The ancient and noble art of falconry is a sport which involves the use of trained raptors (birds of prey) to hunt or pursue game for humans. It is believed that falconry originated on the ‘Steps of Asia’ approximately 4,000 – 5,000 years ago as a different form of hunting. Artifacts have been found in China and Iraq and were carbon dated back to that time.
In Arab culture, the Koran speaks of the ‘nobility’ of falconry.
In Ireland there is fossil evidence of an interaction between man and the goshawk. Remains were found in Mount Sandel in Colerainec-7,000 BC, Newgrange in the Boyne Valley in Co. Meath -2,000 BC and Dalkey Ireland in Dublin – 3,000 BC. The earliest known reference to falconry in Ireland is in the Irish text ‘The Life of St. Colman’ in the 12th century. In this, the King of Tara is described as having ‘da seabhac seiga’ or two hunting hawks.
Falconry also became known as the ‘Sport of Kings’ and is widely thought of as a medieval sport.
Roman Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250AD) was the grandson of Frederick I. He was crowned King of the Germans in 1215 and Holy Roman Emperor in 1220. He considered falconry to be ‘the noblest of sports’. He inherited his love of falconry from his Norman ancestors. He maintained up to fifty hawkers at a time in his court. He produced manuscripts on falconry which are kept in the Vatican today.
In the middle ages, birds of prey were considered prized possessions. Monarchs, noblemen and clerics possessed these ‘noble birds’. Falcons were seen as status symbols. The penalty for possessing birds outside your class was the cutting off of hands.
The Boke of St. Alban’s provides a list of the falconry Laws of Ownership. They were as follows:-
- An Emperor – Golden Eagle
- King – Gyr Falcon (male & female)
- Prince – Peregrine Falcon
- Duke – Rock Falcon (subspecies of a peregrine)
- Earl – Peregrine falcon (tiercel)
- Baron – Bustarde Hawk
- Knight – Saker Falcon
- Squire – Lanner Falcon
- Lady – Female Merlin
- Page – Hobby
- Yeoman – Goshawk (female)
- Poorman – Goshawk (male)
- Priest – Sparrowhawk
- Knave – Kestrel
The concept of falconry changed with the introduction of guns. It was easier to catch prey this way. Some artillary was called after birds of prey. For example, a musket is a male sparrowhawk. There were canons called falcon and saker. In fact, William of Orange, at the Battle of the Boyne 1690AD used Saker canon that fired a 6 lb canonball and sometimes balls of musket shot. James I used falcon canons that used a 3 lb shot.
Nobles kept falconry alive, although there was no support for bird of prey protection and, in the 20th century, there was a return to falconry.
Falconry as a cultural heritage is an important theme in the international fraternity of the sport. Various nations have submissions in to have falconry recognised as an UNESCO Intangible World Heritage. Belgium is the first country in the EU to have falconry listed with UNESCO with many more countries to follow same.
I.A.F. is the International Association of Falconry with 48 countries. This association is dedicated to the preservation of the ancient art of falconry and the protection of birds of prey.