Some Falconry Myths
This short blog aims to bust a few misconceptions about the art of falconry and address some myths which raise the question, ‘Is falconry cruel?’
As with all types of domesticated animal care, there are those who abuse the privilege and do not properly look after their birds, keeping them in poor conditions and not providing adequate diets, healthcare or exercise. These are in the minority and this article will only address the habits practised by responsible falconers.
What is Falconry and What is The Purpose of it?
The term ‘Falconry’ refers to the art of flying birds of prey to hunt wild quarry. Today, this has been generalised, to include flying any trained bird of prey, including Falcons, Hawks and Owls, not necessarily to hunt, but for public display and personal pleasure purposes too. It has been practised for thousands of years and remains largely unchanged in methodology, the greatest change being the introduction of tracking technology such as GPS to locate birds which have flown out of sight.
Do Falconers Starve Their Birds?
The short answer is ‘No’, falconers do not starve their birds!
Birds of prey conserve their energy by resting for long periods, until hungry enough to need to hunt again. Hence, they mostly only fly when they want food. Falconers understand the behaviour of their birds and carefully control their diets so that the bird is ready to fly for food rewards when being flown. It’s more akin to the diet of an athlete; carefully controlled and well balanced.
The bird must be in peak condition to perform at it’s best, with good muscle tone and stamina. A starved bird would wither and eventually die and so it would not be in the falconers interests to harm an expensive bird in which s/he has invested hundreds of hours of training! Most falconers weigh their birds every day to gauge their eagerness and will carefully note their physical appearance, feeling their breast muscle tone to ensure their bird is fit and healthy, before flying.
It’s a very tough life for a hawk or falcon in the wild. Most falcons in the wild do not live to see their first birthday! Falcons and hawks born into falconry, regularly outlive their wild counterparts by many years. The average age for a Harris Hawk in the wild is around 7 years, with the oldest recorded, living to 12 years old. However, it is quite usual for a falconer’s Harris Hawk to achieve an age of 30 years or more! This is because they are guaranteed all the correct nourishment they need, exercise and healthcare. Overall it is a far less harsh life.
Is it Cruel To Tether a Falcon?
Firstly, it should be remembered that when not hunting, birds of prey mostly sit quietly for long periods doing nothing at all, to conserve energy. Hence they are perfectly ‘happy’ to sit still. Falconers often tether their birds to their perches using a leash on a swivel to prevent it getting tangled. Tethering is only carried out for periods between flying when away from their aviaries or being transported and is for the bird’s own safety. Imagine leaving your dog waiting outside a shop while you go in. It’s highly likely that the dog will have got itself into all sorts of mischieve while you were away
Once flying, the falcon repeatedly returns to the falconer for food rewards and will then be happy to sit and conserve energy once again
When at home in their aviaries they should be ‘free-lofted’ where they are untethered and we do not condone the continuos tethering of birds. The leash should be long enough to allow them to gain access to their water bowl but not so long that should they try to fly, they would pick up enough speed to strain their legs.
If the birds were not tethered they would wander off and possibly get into harm or kill other nearby birds.
Why Do Falconers Put Hoods on Falcons?
Birds of prey do not think like we do. If they can’t see something, to them, it doesn’t exist. If they can’t see at all, they feel safe and
calm because they think nothing can see them either. So hoods are used to prevent the bird becoming stressed in situations that might frighten it, especially during training, when a young hawk or falcon is still untrusting of humans. When birds of prey are calm and relaxed, they often stand on one leg and puff up their feathers.
When hunting with a falcon or hawk, the bird is prevented from seeing unsuitable or untimely prey that it would want to chase, until the falconer is ready to release it with a good chance of success. Experienced falcons learn that the hood means they are going hunting and can become quite excited to accept it, knowing that when it is removed there will be something to chase.
A falcon must be trained to accept the hood through positive reward and soon becomes used to it.
As with all things, prolonged use of the hood is discouraged.
Is Falconry Legal in the UK?
Falconry is legal in the UK but the birds used must have been bred in captivity. In the United Kingdom it is illegal to take any bird from the wild. This includes the taking of eggs or young. Birds of Prey used in falconry in the UK must by law, have been bred in captivity and wear closed rings on their legs. Certain birds, listed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which are native to UK/EU, must also have registration certificates, known as A10 Certificates, issued by the UK CITES Management Authority, to prove their captive-bred origins. Furthermore, falconers using birds of prey for public display should be inspected and licensed to do so by the local Council Environmental Office.
Where Do Falconers Get Their Birds?
There are a number of breeders up and down the country who breed birds of prey for falconry. Reputable breeders will want some proof of a buyer’s ability to look after the bird before selling it, including what experience you have and that you have suitable accommodation for it. You should not attempt to acquire a bird of prey unless you are trained in its upkeep and know how to train it. There are a number of falconry courses available for this, both formal and informal. In the UK, LANTRA offer a Beginning Falconry Award through a number of external falconry training centres, which is an excellent way to start.
Having an experienced mentor is also invaluable to avoiding the many pitalls of working with birds of prey. There are also many local falconry clubs and groups to join, which will help you along the way. The main thing is to ensure you know what you are doing before acquiring a bird.
Is Falconry Cruel?
We hope this explains some of the reasoning and good practice in falconry. We also hope this goes some way to answering the question Is falconry cruel?