Since I’m very big on education and know there are some people that have no idea what falconry is or just want to know a little more, here are some links and my take on it.
Records indicate that raptors were used by humans to hunt in ancient China. Accounts refer to falcons being given as royal gifts in the Heian dynasty in China, dating back to 2205 BC and maybe with origins even earlier than that. (It pre-dates gunpowder!) Falconry was a valuable skill taught and handed down throughout generations as a means to obtain fresh meat to feed families. That specific need has long since disappeared, but falconry has survived to modern times and evolved beyond what ancient hunters could have ever dreamed.
Falconry started out as a survival tool and eventually became a sport for kings and nobility. Prized birds of prey were traded and gifted between countries as peace tokens. Some religions embraced the practice of training and keeping falcons thousands of years ago and still revere them to this day. Today, it is still practiced around the world but is considered a dying artform. However, for many like myself, falconry is considered a way of life.
Traditionally, falconry is the art of rearing young or capturing birds of prey (usually falcons, hawks, or eagles) from the wild for the purpose of hunting with them. A very young raptor, or eyass, raised by a human will have its hunting instincts naturally, but it is part of the responsibility of the falconer to work with it and give it the opportunities it needs to become a skilled and successful hunter. A wild-caught juvenile raptor, or passage bird, is usually trapped during their first-year migration. They will have already developed many of the skills they need to survive in the wild but have to be handled enough until they can build a trust bond with the falconer. Once this connection is made the bird and human can work together as a team. This teamwork and trust developed between us and our birds is one of the reasons why we enjoy doing what we do.
For a falconer it is not about the blood sport aspect of hunting wild game that activists like to point and shake their fists at. For us, it’s about being in nature and interacting with a wild animal that could just fly away forever if it wanted to. It’s about the bird accepting us into their lives and us helping them become a better predator so that they could, if released, make it on their own without us. In that way it can be looked at as a conservation effort. A bird successfully trained and hunting regularly in a falconer’s care is much more likely to beat the odds in the wild once released. That raptor would be hunting every day with or without our involvement, so joining its team and hunting with it has a negligible impact on prey populations. While we do keep the birds from being in the wild 24/7, they do get out to fly, exercise, and hunt, but with the falconer’s assistance and protection from predators, shelter from bad weather, medical attention, and food regardless of being successful when hunting. Again, it’s important to stress that the birds could just fly away if they wanted to, but once they realize that the falconer is there to help—not hurt—they can really be free to reach their true potential.
Becoming a falconer takes a lot of time and study. After passing a written exam proctored by your state’s department of fish and wildlife you begin a two-year apprenticeship with an already-licensed falconer. You need to have the means and time to get out with your bird, so that may mean making sacrifices (and spending some money) to accommodate the bird’s needs. Modern falconry does have some major upsides as technology for recovering a lost bird and for training have become highly efficient with GPS tracking systems, smart phone mapping applications, and lure-carrying drones. I liked to say a falconer never loses a bird, he only misplaces it, but now it’s even harder to misplace one than ever before.
Old school falconry did not have the advantage of telemetry and tracking devices, but they could just go out and get another bird each time one went back to the wild. However, many laws are in place now to safeguard the birds these days since they are all protected by state and federal laws. Capturing birds from the wild is highly regulated including how many each person is allowed to have in a year. It’s not so easy to get another bird these days, so people are much more likely to be careful and protective of the one they do have. Captive breeding has also greatly reduced the need for sourcing raptors from the wild these days. It is a fact that USFWS biological impact studies have proven time and time again that the practice of falconry has zero impact on wild raptor populations or the game taken while hunting with a falconry bird!
In the past 20 years the use of trained raptors to harass and haze nuisance wildlife has had a massive surge in popularity due to the fact that it works! I often use the analogy that if there are sharks in the water, swimmers would think twice about diving in. The same goes for blueberries, cherries, and grapes. When there are birds of prey in the field, the robins, starlings, and sparrows think twice about coming in for a bite! USFWS laws have been corrected to allow for this form of commercial work with special purpose permit that you have to meet the experience requirements to apply for. Once it was illegal to use native birds of prey for any commercial use, but now with this permit the use of captive breed native raptors is allowed. While abatement using raptors is nothing like traditional falconry, the care, training, and general understanding of raptors is required to do it well.
Nevada Department of Wildlife – falconry application link:
Before you click on the link below, remember that becoming a falconer requires a lot of time, passion, and dedication that most people aren’t able to give on a whim. Do your homework! There is an exam to pass, additional classes to take, licenses to qualify for and obtain, and many, many regulations and laws to follow. And that’s not including the time and patience it takes to acquire and successfully train a bird! At the bottom of this page you will find links to several sites designed to educate people new to this sport. Enjoy!
Nevada falconry laws: https://www.leg.state.nv.us/nac/nac-503.html#NAC503Sec200