FALCONRY THROUGH THE AGES: Falconry is the art of hunting wild prey with trained hawks. Its origin is uncertain. A Japanese writer, Ahizato Pito (1808), reported that falcons were given as presents to Chinese princes of the Hiu dynasty around 2200 BC. The British bibliographer Harting reported a bas-relief possibly depicting a falconer in the ruins of Khosabad, dated to around 1700 BC. However, these early records might represent the keeping of companion animals rather than true falconry. Nonetheless, the earliest indisputable evidence of falconry comes from the Far East.
There are Japanese records of trained goshawks introduced from China in 244 AD. It is also certain that falconry came to Europe with the Germanic tribes. It first appeared in Roman culture shortly after the Vandal immigrations, although Romans and Greeks had used trained raptors to help net birds earlier. It was popular in Saxon times: the Bayeux tapestry shows King Harold taking a trained raptor and hounds on his visit to William of Normandy in 1064.
Many falconry terms come from French, including bowsing for drinking, from the French "boire", and austringer for a trainer of accipiters, from the French "autour" for goshawk. Falconry also thrived during the first millenium in the Middle East, with a first treatise in Arabic in the 8th or 9th century. The Arabs gave many tips to the crusaders, probably including the use of the hood. Hooded raptors are protected from alarming sights during training, and from seeing other hawks or prey at inopportune moments during hunting excursions. Falconry flourished in Europe during the subsequent half-millenium.
The first surviving "western" falconry treatise was written around 1247 by another crusader, Emperor Frederich II of Hohenstaufen. As a result of his book, De Arte Venandi cum Avibus, Frederich II has been called the father of ornithology. His principle of testing hypotheses, for instance by sending a trusted servant to the north to see whether barnacles really turned into geese, was an important step in the development of modern science.
Falconry was responsible for the earliest legislation protecting raptors: Henry VII of England protected goshawk nests "in pain of a year and a day's imprisonment." The English Boke of St Albans indicated that falcons were flown mainly to provide spectacular flights for the aristocracy, whereas a goshawk "for a yeoman" could be expected to keep the larder stocked with common small-game. Thus the doings of common austringers went largely unrecorded, compared with the falcons in the paintings and writings of the ruling classes. Shakespeare's use of falconry metaphors in many plays, however, indicates that falconry was as well understood in Tudor Britain as is football today.
Falconry has continued to flourish in Asia and the Middle East to the present day, following for the most part the ancient tradition of trapping young hawks or falcons in the autumn, hunting with them in winter and releasing then back to the wild in the spring. Falconry, however, lost popularity in Europe with the development of effective sporting guns, and by the late 18th century was restricted to a few landowners, mainly in Britain. They formed a series of clubs that kept the art alive, leading eventually to a renaissance and modern development of falconry in Europe, North America and Africa.
FALCONRY TODAY: This is a great time to be a falconer here in Virginia and the whole United States! We have a wide selection of birds of prey to choose from and enjoy liberal hunting seasons on a wide variety of game. But if you are not currently a falconer or are looking this up for the first time you might ask, “What is the status of falconry today?”
Currently falconry is a legitimate form of hunting recognized in 48 states and throughout most of the countries in the world. Hawaii is the only US state where falconry is not allowed. Hawaii will probably never allow it because they have an extremely unique ecosystem and importing raptors for use in falconry (or any other kind of non indigenous animal) is nearly impossible.
Most states have their own falconry clubs and a quick search on your browser will locate one in your state or one close to you. Here in the USA we have a national club that a large percentage of falconers belong to called the North American Falconers Association or NAFA. NAFA has the responsibility of being our collective voice in congress and helps state clubs with regulatory issues. They also hold a national field meet each year, commonly called the NAFA Meet. It is usually held in the western states of Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas & Utah, among others. These states have good game numbers and variety so falconers from all over the country can find good sport. Many foreign falconers also attend these meets.
The state clubs usually have field meets as well. Here in Virginia we hold two, one in Harrisonburg and the other in Winchester. We also have a summer picnic centrally located in the state. Attending one of these functions is a great way to see what falconry is all about and have a chance to meet a falconer and bird of prey up close. You will see that Virginia falconers come from all over the state and are from all walks of life. Our club members are men, women, young and old alike. Check our Play with Us page for more details.
Falconers do more than just hunt with their birds. Most falconers consider themselves conservationists and advocates for wild birds of prey. Some do educational programs in schools, public events and larger venues like hunter and scout expos. Our goal is to educate the public about birds of prey and their conservation as well as falconry. Many falconers in the state contributed to the re-introduction of the peregrine falcon to the wild and its eventual de-listing from the Endangered Species list.
Birds of prey are also finding this a good time to be a raptor. Many species numbers are at all time highs while others, like the peregrine, are recovering better than most experts had ever expected. Through educational efforts many birds of prey that would have been shot a decade ago are spared because of their benefit to the ecosystem. Falconers cherish the wild resource and work hard to see that all will be able to enjoy it for decades to come.