Reader Question: Getting Started in Falconry

I got a question from a young reader asking about how one gets into falconry. This is the text of my response:

To get a falconry permit, you should contact your state’s wildlife department. This is usually the same branch that handles hunting and fishing permits. What you want is an information packet on falconry permits. This should include the federal and state regulations concerning falconry and instructions on how to apply for a permit. It should also include a list of permitted falconers in your state. You will need to find a falconer with a general or master permit who is willing to sponsor you through a two-year apprenticeship. You will have to pass a 100 question multiple choice test. Almost everything that you need to know is covered by the regulations on the one hand and the information you can learn by studying Beebe and Webster’s “North American Falconry and Hunting Hawks”. I recommend tracking down and buying the 2nd edition of this book. Expect to pay about $80 for it. You will also need various equipment items and a mews and/or weathering area for your bird; these will be inspected before you will be issued your apprentice falconry permit.

Falconry requires a significant commitment of time to the care and training of the bird. This will be between one and several hours every day. Neglect of the bird will make it highly likely that at the next opportunity, it will simply fly off and not return. Training of falconry birds has been accomplished for centuries using what we recognize today as positive reinforcement. Punishment in training again makes it likely that the bird will not return. You will need to provide a whole-food diet for the bird. They cannot be maintained in good health using processed meats. Hunting involves being able to dispatch caught prey items in the field and learning how to prepare them for storage if the bird is not simply fed on the prey in the field.

You should also be prepared for the lows as well as the highs of falconry. There are many opportunities for losing a bird, and depending on how attached you become to particular birds, this can be quite painful emotionally. Birds get lost; telemetry equipment can help with this, but is pricey. Birds can be the victims of wild predators; golden eagles can easily catch and kill most hawks, and owls are noted as opportunistic killers of falconry birds of all sorts. An insecure mew can expose your bird to risk from domestic predators like dogs and cats, or to wandering wild predators like raccoons, opossums, or coyotes. In the field, one is usually at the risk of having gun hunters mistake your bird for a prey animal. A proportion of falconry birds are killed every year when they cross electrical lines; this often can occur where there are exposed power transformers mounted high on poles, but is possible on almost any power pole with an exposed wire. Bad equipment can doom a bird if it breaks a leash but flies off with jesses and swivel forming a loop that almost certainly will catch on some branch or projection. Birds trapped from the wild may already have a high parasite load and succumb to that if not caught. In general, birds mask symptoms of disease until the disease is far advanced and they do not have the strength to keep up a pretense of health, which means that close monitoring of your bird for slight signs of problems is a skill that you will need to develop, as well as contacts including veterinarians with skill and experience in dealing with raptors.

If all of that has not put you off, then do follow up with your state government to get started toward your falconry permit.

Good luck and good hunting,

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

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