Falconry is an art and sport that uses trained raptors to hunt
and kill live animals and birds. Our interview with Mr. Rick
Sliker, a falconer, showed us that this sport is much more than
just hunting. Falconry also includes the care of the birds when
they aren’t hunting. During the year, the birds need to be kept
healthy, fed, and trained. This takes a whole lot of time and
money. If a person can’t give the bird all of these things,
they shouldn’t be a falconer.
Hunting with a bird of prey has global history. It has been
going on in Asia for over 4000 years. Drawings left from
Ancient Egypt show falconry. Europe saw its beginnings over
1500 years ago. Kings didn’t train the birds themselves but
hired someone called a Master Falconer to do this. Master
Falconers were in charge of capturing or buying birds, training
and keeping them. Kings usually had separate buildings called
Mews where the birds were kept.
Falconry has a set of rules that have changed over the years
but their idea stays the same. Falconry was a sport for the
very rich and the way poor people got fresh meat. In medieval
times [1500-1600s], there were rules about who could practice
falconry with what particular kind of bird. Kings could have a
gyrfalcon [male or female]. Princes could have a male or female
Peregrine Falcon all the way down the social ladder to servants
who could hunt with kestrels. If you ‘flew’ a bird that was
higher than your place in society, you would be punished. One
punishment was to cut off the person’s hands! The interesting
part is that today’s falconry is similar to the medieval class
system because falconers can only fly certain birds. Instead of
the system being based on the person’s place in society, it is
based on the person’s abilities as a falconer.
apprentice can train, keep, and hunt with
Red-shouldered Hawks, and
American Kestrels. A general class
falconer can have a choice of lots of birds of prey but can’t
Golden Eagle. Only the master falconer can have that.
So, falconry today is a little like the medieval times in having
certain birds used by different classes of people. In our
interview with Mr. Sliker, he mentioned that in our state
Kestrels are endangered. If the bird of prey is
endangered in their state, falconers can’t hunt with or keep
them no matter what level they are on.
When falconry started it
was a way to get food for the family but, as time passed, kings
and other people did it to obtain higher status or to look
“cool.” It is the same as kids who compete in tough sports,
wear “name-brand” clothing, or expensive jewelry for the purpose
of showing off. In medieval times, many would take part in the
sport to get noticed by the king and possibly move up in
When guns were invented, falconry dropped off as a means to
hunt. They didn’t have to capture birds, train them, and care
for them anymore. Guns were easier and took up a whole lot less
Falconry in the United States is regulated by law, permits, and
licensing by the federal and state government. In our interview
with Mr. Sliker, it became obvious that all of these licenses
and permits were costly to a falconer. You wouldn’t just get
into this sport without giving it some serious thought. We
learned from our interviews with Mr. Sliker [Falconry] and Mrs.
Uhler [Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation Center] that you even need
a permit to keep the feathers of any bird! Legally, you can’t
walk by an owl nest, see a dropped feather, pick it up, and take
it. Mrs. Uhler said this is a protection for birds of prey so
that people don’t just kill the birds for feathers. The only
people who do not need a permit to have
feathers in the United
Today's classes of
Must be 14 years of
age, must have a general or master falconer sponsor
Must be 18 years of
age, must have practice falconry with your own birds
for at least 2 years
Must have practice
falconry with your own birds for at least five years
Falconers learn from each other. When you start out in
falconry, you are an apprentice. Apprentices learn from people
who are farther along in falconry. An apprentice would not get
help from another apprentice but look for someone in the general
or master class.
The falconer must get the right bird for his or her class.
As we said before, the apprentice can have a
Red-shouldered Hawk, or an
Kestrel. The other classes
of falconers [general and master] can also have these birds but
are given the option of having other, more difficult birds to
Falconers can buy birds or capture their own. Whatever they
decide to do, they have to be sure that the birds will be able
to live and hunt where the falconer lives. For example, some
birds fly long distances and like to swoop down into fields to
catch mice. It would not be a ‘natural’ and good thing for a
bird like that to be living in a wooded area where it could fly
To train raptors, the falconers first had to buy equipment
such as jesses, a perch or block, hoods, lures, and
more. Jesses are straps that go around each of the
bird’s legs. These get attached to a swivel and a
leash is attached to that. This allows the bird to
move from a perch to a block of wood and back again.
hoods go over the bird’s head and eyes. The
bird thinks its night time and gets calmer.
It takes a really long time for the bird to get used to its
falconer. Usually he starts training the bird in a dark room
where the bird will be calmer. The falconer walks around a lot
with the bird on his gloved hand. The gloves are chosen based
on how large the bird and its talons are. A lightweight glove
would be used for a small bird but a heavy one would be used for
the larger birds like eagles. The gloves cover the falconer’s
hand and part of his arm.
After the bird gets used to him, the falconer will start to
feed the bird small pieces of meat and gradually increase the
size as the bird starts to take it from him. The goal is for
the bird to eat naturally while being ‘handled’ by the
falconer. Soon the bird is being trained in a lighted room or
even outdoors and the hood won’t be used so much. It was
interesting to find out that birds of prey don’t like to be
watched while they are eating.
When the bird gets used to the outside, he is attached to a
long cord and send out to look for food that the falconer has
put out for him. When the falconer sees that the bird will come
back to him, he stops using the cord to hold him as he flies.
The next step is to put a small bell on the bird’s leg. If
the falconer has a problem getting the bird to come back to him,
he might be able to find him by the sound of the bell. The
falconer teaches the bird to get food by using something called
a lure. A lure is a hunk of leather with feathers and a chunk
of meat on it. The falconer attaches a long cord to this and
drops it down next to the bird. The bird will hop over to it
and it will be dragged away over and over again. It can even be
swung in the air on its string and the bird will fly to get it.
In the end, the bird WILL get the meat and the game will be over
for the time being.
With a whole lot of patience, the falconer can train the bird
to hunt and return to his fist. During the interview with our
falconer, we found out that he sets the bird free and then
starts tries to ‘flush out’ some prey for his bird.
Falconers take birds out to hunt for prey during small game
hunting season. They usually hunt from fall through winter and
end in the spring. This depends on the rules and regulations
where the falconer lives. During the whole year, the falconer
feeds and takes care of the bird, making sure that it is always
healthy. Falconry is an all-year activity and keeping a bird of
prey healthy in captivity is not an easy thing.
People take part in
falconry all over the world. Laws and regulations are different
all over the world. Falconry changes are being made all the
time. Captive breeding is being used and hybrids are being
created. Captive breeding is a program where birds are put in
nature preserves, zoos, and other places where they can be mated
or use scientific means for the birds to have hatchlings [baby
birds]. Hybrids are a combination of two different kinds of
Selective breeding is also occurring. This is when birds are
being mated based on qualities they have so that their
hatchlings will have the combination. For example, falconers
need certain characteristics in the birds they keep. Some of
The ability to live and breed while they are in
Being beautiful in some way, whether its eye color
or feather color
Natural ability to stay healthy in captivity
able to fly for long distances
Being able to work well with humans
So, a falconer who is breeding a bird might think that his
‘ideal’ bird is one that has reddish-brown feathers and can live
a long time in captivity. He has a male bird for ten years and
its breed is known to live in captivity even longer. The
falconer will look for a female bird that has the feather color
he wants and breed her with his male. This should produce a
young bird with reddish-brown feathers that will live a long
time in captivity.
Falconry is a very interesting sport but not
one to jump into without a whole lot of thought. There is a big
investment of time and money in it for sure. We were lucky
enough to visit people who loved and cared for the birds they
had. So we believe, in the end, that the real reason to become
a falconer is for the love of--and respect for--birds of prey.
Our falconry trip page
Falconry. 18 Oct. 2007. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falconry>.
Falconry questions and answers. 31 Jan. 2008. <http://www.fws.gov/permists/mbpermits/factsheets/FalconryQandA.htm>.
Lloyd, Glenys. Birds of prey. NY: Grosset & Dunlap,
Our site is
best viewed with: 1024x768 screen resolution, Acrobat Reader 7+,
Adobe Flash Player 9, and Windows Media Player.