking for something that’ll deliver a quick kill he’s your best bet. Peregrines are capable of speeds up to 200 mph! I bet your beagle can’t do that. You’ll probably want to start small with a peregrine or hawk and work your way up. Bald eagles are off limits guys, with them being the national bird and all.
Your bird will be need to be trained to listen to voice commands, whistles or visual cues and spending time with her each day is a necessity to keep her under control. Eventually, you’ll be able to let her know where to land, which direction to hunt in and whether or not to kill her prey or bring it back to you alive. Some are simply used to locate prey and notify you of its location.
Falcons are highly attuned to the tone of their hunter’s voice, so if properly trained she’ll listen to you and no one else.
You can either buy your bird from a breeder or attempt to catch one of your own, if you think you’ve got what it takes. There are plenty of humane traps on the market to help you out, but starting out it’s best to buy one from a respectable breeder that’s already been trained to hunt and listen to your commands.
Licensing can be tricky business. Falconry is regulated by each U.S. state’s own Fish and Wildlife agency so you’ll need to check with them to get specifics. Much like getting a driver’s license—since you’re sort of piloting a bird?—you’ll have to pass a written test before you qualify.
Once you’re legally set you’re going to need to find a Master falconer who’s willing to show you the ropes. Apprenticeships can last over two years, so it’s a bit of a slow process.
Housing That Bird
Birds need to fly free, so don’t even consider cooping it up in your house. That’s bad for morale. Plus, you might end up killing it.
Build a proper mew—the term for a raptor’s nesting place—that should be at least the size of a shed, but a large garage would be better. The more room you give your bird the happier it’ll be. Again, check with your local laws to make sure you’re providing the right housing.
Your bird will need perches to land on as well as a comfortable flooring that is easy to clean—wood chips work great for this—along with a bath pan for her to clean herself in and some toys to keep her occupied when you’re not on a hunt.
Check out this site for more in-depth info or creating a mew.
You’ll also want to talk with a vet knowledgeable on large birds to decide on a proper diet and ways to ensure proper health.
Once you’ve got all your ducks in a row, it’s time to hit the open fields and see what your new friend can do. Prepare for a veritable smorgasbord of rabbit and squirrel meet to feed your family for months.