Master Falconer, Bob Raymond, shares his story and insights on falconry, below. Check back for new entries.
Falconry has been in existence for thousands of years, pre-BCE, and is still practiced today around the world. Back in medieval times, the falconer supplied most of the food for the village that he lived in with the assistance of the bird of prey. Also depending on your social status back then dictated what Bird of Prey (BOP) you could own and fly. Interesting that owls were not used then as they were associated with witchcraft. That is enough of the history, there is lots of information on the web if you wish to pursue.
Fast forward to 20 years ago. Some of you may wonder why I am doing these articles as hopefully there will be many. I normally am standing up and teaching this subject with the aid of strong visual power points so sitting down in front of a keyboard is new to me, but I think it will work. The answer to why, is my strong love of BOP and to educate people in their part in conservation.
The question that I am asked most often when people find out that I fly BOP is: How did I get involved in it? The answer is kind of long, but it goes like this.
My employment involved helicopters in various places around the world. I always carried at least 2 cameras everywhere that I went, finding that I had a knack for animal photography, in particular BOP. A few decades went by selling pictures freelance to wildlife magazines, and no I did not get rich selling the pictures, but I learned a lot watching various BOP in the wild. I read books, yes books, pre the web. I thought long and hard about leaving my career in helicopters to go to university and become an ornithologist but bird watching has a slim paycheck.
Another decade went by with a high stress job and while sitting in front of a computer a random thought occurred, I need something to do and blow off some steam. I like to be in the bush by myself, I like BOP. The answer was to become a falconer, one of my best decisions in my life. Some time on the web had all my answers, find a master falconer, apprentice for 2 years and away you go, easy right?
2 decades ago, I decided that I wanted to fly Birds of Prey (BOP). I like to hunt, be by myself in the bush and enjoy BOP, seemed like a good fit at the time and it still is.
To be a falconer in Ontario you must complete a 2-year apprenticeship under a licensed falconer. Other requirements as well, but that will come later.
I should point out now that when I use the term falconer, I mean a person that flies a BOP, hawk, eagle, owl, falcon. Some people use the term Austinger for anyone not flying a falcon.
Anyway, I selected a guy off the web that seemed like a good place. 20 years later we are still best friends, we hunt together, talk every week, a lifetime friendship as a bonus.
Part of the reg to become a falconer in Ontario is 40 hours of instruction. My mentor thought that should be done outdoors, bless him, and he still has the same chairs that I sat in with a bird on the glove 20 years ago.
On the glove? That is a new term and there will be more as you keep going. Basically, a glove that you put on your left hand, made from cow hide or kangaroo hide depending on what you are flying.
How sharp are the talons?
When falconry came to be, 3000 years ago or so, a horse was the common means of transport. Reins in the right hand, falcon on the left hand.
I was lucky enough that my mentor had a falconry school, and I was the only student at that time, and it was early fall. (I should mention here that my mentor was a falconer in Germany and immigrated to Canada. His knowledge and high standards have made me the falconer that I am today.) There were game birds to train the falcons and hawks on, pheasants, grouse, chuckers, rabbits. Everything needs to be fed and watered. Part of the apprenticeship job - feed, water, scrap poop.
Early mornings and late nights were the norm for a long time. Birds had to be blocked, perched, fed, fresh water, exercised, flown and on and on. I am not talking about a couple of birds here that required attention, 50-60 at that time. No better place to be an apprentice and my mentor is an awesome cook.
The classroom portion, as I mentioned earlier, was done outdoors at a table under a big tree, both of which are still there today.
I can’t start to detail what my mentor taught me under that tree way back then, and I still learn, to this day, under the same tree. I guess I am a slow learner as my apprenticeship continues, 20 years later.
I made the cut and my mentor sold me a hawk, a male Harris hawk. Hatched that summer, about 4 months old. Conversations were had about building a chamber, more on that later, I had most of the equipment required, again later. My mentor said, “come down tomorrow and get your bird”.
Easy right? I did not have a real grasp on what to expect when I got there but I could not have thought up what was to ensue. Let us go get your hawk says my mentor. From where says I. Out of the chamber says he. New word, chamber. A chamber is where BOP are kept, more details later.
2 adult birds, 4 youngsters, in a chamber with 8 sides and 4 feet per side. A net in one hand and a glove on the other, in walks my mentor into this chamber. I am watching through a crack in the door and seeing birds flying everywhere. The youngsters have never seen a person before, the adults are upset as they see a threat to their young. A male was netted and removed without anyone getting hurt.
Some may ask “how did your mentor know it was a male”. Later.
So now we have a hawk in our hands with no way to control it and normally they are unhappy. The bird is casted, not like when you break an arm but in this sense held by the ankles in your chest while someone puts on the anklets and jesses, 2 new more words.
Next article will be manning and flying a new bird.