Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.

Falconry

Falconry, the taking of game by trained hawks, has been practised from very early times in China and India. Layard found it figured in the sculptured ruins of Khorsabad, and it is depicted on some Egyptian monuments. Allusions to it are found in some Roman poets, and it was a favourite sport in the Middle Ages. King Alfred is said to have written a book on it. Harold appears in the Bayeux tapestry carrying a hawk on his fist. Laws of William the Conqueror rigidly regulated the keeping of hawks and falcons, the nobler kinds being reserved for the king and the great nobles. It was not till Magna Charta that the right was secured for every freeman" to have eyries of hawks and falcons in his own woods." Stringent laws, too, were enacted respecting the theft or unlawful possession of hawks. Shakespeare constantly alludes to the sport, which was affected by the fair sex (Mary Queen of Scots, for instance, when in captivity was entertained with hawking), and flourished until the 17th century, when Puritanism and the Civil Wars caused its decline in England, as the religious wars of Germany did in that country. At the Restoration it revived slightly, and has been practised in England by a few enthusiasts down to the present day. A revival in Holland about 1840 has contributed to its continuance with us. But the development of the gun and the enclosure of land have killed it, just as they have favoured battue shooting and decreased the importance of trained sporting dogs. Open country is requisite for the sport, as the falconers have often to gallop some distance after the hawk. In kite-hawking runs of five or six miles were not unknown. Though when the "fowling-piece" was little developed more game could be taken by hawking than in other ways, rooks, larks, ravens, kites, and magpies were also pursued, as being high flyers and strong on the wing. Heron hawking was a favourite sport. Pheasant hawking was sometimes pursued with dogs, which found the hawk when she had dropped on her prey. Hares, rabbits, and grouse were (and are) hawked. Female hawks and falcons are preferred, being larger and more powerful than male. Falconers divide them (a) into long-winged (falcons) and short-winged (including the goshawk, merlin, and sparrowhawk), and (b) into haggards or passage-hawks (wild birds caught and trained) and eyases (birds brought up from the nest). Haggards are trained by being kept continuously hooded for a time, meanwhile being accustomed to be carried on the fist, and to the voice. They are then at first fed with a "lure" (a dead bird, or an imitation of one baited with meat). Eyases, after being accustomed to the bell and strap (see below) are allowed to prey for themselves for a short time, but will come back to be fed and so are recaptured. In flying the birds they are taken out on the fist, hooded and wearing two short leather straps (jesses), one of which is permanently attached to each leg. A leash is run through these, and a light bell also attached to the leg. When game is started the bird is released, unhooded, and "flown at" it. Sometimes this is done before the game is found, when the bird will "wait on" above the party till the prey is started. The hawk then rises, usually at last flying round and round the prey (or "quarry") in large and gradually ascending spirals, and finally swooping down on it. Meanwhile the falconers ride after her, tempt her away with a lure, and hood her again. Great pains are taken in the training to teach the hawk not to carry her game. Falcons are, of course, the most esteemed of the birds used; they have occasionally been obtained from Norway and Greenland. The peregrine falcon is the most usual. Goshawks have now and then been used. The merlin is flown at larks, the tiercel or male peregrine at partridges, pigeons, and magpies. The sport, has a most elaborate vocabulary.

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