Falconry UK – The Definitive Beginner’s Guide

falconry

Falconry, an ancient practice of hunting with birds of prey, has captivated human beings for centuries. The bond between humans and these majestic birds is a testament to the beauty and skill involved in falconry. If you’re intrigued by this age-old art form and want to delve into the world of falconry in the United Kingdom, you’ve come to the right place. In this beginner’s guide, we will explore the basics of falconry, including its history, legal requirements, bird selection, training, and ethical considerations. So, let’s embark on this extraordinary journey into the realm of falconry!

Historical Background

To understand the significance of falconry, we must first delve into its rich history. Falconry dates back thousands of years and was practiced by various cultures worldwide. In the United Kingdom, falconry gained popularity during the medieval period, particularly among the nobility. Falcons were highly esteemed and used for hunting game birds. Over time, falconry evolved into an art form and a means of establishing social status.

Legal Considerations

Before venturing into falconry in the UK, it is essential to understand the legal requirements. Falconry is regulated by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which aims to protect both wild birds and the welfare of captive birds of prey. Prospective falconers must obtain the necessary permits and licenses, such as the General License, to legally practice falconry. These licenses ensure that individuals are knowledgeable about bird care, husbandry, and training methods.

Bird Selection

Choosing the right bird of prey is a crucial step in falconry. Each species has unique characteristics, temperaments, and hunting capabilities. Here are some factors to consider when selecting a bird for falconry in the UK:

  • Experience Level: Novice falconers are generally advised to start with birds that are easier to handle and train, such as Harris’s Hawks or Eurasian Sparrowhawks. These species are known for their versatility, adaptability, and cooperative hunting behavior, making them suitable for beginners.
  • Hunting Game: Consider the type of game you intend to hunt. Different birds of prey have specific hunting preferences and abilities. For example, the Peregrine Falcon is renowned for its exceptional speed and aerial prowess, making it suitable for hunting agile game birds, while the Common Buzzard is adept at hunting small mammals.
  • Housing and Space Requirements: Different species have varying housing needs. Some birds, like the Red-tailed Hawk, require larger aviaries or mews due to their size. Ensure that you can provide adequate space for the bird to perch, stretch its wings, and exercise comfortably.
  • Temperament: Understanding the temperament of the bird is crucial for a successful partnership. Some species may be more docile and easier to handle, while others may be more independent or prone to aggression. Research each species’ temperament to find one that matches your personality and handling capabilities.
  • Availability and Legal Considerations: Check the availability and legal status of the species you are interested in. Some species may be protected or restricted, requiring specific permits and licenses. Consult with experienced falconers or local authorities to ensure compliance with the legal requirements of bird selection.

Remember, selecting a bird for falconry is a significant commitment, and it is essential to choose a species that aligns with your abilities, interests, and the environment in which you will be practising falconry.

Housing and Equipment

Providing suitable housing and equipment is vital for the well-being of your bird. Falcons require spacious aviaries or mews where they can perch, exercise, and retreat from adverse weather conditions. Essential equipment includes jesses (leather straps), anklets, and leashes to ensure the bird remains tethered and secure during training and hunting sessions. Additionally, a suitable glove, called a falconry glove, is necessary to protect the falconer’s hand while handling the bird.

Training Techniques

Training a bird of prey requires patience, consistency, and a deep understanding of the bird’s behavior. The fundamental training techniques play a crucial role in developing a strong bond between the falconer and the bird, ensuring effective communication, and preparing the bird for successful hunting. Let’s explore some key training techniques in falconry:

  • Manning: Manning is the process of socializing the bird and building trust through regular handling. It involves spending time with the bird, allowing it to perch on the falconer’s glove, and providing positive reinforcement such as food rewards. This helps the bird become comfortable with human presence and establishes a foundation for further training.
  • Weight Management: Controlling the bird’s weight is essential for its health and training. Falcons are typically flown at a weight that promotes optimal performance during hunting. By carefully managing the bird’s weight through diet and exercise, the falconer can ensure the bird is fit and ready for flight. Weight management also affects the bird’s motivation to return to the falconer after a successful hunt.
  • Lure Training: Lure training involves using a bait or lure, such as a piece of meat, to simulate hunting scenarios and encourage the bird to fly towards the desired target. The falconer swings the lure in a controlled manner, enticing the bird to chase and grasp it. This training helps develop the bird’s flight skills and hunting instincts.
  • Creance Training: Creance training involves using a long line, called a creance, attached to the bird’s jesses to allow controlled flight while maintaining physical control. It allows the falconer to assess the bird’s flying abilities, recall response, and gradually introduce it to hunting in controlled environments before moving on to free-flying.
  • Hacking: Hacking is the process of acclimatizing the bird to its natural environment. It involves releasing the bird into a suitable location while ensuring its safety with telemetry equipment. During this period, the bird is encouraged to hunt and explore its surroundings independently, gradually developing its hunting skills and instincts.

Ethical Considerations

Falconry is an ethical practice when conducted responsibly. The welfare of the bird should always be the top priority. Falconers must ensure that their birds receive proper nutrition, exercise, veterinary care, and a suitable environment. The use of trained birds for hunting should be carried out sustainably and in adherence to legal regulations. Respect for wildlife and conservation efforts is vital, and falconers must follow ethical guidelines and not engage in activities that harm the natural balance of ecosystems.

Conclusion

Embarking on the journey of falconry in the UK is a remarkable experience that allows you to connect with nature and witness the beauty of these magnificent birds up close. From understanding the historical significance of falconry to navigating the legal requirements, selecting the right bird, and mastering training techniques, falconry requires dedication, patience, and a lifelong commitment to the welfare of these incredible creatures. As you embark on your falconry journey, remember to seek guidance from experienced falconers and engage in ongoing education to ensure the well-being of your bird and the preservation of this ancient art form. Enjoy the adventure of falconry, and may your bond with your feathered companion bring you joy, fulfillment, and a deeper connection to the natural world.

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