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A Wing and A Prayer

Photos by Chris Heising

Debunking the Sport of Kings

Colloquially known as the sport of kings, falconry is a sport that can be traced easily back to the Middle Ages, if not further. The current public perception of this ancient pastime is riddled with myriad misconceptions, and given the relatively small number of knowledgeable practitioners, it’s easy to understand why. The bottom line is that falconry is about working as a team to hunt with a bird of prey. The falconer provides the proper husbandry for the bird and works in the field to help the bird pursue small game. The wellbeing of the bird comes before all else in the sport.

For the first two years as a falconer, you must have an experienced falconer willing to mentor you. Although a lot can be taught within two years, the learning never truly stops, and you're encouraged to continually seek information. A large part of that is based on facilitating new experiences with different birds, filling up your bookshelves with reliable reading material, and staying connected with the falconry community. Some of the most common misconceptions tend to be associated with the bird’s relationship/bond with the falconer, the treatment the animal receives, and how the hunt is played out between the bird and the falconer.

The Pet Hawk

It’s not uncommon to be approached by someone while you’re out hunting with your bird. People have a lot of questions and are understandably curious. But one that almost always comes up usually goes something like, “So … that’s your pet?” While I look stupidly at my hawk, who’s perched on a tree branch waiting for me to flush a rabbit out of a bush, I do my best to convey the reality of what’s going on and how a bird of prey isn’t “pet” material. Don’t get me wrong; a chance to educate someone on falconry always puts a smile on my face. Unfortunately, people don’t always hear the information the way they want to hear it. Also, my time in the field is devoted to my bird. A lot of people want to hear warm and fuzzy stories about befriending birds of prey, so they tend to keep steering the conversation in this direction. This is what usually leads to the stupid look on my face — frustration that sometimes people aren’t so much seeking education as validation of a story they’ve already told themselves.

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