Sunday, August 19, 2007

Want to be a Falconer?

I get a lot of requests from readers that ask how to get into Falconry. I want people to know what it takes to be a falconer and what kind of commitment to a raptor it takes. It is not like archery or gun hunting where you can take your gun or bow out of the closet once in while. It must become a way of life and the bird comes first. The following is an article from the Texas Hawking Associations publication “On the Wing” It was written by a Licensed General Falconer and friend of mine, Noel Murphy. This article should give you some idea of what it will take. Here is a link to the Texas Hawking Associations site and more information. Wild Ed

Want to be a falconer?
Careful what you wish for!
“Falconry, by definition, is the taking of wild quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of a trained raptor. Of all sports in America, falconry is the only one that utilizes a trained wild creature. Falcons, hawks, eagles and owls are essential elements of our wildlife. The competent falconer takes care to follow sound conservation principles in the pursuit of the sport. Even though the federal government’s environmental assessment states falconry has “no impact” on wild raptor populations, a careless, uninformed individual, attempting to satisfy a passing fancy, can do great harm to one or more birds and cast a shadow of discredit on the sport of falconry itself. Most falconers, therefore, before they will agree to help anyone newly attracted to the sport, will require evidence of a serious, committed interest in falconry. They feel that anything less is not worth bothering with.” Quoted from the North American Falconers Association.
Express to any falconer your interest in becoming a falconer and he/she should give you a lengthy spill on why you shouldn’t. Believe it or not, the purpose of this is not to keep new people from entering the sport/art of falconry. It is only to ensure that interested persons really know what they are asking for. If for some reason, after hearing all of this, you still think the pros out weigh the cons….. then you’re just the right sort of person. There are few decisions in a person’s life that can change it so drastically. For example: proposing marriage, deciding to have a child and ranking right up there, FALCONRY.
If you contact the game department in your state, they should have an information packet they will mail to you. This should contain your federal and state regulations plus it will also contains a reading list of books that reference materials the questions on the falconry exam were drawn from. The books are not always available at a local library. Many people do quite a few interlibrary loans to get the ones that are available. The rest can be purchased and they are quite expensive.
In Texas, the TPWD Falconry Permit Coordinator is Jennifer Brennan and her office is in Austin, Texas. To get in touch with her, e-mail her at and request a falconry packet. If you do talk to her, remember, be polite, she is our friend in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
I would suggest reading as much of this material as possible and then finding a falconer in your area to speak with. If all goes well, and that falconer can spare the time (a valuable commodity!), you may be able to hunt with him/her, giving you even more experience with the rewards of falconry. The hunting experience is the reward! Everything else is the work. If you are emotionally challenged, have more money and time than you know what to do with, and like to get cut to shreds in briar patches…..then my friend, falconry is for you! The rest of us have to carefully weigh the work vs. the reward.
A hawk is not a pet… It will not snuggle against you for warmth and affection. If it pecks your nose, it’s not an action of endearment…it merely wanted to know what you tasted like. If it follows you like a lost puppy, it is only because it knows you have pieces of cut up meat in your glove…if you run out of food, it will leave you for the nearest squirrel nest. If it latches onto you, it will be with eight very sharp talons and not the slightest hint of need for your existence, much less love. It will not terrorize the city to retrieve you a beer as seen in TV commercials, nor will it deliver you mail like the owls in Harry Potter.
As an apprentice you will be a subject to your sponsor. What that sponsor says is law and is only superseded by state or federal regulation. The sponsor is the first to decide if after two years you can advance to the general class. There isn’t a second test…. The only factor in your obtaining his/her approval is the impression you have given them over the past two years. Did your bird hunt well? .... Did you take care of the bird? …. Did you sacrifice what used to be your life to do what was best for the bird? If so, you are then still subject to the decision of the game department of the state and federal offices. If you like this type of control over your life, then falconry is for you!
You will need to build a mews (hawk house) and weathering yard for your bird at a size no smaller than 8’x8’ each. Every falconer you will meet will have an opinion on the design as the federal regulations are loosely constructed. You will spend a good deal of $$$ and try to satisfy your sponsor, the state inspector and yourself. No two of the aforementioned will ever agree that the final plan was appropriate. ….. Most will label it a death trap. Good luck!
You are, of course, responsible for the welfare of the bird. Squirrel bites and other accidents happen. You have a moral responsibility to the bird, and if that isn’t strong enough, this bird is protected by federal regulations. You don’t just tell your veterinarian you can’t afford the needed procedure and to put the bird to sleep. Also, veterinarians with the experience to treat raptors are often not found nearby…nor are they cheap!
Unless you’re hunting twice daily, seven days a week, you’re not going to catch enough game to feed your hawk for the entire year. You will soon be enlisting the help of friends and neighbors to pick up road kill squirrels, and ordering 50 pound boxes of frozen rats and quail for the off season.
Do you enjoy outdoor recreation like deer hunting, fishing, bicycling, etc… I can almost guarantee these activities be put on the back burner to falconry. If the weather is good enough for one of these and you have the time…you will be out with the hawk instead.
Do you work forty hours or more a week like most people? In the winter, is it dark when you leave the office? When are you going to hunt this bird? It needs to hunt several times a week and on unsuccessful hunts it may take several hours. Hawks do not see very well at night, so when it gets dark, you’re most likely done for the day.
Your initial contact with a falconer may be somewhat less than what you had hoped for. Think about this for a moment… this person has people who think they are interested approach him/her quite often. In the past, people have been loaned expensive books and sometimes not returned them… when invited to hunt with them, done things in the field that weren’t appropriate or that spooked the bird. I can almost guarantee that if the falconer you approach is a good falconer, he or she hardly has time to be bothered by another “wannabe” (harsh label, but true). Their time is better spent with the bird in the field. However, if you do your research and get a good understanding of what it is you’re trying to get into, you convey to them your understanding and appreciation for the time you’re taking from them and their bird… I am almost certain they will bend over backwards to help you.
There are thousands of other considerations… The more you research falconry, the more you will find that it is definitely not for everyone. Whether it is for you can only be answered by you…and only after you have a thorough understanding of the time and monetary commitments. Depending on your desire to precede with falconry you will reprioritize your life. Quit taking the wife to dinner, leave work two hours early on a regular basis, stay in the field from dawn to dusk on weekends, etc… Basically, when your desire to hunt with the hawk overrides all the good sense and responsibility your parents instilled in you…then you are ready to be a falconer. So far as I know, there is no cure or group therapy for this illness. All you can do is continue to hunt and hope it doesn’t wreck your entire life.
This article includes information gathered from “The North American Falconers Association” and is based on an article from Marty Hawkins, a falconer from South Carolina. Information compiled by Noel Murphy, Member of the North American Falconry Association and the Texas Hawking Association.

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