Falconry which is said to be the oldest sport in the world is the training of Birds of Prey to chase and kill quarry for the Falconer. The sport can be traced back as far a 2000BC to the middle and Far East and was originally used for subsistence and not sport.
By the beginning of the 6th Century and extending through the Middle Ages, the popularity of falconry soured through Europe. It was a sport for Royalty. And the possession of Birds of Prey was considered a status symbol. In England in the 1600’s there were a strict set of customs called ‘Law of Ownership’, which dictated to the social ranks of citizens which bird was to be flown and by whom. A king could fly a Gyrfalcon; a duke, a rock falcon; an earl, a peregrine; a yeoman, a goshawk; and a servant, a kestrel. It was thought in the reign of Edward III, 1327-77, stealing a trained raptor was punishable by death.
Falconry is an expensive pastime as it always has been and that reflects the list above, not only is there the expense of purchasing a bird, but there are the running costs of food and equipment, from housing know as mews, to hood and bells, which are all unique to each individual bird. It is only fair that the quarry killed by the larger birds such as the Gyr should be the food source of the Royal and that of a Kestrel to the servant.
The man considered to be the greatest Falconer was Frederick II, Emperor of Europe, wrote one of the first ever books about Falconry called ‘De Arte Venandi cum Avibus’ (The Art of Falconry) which was translated in the 1940’s. This book covered all aspects of Falconry and is around 600 pages long but took over 30 years to complete.
The most prominent Falconer since Frederick II was Henry VIII, who had Royal Mews at Charing’s Cross built to house his Falcons.
The training of a hawk is not an easy job, and all species require different techniques. Once you have chosen your bird and brought it home, the ‘manning’ process starts, this is where the handler mans the bird getting him used to being touched, held, and fed on the glove. This is not as easy as it sounds and anyone contemplating purchasing a Bird of Prey should go on an intensive course with a reputable falconer. Books are not enough, practical experience is a necessity.
The invention of the Shotgun almost put the Art of Falconry into extinction along with the extinction of some species of birds. Fortunately, the sport was still carried out in the Middle East and by a few English Gentlemen/ Noblemen that kept the sport alive, along with some extensive breeding programmes that released birds of prey and thus keeping them from total Extinction. It is now illegal for any Bird of Prey to be taken from the wild and kept in captivity.
There are a lot of words used in the Art of Falconry that have now found their way into the English Language some examples: A codger, used today to describe an elderly person, was used in the falconry term cadger, a person who carried a portable perch called a cadge for the falconer. When a raptor drinks it’s called bowsing. If he drinks heavily he is called a boozer. This speaks for itself.
When a bird covers his food it’s called mantling or to Mantle. The word mantle piece is derived from this. When a bird of prey is down for moulting he is said to be fed up (given more food than usual). We have two meanings now.