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The Art of Falconry
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The art of hunting wild game using trained birds of prey is called falconry. The bird is trained to spot, catch and kill game, which is then retrieved by the hunter. Falconry is an ancient art which has been practised in south-west Asia for at least 3000 years. It has been known in Europe and Britain since Saxon times and in the Middle Ages was a popular sport of the rich. With the invention of the shotgun and the enclosure of land in the seventeenth century, the sport began to die out. Falconry clubs were established to keep the art alive and it is still practised by small numbers of enthusiasts in Britain and Europe. It also is still practised in the Middle East, India and Japan.
The birds trained by falconers belong to two groups: the short-winged yellow-eyed hawks or the long-winged brown-eyed falcons. Of the first type the goshawk and the sparrow-hawk are the most commonly used. They hunt in short, rapid flights and have been known to take up to 20 head of game in a day's hunting. They usually hunt by perching in a tree until the falconer and his dogs flush game from cover. After the game is caught the bird carries it to the ground and with its talons, pierces the vital organs of its prey. The long-winged falcons include the peregrine falcon (the most popular bird used in falconry), the hobby, the merlin and the kestrel. These falcons are powerful, high flyers who generally take their prey by diving on it from a great height, carrying it up and killing it in the air. Hawks and falcons used in falconry are able to take hares, rabbits, pheasant, quail, partridge, grouse and other game birds. Long-winged falcons are used for hunting game in open country, while the short-winged hawks are used in wooded areas.
Birds are obtained for training as eyasses, passages or haggards. An eyass is a bird taken from the nest when it is fully fledged but before it has learnt to fly. At this stage they are the most easily taught. Passages are wild-caught peregrines who have not yet moulted their first year's plumage. They are called passages because they are commonly caught during migration flights. Haggards are wild-caught adult birds.
Training of a falcon begins after it has been 'at hack' for some time. This is the period after capture when the bird is becoming accustomed to human control. The bird is fed regularly each day on raw meat tied to a board and always at the same place. Training begins by carrying the bird for several hours each day on a gloved hand. The bird is stroked with a feather and continually talked to in order to calm it and accustom it to the sound of the human voice. During this period the bird is hooded with a rufter, a soft leather hood covering the eyes. When the bird is sufficiently accustomed to this handling it is then introduced to people, dogs and various hunting situations. The hunting training consists initially of teaching it to attack a lure, which is a piece of meat attached to the wings of a pigeon or other bird and whirled on a cord by the trainer. When it has mastered attacking the lure it is taught to kill for itself.