The ancient sport of falconry | Local sports
After last week’s episode of a bald eagle picking up a fish in a local pond, I saw a red-tailed hawk dive and grab its dinner along I-88.
It reminded me of seeing a woman with a falcon in her hand several years ago, hunting along a hedge near Fort Plain. We were hunting pheasants along the mudflats and she already had a rooster with her long tail hanging from her hunting vest. His hawk was doing a better job than us.
Falconry is an ancient sport, dating back to prehistoric times. Later, the first merchants who traded spices in the Middle East as well as the Crusaders witnessed the sport and brought trained hawks back to Europe with them. It has become the sport of the privileged class – the sport of kings. In the 17th century, after the introduction of the hunting rifle, falconry practically died out, surviving in Europe only among enthusiastic members of hawking clubs.
Today, all over America, people still love the sport.
New York State actually has a falconry season, but you must pass a test and be licensed to hunt with a raptor. The license costs $ 40 and is valid for five years. Falconry season coincides with our small game and waterfowl seasons which began on October 1st.
There are three levels of falconry that require several years to hunt with a bird. Level 1: you must be at least 14 years old and train under the sponsorship of a general or a master falconer. You are allowed to have a raptor. Level 2: You must have two years of experience, be at least 18 years old and own three raptors. A master falconer – level 3 – requires five years of experience as a general falconer and can have up to 13 raptors. The permit allows the falconer to buy, sell, own and train raptors.
Red-tailed hawks are the “bread and butter of falconry in America”. They are a common species and are very easy to train. According to the Pennsylvania Falconry Association, it only takes two to three weeks to get a bird hunt. They quickly learn the benefit of having a human hunting partner.
Falconers use thick, thick leather gloves to handle birds. Their sharp talons can easily tear human flesh. They often use a hood to manipulate the bird. He keeps the hawk calm by blocking his view. They learn that when the hood is off, it’s time to get down to business and hunt game. They also use leather thongs called Jesses which are attached to the falcon’s legs to control the raptor.
Falconers experienced with well-trained raptors often let the birds fly freely and find or hunt game for the bird, which follows or hunts above.
There are those of you who may think this is cruel. Some falconers release their bird at the end of the season, and others hunt it for many years. For those who let them go, it’s a bittersweet moment for both the falconer and the falcon. Red-tailed hawks seem to be adapting and enjoying their new way of life.
If you are interested in the sport, check out the book ‘The Falconer’s Apprentice’ by William Oates. as well as the New York State Falconry Guide published by the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation. You can also check out the New York State Falconry Association. All are available online.