Falconry, hunting with hawks.

Falconry, hunting with hawks!

Falconry, or hawking, is the sport of taking wild prey (or quarry) in its natural habitat by means of trained hawks. It has its own language, equipment and tradition, much of it largely unaltered since medieval times.

Falconry has never been easy, and the temporary enthusiasm caused by a free-flying display of hawks at a country fair is not sufficient justification for taking up this most exacting sport. However the relationship between hawk and man is immensely rewarding.

Birds of prey were very much protected in the Middle Ages. In the 1950s and '60s modern agriculture, with the widespread use of toxic chemicals, caused untold damage to the native raptor population. At the same time, due to their rarity, unscrupulous egg collectors added to the problem.

In the last few decades, however, falconers and conservationists have worked together to lobby for improved legislation and greater awareness. Today, birds of prey are thriving in the United Kingdom and domestic breeding programmes are proving most successful.

No more than 3,000 people practice falconry as a field sport in the UK. It is essentially a solitary and time-consuming pastime, with the training and managing of a bird of prey requiring skill and dedication. Falconers have to plan their social and working lives around their sport.

When hunting, the quarry is either killed by the hawk as it would be in the wild, or it escapes unharmed. To this end, few head are taken on a hunting trip – and the falconer will often return home empty handed.