Sunday, May 29, 2011


Falconry is the art of using a trained raptor (bird of prey) to hunt wild quarry like birds or small mammals. The practice dates to at least 2000 BC and birds used for falconry (or hawking, a near-synonymous term in the modern parlance) include buzzards, eagles, Harris hawk, Peregrine falcons, Lanner falcon, Gyrfalcon, goshawks, owls and kestrels, among others.

The pastime is complicated and time-consuming and, in America at least, requires a minimum two year apprenticeship. The raptors are not pets and do not establish a bond with their handlers beyond trust and food source. Objections to falconry have been raised by environmentalists (it is virtually outlawed in Australia, albeit indirectly, for example) but the falconry community has made significant and undeniable contributions to species conservation and protection. I don't know enough to have an opinion other than to suppose that the trainer/handler licensing should be stringent (not too different from my thoughts on parenting).

The lithographs below, produced in the mid-1800s, come from 'Traité de Fauconnerie' by H Schlegel and AH Verster de Wulverhorst [source].

chromolithograph of Hooded falcon perched on handler's gloved hand, by H Schlegel, 1853
Le Groënlandais, Faucon Blanc Mué

(Hooded White Greenlander falcon or gyrfalcon - based on a portrait of the bird by Pierre Louis Dubourcq)

Close-up of hooded bird's head
Hooded falcon close-up

frontispiece / title-page of 'Traité de Fauconnerie' by H Schlegel, 1853
Titlepage of 'Traité de Fauconnerie', 1844-1853

Each of the above images was spliced together from screen captures;
click through to large and very large versions.

book illustration of training equipment used in falconry
Tethering and training equipment used in falconry

raptor hoods - 1853 lithograph
Raptor* hoods

"Falconry hoods are among the very first pieces of equipment that a falconer will obtain when beginning to learn the art of falconry. A properly fitted hood ensures that the bird remains calm while in the presence of humans, as otherwise it may become alarmed and distraught. A hood is essential in making a bird ready for training. The acclimatization of the bird to humans is known as "manning" and is the first step in the training regimen." [source]

L'Émérillon Hagard, le Tiercelet sors et Hagard d'Émérillon

hawk illustration
Le Tiercelet sors de l'Autour

raptor lithograph
Le tiercelet Hagard de Faucon d'Islande

picture of two birds used in falconry
L'Épervier sors et le Mouchet Hagard

Le Faucon Hagard

[A bird of prey "taken from a nest in the wild or bred in captivity is known as an eyas. A hawk trapped during its first year in the wild is called a passager, and a hawk trapped in its adult plumage is termed a haggard. The female peregrine falcon is properly called a falcon, and the male — which, in common with most species of raptors, is smaller than the female — is known as a tiercel." {source}]

falcon on rock staring up intently
Le Sacre Hagard

lithograph of crouched raptor
Le Gerfaut Sors

'Traité de Fauconnerie' (1844-1853) by Hermann Schlegel and Abraham H Verster van Wulverhorst is available online at Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf [click 'Übersicht' for thumbnail pages] [Amazon]
"The finest work on Falconry which has ever been produced; not only on account of the beauty of the plates, wherein the hawks are depicted life-size and of the natural colours, but also for the general accuracy of the letterpress. [..]

Exclusive of the ornamented title-page, there are 16 folio plates, 2 of which are illustrative of Heron Hawking at the Loo, in 1844, with portraits of contemporary falconers; 2 others contain figures of hoods, jesses, lure, and other accessories; and the remaining 12 give life-sized coloured figures of the hawks employed by falconers, admirably drawn by Joseph Wolf and J. B. Sonderland."
As quoted from the veritable bible of falconry literature: 'Bibliotheca Accipitraria : A Catalogue of Books Ancient and Modern Relating to Falconry' By James Harting, 1891 (Revised) Online | Amazon | Bibliothecca Accipitraria II.

'Traité de Fauconnerie' was published in an elephant folio format (about 20x25 inches - hence, the descriptions talk of "life size" illustrations). It was issued in three instalments over nine years.

Less than one hundred copies were originally issued in the first edition between 1844 and 1853, of which only about fifty copies are known to have survived. I've seen prices in recent years ranging from £12,000 to £28,000 to £36,500 and the Abu Dhabi National Library was quoted more than £95,000 for a first edition copy last year to outfit their falconry collection.

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