From Ancient to Modern Falconry
Falconry, also known as hawking, is a form of hunting which involves the use of trained hawks and falcons to prey on other animals. Falconry may be considered one of the oldest sports, dating back over 4,000 years ago in Egypt and China that is still practiced today. Falconry was considered a status symbol, restricted to noble classes, in medieval Europe and a way of obtaining food. Falconry still exists today with more than 3,800 licensed falconers in the United States.
Historically, falconry was not only a popular sport but was considered a status symbol among the aristocracy of medieval Europe. Legend has it that a Persian King watched a falcon kill another bird and ordered his men to capture the falcon. The king kept the falcon with him at all times, learned many lessons from it and was considered the first falconer. The origin of falconry can be traced back to 2000 BC through ancient writings, drawings and artifacts. There is debate as to when and where falconry originated, however, some historians place its origin in Asia around the second century A.D. and then spread west, while other historians place the origin in Arabia or the Middle East based on records dated 8,000 BC, found of a king who used birds of prey. It is known that by the fourth century, falconry had spread through Western Europe and Britain. Most of the information about falconry comes from its popularity in medieval Europe and the Middle East during the middle ages. The sport of falconry began to decline in popularity during the 1700 and 1 +-*.
800s because of the decline of nobility and the increased use of firearms to kill animals for food and for sport. However, by the 1900s, its popularity was renewed and the largest falconry association, the Peregrine Blub was established in the United States. Falconry is now legal in the United States in all states except Hawaii and the District of Columbia. State and federal licenses are required to practice this sport. Falconry not only exists today in the United States but also is practiced throughout the world.
Originally, the purpose of falconry was to obtain food to eat, however, nobility (Kings of Britain, Russian Czars and the Holy roman Emperors) shifted this purpose to one of social entertainment. Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Sicily and Jerusalem was considered to be the greatest falconer of the medieval age. Falconry became so popular that it became regulated with a strict set of customs called the Laws of Ownership. These laws dictated what type of birds could be owned by various social ranks. The table shown below gives a partial listing of social rank and appropriate bird. There were also severe punishments including time in jail to anyone who harmed a falcon’s bird nest, eggs, and young or took a falcon from the wild that did not belong to you. One of the most severe punishments was given to a person who flew a bird above what your rank permitted. This punishment was having your hand cut off.
Social rank and appropriate bird (adapted from original table)
King| Gyr Falcon|
Prince| Peregrine Falcon|
Lady| Female Merlin|
Priest| Female Sparrowhawk|
Knaves, servants, children| Kestrel|
Adapted from The Ancient Art of Falconry
The players in this sport are the falconer and his or her raptor. The falconer is the person that handles or trains the raptor. Their principle responsibilities were to ensure that his master’s birds of prey, raptors, were fully trained, well-fed and ready to hunt when called upon. The raptor is a bird of prey with a hooked beak for tearing meat, and powerful, hooked talons for grasping and holding prey. Not all raptors are suitable for falconry. Suitable raptors can be grouped by the way they are flown at the prey and are divided into three categories: broad-winged hawks, short-wing...