Falconry is the ancient art of taking wild quarry with a trained bird of prey. Originally, falconry was using a bird of prey as a tool for catching food for the table. The art is first thought to have originated in the far east, with the first recording being as far back as 1700 BC. It is thought falconry reached the British Isles in AD 860. It is widely thought that the sport was restricted to the upper classes, but their lives were recorded more than the lower classes. It seems falconry could be practiced anywhere as nearly all land was for common use. When the Normans arrived, land became privatised and falconry was then restricted to the upper classes. It was an art that was taught to sons of gentry along with archery and riding. The gentry would go out for a days hawking with their birds, but the day-to-day care and training of the birds was carried out by a residential falconer. If the hunt was successful the falconer would be highly praised and vice versa. The Royal Falconer was treated with great respect and was sometimes considered fourth in line of seniority in the court.
Falconry suffered a set back with the invention of gunpowder. It was a lot easier to look after a gun than a bird of prey and the gun provided more food. It was still practised by some gentry and according to a published list in 15th Century a different species of raptor was assigned to different ranks in society. How strictly this was adhered to, no one is very sure.
From ‘The Boke of St. Albans’ published 1486:
Emporer – Eagle or Vulture
King- Gyr Falcon
Prince – Peregrine Falcon
Duke – Falcon of the Rock (another name for Peregrine)
Knight – Saker or Sakeret
Squire – Lanner or Lanneret
Lady – Merlin
Youngman – Hobby
Yeoman – Goshawk
Priest – Sparrowhawk
Holywater Clerk – Musket
Knave/ Servant – Kestrel
At the beginning of the 20th Century, falconry was almost extinct in Britain. Gradually there has been a revival and we have developed a greater understanding of birds of prey. Nowadays falconry is a pastime practiced as a field sport. The meaning of falconry has changed recently and a falconer is regarded as anyone who flies a bird of prey.
One of the most popular species nowadays is the Harris Hawk. It has changed the sport, considerably; as the species naturally works in groups, falconers can fly several at a time. Therefore they have made falconry a more sociable sport. The Harris Hawk was first introduced to the UK in the late 1960s and have been used widely since the 1980s.
FALCONRY IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE
As Falconry has been around in the UK for nearly 2,000 years, words and phrases that falconers use for their birds have crept into everyday language.
Fed up: A hawk is termed fed up when it has a full crop (storage pouch) and therefore would not be interested in food or flying. If you are fed-up you are sat around doing nothing or bored.
Mantle: To cover or shield the food by dropping their wings over. The cover over a fireplace is now called a mantlepiece.
Cadge: A wooden frame that falcons were traditionally carried out into the hunting field on. The person carrying the cadge became known as the cadger. At the end of the day the cadger would go to the local tavern and recount the tales of how the birds had flown and in turn expect money. To cadge, now means to scrounge or beg for.
Hoodwink: To cover the bird’s eyes to keep it calm and relaxed. It now means to fool someone into doing something.
Mews: Nowadays this is something cottages or street names are called: “something mews”. A real mews is the home to hawks and falcons, the Royal Mews in London was set up to house the monarch’s birds. The name comes from the French word “muer” which means “to moult”. In James I’s reign the Royal Mews stood where the National Gallery stands today and extended across Trafalgar Square down Whitehall. Many stately homes also have a mews associated with them.
GLOSSARY OF FALCONRY TERMS
- Anklets – Leather parts around a bird’s leg (closed with a brass eyelet)
- Austringer – Strictly a person who flys a Short-winged hawk
- Bait – When the bird tries to fly off (perch or glove)
- Bewit – Leather strap for attaching bell around the leg
- Broad-wing – A bird that has large broad wings: for soaring and generally catch mammalian prey
- Cast – (1) – To launch the bird off the glove
- Cast – (2) – A group of hawks flown together
- Cast – (3) – To hold a bird in a towel while work is done, i.e. Coping
- Cast – (4) – Action of a bird regurgitating a pellet (known as a casting)
- Coping – Filing or trimming the beak and talons
- Creance – Training line before bird is flown free.
- Hood – Using for covering a bird’s eyes for the purposes of training, transporting and hunting. Made of leather, with many differing styles.
- Jesses – Leather straps on bird (goes through the Anklets)
- Long-wing – Long narrow pointed wings: falcons which primarily catch avian prey in flight.
- Primaries – Longer feathers on edges of wing (usually 10 on each wing)
- Short-wing – A true hawk with short wings and a long tail for agility through woodland (Accipiter species)
- Swivel – Metal part attached to jesses to prevent the birds legs being tangled