Falconry, or “hawking”, is the taking of wild quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of a trained raptor. So, the term “falconry” is a bit of a generic catch-all. A true falcon need not be involved. It can be accomplished with falcons, hawks, eagles, and even owls. And, there are as many types of falconry as there are combinations of game and raptors. Falconers focus on every species of game from invasive European sparrows, up to large ducks and jackrabbits. And, the raptors used to hunt them are as varied as the prey. Tiny American Kestrels are employed for small birds. At the other end of the spectrum, specially licensed falconers launch huge Golden Eagles after bounding jackrabbits in western states.
In Alabama, the most common game pursued by falconers is rabbits and squirrels. The most common raptors used to catch those species are our native Red-tailed Hawk, and the Harris’s Hawk from the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. Both of these species are very adept at catching the rabbits and squirrels of our area. But, like elsewhere, many other species are flown in Alabama at a myriad of game types.
Falconry is in its infancy in the United States compared to its historical past. Falconry is over 4000 years old and has a rich history originating in China and the Middle East where it rapidly spread throughout Europe and beyond. It reached it’s high point in the middle ages in Europe where only Kings and few select members of his court were allowed to fly or be in possession a raptor upon threat of sure death. The sport is referred to as “The Sport of Kings” and also “The Art of Falconry”. The United Nations recently placed falconry on their list of Intangible Culture Heritages. Indeed, it is said that “man emerged from the mist of history with a raptor on his glove”.
So, in short, falconry is a very old means of hunting that has been passed down from master to apprentice for centuries. However, thankfully, these days, it isn’t reserved for the nobility. It is however an extremely demanding, and time-consuming sport that most consider more of a lifestyle than a hobby. But, for those that have the time and patience to make the commitment, the rewards can be great.