Archive for February, 2010

Our birds of prey displays – some history


We are in the process of refurbishing our mews – actually a mixture of weatherings and free lofting aviaries where our birds of prey are housed. They are open sided structures or at least have open windows with vertical slants – either way the weather gets in and your once new structures sadly age to a point when they need to repaired and upgraded.

Well we are at that point now and like the aviaries I am afraid we humans also age! along with our falcons and other birds of prey.

I think I was quite lucky when I first started on my own in late  1986 as a freelance falconer because the initial birds I bought proved to be amazingly good! Birds of prey were more difficult to get hold of in those days as the captive breeding program – which is now so well established – was very much in its infancy. So instead of buying an untrained falcon or other bird of prey which is what falconers prefer sometimes one had no option but to take a chance on a bird that had often been partially trained by someone else.

Well my first falcon ‘Peggy’ was like this – a hybrid lanner-lugger falcon – and probably of her type one of the finest fliers I have ever seen. Back then when the summers were good! she would ascend to great heights above many a show ground on warm thermals  – often disappearing from view or ‘specking it’ as it is sometimes described. There would inevitably come a moment  when the audience  would stop believing! convinced  they have seen the last of her and to be honest similiar thoughts would also occur to me! such is the knife edge we live on. But just when all appeared to be lost and with my commentary at the point of exhaustion she would reappear in a back breaking stoop and bring the house down!

So she was a real character and when it was windy – conditions being different – she would still fly well with pace and determination using the wind like the consumate professional – which of course she was.

Peggy is 24 years old now! and her powers of superlative flight are sadly much diminished.  It is now many seasons since she has wowed the crowds at our falconry and bird of prey displays – in fact I continued to fly her just for pleasure until about a year ago when with her stamina very much on the wane I decided to retire her.

Although we have a new generation of birds of prey that many guests and audience members will see flying over the season our falconry displays still contain birds that we have had for many years – their experience and versatility being such a great asset but behind the headlines when the audience have gone home so is their companionship.

falconry and birds of prey displays

Over the years we have always tried to combine the world of birds of prey into our displays in an attempt to promote conservation – in fact a lot of displays have moved away from the theme of falconry towards birds of prey education – either way one always attempts to make the displays fun, interactive where possible so making them accessible to guests and audiences in general.

This week I had a double reminder of the cultural and historical importance of falconry and the value which people attach to it.

I was helping a falconry friend with his bird – a harris hawk – he was telling me that he felt it was so important that we should not lose the skills of falconry – that have been handed down from generation to generation – to the modern world. 

I have the same feeling about falconry but the reality is that falconry is probably stronger and more popular now than it has been since the days of ‘Camelot’! Although I joke about ‘Camelot’  there is this perception that falconry was common place in bygone days – the Middle Ages and before – that everybody flew hawks and falcons.

We will never  quite know how true this picture is  but suffice to say that using  goshawks – or the ‘cooks bird’ as it was known was a bona fide way of putting fresh meat onto the table and with  peregrine falcons – or the  ‘falcon gentle’ as she was known – a form of high sport for those of leisure. The supporting cast of merlins and sparrowhawks added to the picture. Our literature notably that of the ‘Bard’ is rich in falconry references, terms and analogies.

So falconry today with the development and success of the captive breeding programme coupled with increased leisure time has brought about the renaissance of the sport.

But I liked the sentiment of what my friend had said and found it cropped up again later in the week when I was working professionally for a client entertaining guests from an international company with representatives coming from all over the world to meet in London. Although we had encountered this many times it just seemed poignant that guests had a sense of falconry in their own country and of course in ours too – something that  people of different cultures have admired together – talked about in their own literature and expressed in art.

One had the feeling that if  falconry were a still water it would run deep.