Falconry Part One – Medieval and Modern Falconry

medieval falconryWhat do castles, knights and falconry all have in common? They are all part of my second Sir Kaye medieval adventure book, The Lost Castle Treasure. I’m hard at work on it now, and that includes lots of research on the history of castles and falconry.

Falconry is the art of training birds of prey (raptors) such as falcons or hawks to hunt along with a person. It was an important part of medieval life—a well-trained goshawk could be a main contributor to the family diet. At the beginning of the Middle Ages, falconry was less of a sport and more of a means to provide food for the table.

Think for a moment about the limited technology of the middle ages. Think about the back-breaking labor involved in trying to grow food using clumsy plows and primitive scythes under uncertain weather conditions. Tools for hunting were spears and bows that were basically made out of sticks and strings. Now think about having the assistance of a hawk or falcon when it comes to supplementing the family diet. Imagine how incredible it would have been to make use of its keen eyesight, incredible speed, and deadly accuracy when it came to feeding your family. Hawks and falcons were really the height of hunting technology during the Middle Ages.

As an interesting contrast, falconry today is a direct link to the past because it has changed very little since the Middle Ages. So in order to do some research for my next book, to get a better understanding of falconry, and to try to make a personal connection with some living history, I contacted the Texas Hawking Association and connected with Lynne Holder, a local falconer in the Brenham, Texas area. (Brenham is also where you can take a Blue Bell Ice Cream tour.)

Note on falconry terminology: Birds of prey are known as raptors. Raptors commonly used in hunting include both falcons and hawks. Today the term falconry refers to the training and flying of any type of raptor. Falconers (those who practice the art of falconry) call their raptors hawks (even if their raptor is technically a falcon).

Lynne was very gracious and generous with her time and not only invited me to spend the day with her and her Harris’ Hawk, Dart, but she also agreed to be interviewed for this blog. As there is so much to tell about falconry, it’s a bit too much information for one blog post so I’ll be splitting it up over several blogs in the weeks ahead, including the interview with Lynne.

Chances are that some of my blog readers may know very little about falconry and may have a few questions about it. A common first concern that many people have is “How does the bird feel?” or “What’s in it for the bird?” The answer to that question may surprise you, as it did me.

The truth is that a hawk—even a trained hawk— is not a pet but a wild animal. A falconer may love the hawk, as Lynne does Dart, but the hawk doesn’t love the falconer back. The hawk sees it as more of a working relationship. The hawk tolerates the falconer because there’s a benefit in doing so. The benefit is that the hawk is well fed and well cared for. That’s why a hawk—despite being completely free to fly away at any time during a hunt—usually returns to the falconer. The hawk knows it would be giving up an easy meal ticket if it left.

Check back next week for some highlights from my day with Dart.