So what exactly is falconry?
Falconry is often defined quite simply. The most common accepted definition of falconry is some variation of the following: The taking of wild quarry it its natural habitat by means of a trained bird of prey. What does this mean to you? This should mean, first and foremost, falconry is a hunting sport. We are taking advantage of a raptors natural instinct to be a proven hunter and accept us into part of their world.
Why does it work?
The relationship between bird and falconer is built on a mutual respect and trust for an ultimate end goal, the taking of the quarry. The bird learns to accept you as part of the hunt, and sees you as a tool to providing the hunt, food, and safety within reason. Falconry works because the birds are able to be conditioned to see you as useful. The birds are of free will and mind. The falconer will work with the bird to build a relationship with the bird, that certain actions have certain results.
Falconry works almost exclusively with positive reinforcement. This means that the birds are rewarded if they perform the action that is requested or intended, and improper actions results in nothing happening. There is little to no value in negative re-enforcement for birds, they respond poorly to it.
Almost all early training is getting the bird to trust you have no ill-intentions. Early on most birds are skeptical of your involvement in their life, and it takes time to work through those fears.
What is supposed to happen in the field?
This is a question that if you ask 3 falconers you will get 3 or more different answers. What happens in the field depends on multiple factors; the type of hunting, the type of bird being flown, the type of falconer, weather, and more.
We can sum up falconry mostly into 3 different styles: dirt hawking, long winging, and micro falconry. Dirt hawking is the pursuit of rabbits, squirrels and other quarry by getting down and dirty. Basically in a dirt hawking hunt YOU are the hunting dog and provide game motion for your bird. Normally if you don’t come home sweaty or bloody you weren’t working hard enough. Long winging is normally performed by releasing the bird to gain altitude and providing a slip via falconer or dog for the bird to stoop and chase. Micro falconry has many different ways and opinions on how to pursue it that vary greatly with the species chosen to be flown.
To the left you will find a picture of the Garrity family enjoying the rewards of another successful hunt.
Falconry IS Nature
"We do not train hawks to do the things they do. They do them quite well without us. The falcon is no arrow aimed at quarry, no extension of our capability, and certainly no commodity of our making. She is a near-perfect being unto herself, entirely unto herself. We do not extract her from nature and make her what she is not. Instead, we persuade her with gentle skill that she may trust us and share her life with us. That is the best we can do.
Falconry is entirely different from all other forms of hunting; it is the largely passive celebratory participation in a richly natural process. Let us take care that it shall always be so."
Falcons and Falconers
NAFA Journal Vol. 48