One hundred years ago falconry was almost extinct in Britain. Using birds of prey to kill for food had been replaced by other methods, but gradually there has been a revival and we have developed a greater understanding and love of our indigenous birds of prey. Nowadays falconry is a hobby practiced as a field sport and is one of the most popular attractions at country shows.
There are a number of falconry centres across the UK which offer wonderful public displays of the birds’ abilities. If you want to get up close and personal with these magnificent birds, you can choose a rather special personal falconry experience on a private estate.
The falconer will take great delight in introducing you to the birds that they have reared and trained, explaining their different histories and characteristics. With your hands safely protected with falconry gloves, you will then be invited to feed and fly the birds from your hand. It’s quite incredible to watch them swoop and soar and collect the food from your hand with absolute accuracy.
The best falconers have the most incredibly intimate knowledge of their birds - our favourite falconer will share their names, their birthdays and, most importantly, their favourite foods. He introduces the birds one by one and he demonstrates their power and accuracy as they fly from his hand to yours, where they will then sit to have their photo taken.
Surprisingly, our language has been influenced by the sport and many falconry terms are recognisable today, albeit with slightly amended meanings:
-Hoodwink: the calming covering of the birds’ eyes has become the fooling of someone into believing something
-Fed up: a hawk isn’t interested in eating food or flying when it has a full crop, it is termed fed up, now that applies to a bored person
-Mews: the name that is now given to a small street of houses originally came from the Royal Mews which were built solely to house the monarch’s birds
Falconry became a truly gentrified sport from the Norman times, when the sons of the aristocracy and gentry were taught the country pursuits of falconry, archery and riding. The Royal Falconer was highly respected and, when successful, had a close relationship with the monarch.
One of the most popular species nowadays is the Harris Hawk as the species naturally works in groups, making the sport more sociable as falconers can fly several birds at the same time. Flying and feeding a bird from hand to hand is a wonderful experience, you can truly see what the birds are designed to do in their natural habitat. Witnessing the power of these magnificent birds at close quarters is unlike any other experience, and opens up some of the wonders of the English countryside.