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What is a Falconer?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A falconer is someone who practices falconry, the sport of pursuing live prey with a raptor such as an eagle, hawk, or falcon. Most parts of the world have extensive laws covering falconry, to ensure that birds are properly treated so that the sport can continue to be practiced by enthusiasts. In most areas, a trainee falconer must undergo a minimum of two years of apprenticeship with an experienced falconer, and plan on taking several years of training after that before he or she can certify. Most places also have organizations dedicated to falconry where falconers can meet up to exchange information and compete together.

Falconry has been practiced for thousands of years, and is one of the oldest forms of hunting in addition to being an ancient collaboration between humans and animals. However, falconry involves the use of a wild animal, rather than a domesticated and trained dog or horse, as in other forms of hunting. A falconer actually traps his or her bird in the wild and takes it through an extensive training process before taking it out into the field. A falconer must train a bird to retrieve live prey and then return to its master, and captivity.

Most professional organizations of falconers place a heavy emphasis on extensive training and conservation, so that the sport has a positive reputation in the communities it is practiced in. Because falcons are wild animals, most falconers must get special licenses from the areas they hunt in. The requirements for licensure usually include an hourly training minimum in addition to a written test, to ensure that the falconer knows how to train, feed, and care for his or her charges.

Individuals interested in becoming a falconer should plan to dedicate at least seven years to training. The first two are usually extremely grueling, and will test the falconer's genuine interest in the sport. If a prospective falconer successfully passes training, he or she must still plan on dedicating time every day of the year to care for the falcons. A falcon in active training eats up even more time, and it can be difficult to find someone to care for falcons when a falconer wants to take a vacation or needs to travel. Most falconers say that falconry is not a sport as much as it is a lifestyle: for every hour in the hunt, falconers can spend many more on routine care.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By drtroubles — On Sep 13, 2011

@letshearit - You're right about there being a lot of famous characters and people who have picked up or be given the name Falconer. I think because of its relation to the word falconry, there is a certain level of adventure associated with the name.

I recently started writing a book about a traveler and named my lead character Tom Falconer. I really think it has a nice ring to it. Though I did toy with the ideas of whether or not to name him Paul Falconer or Adam Falconer. I guess I will just have to stick with the name I picked and hope that my book is successful.

By letshearit — On Sep 12, 2011

The last name of Falconer has been attached to a lot of famous figures over time. While most people automatically think of the sport, I always remember Quellcrist Falconer, the fictional activist that was wrote about in the Takeshi Kovacs series written by Richard K. Morgan.

Quellcrist Falconer is a pretty intense figure on her planet, and actually leads a revolution against the elite rulers.

What I find really interesting about Quellcrist Falconer is how she moves from a historical figure to a character downloaded and stored in memory.

If you love books set in the future, and want a glimpse of where digital technology is taking us, the Takeshi Kovacs series is a great read.

By shell4life — On Sep 12, 2011

I have seen falconry techniques on television. The falconer exposes the bird to people constantly. If he plans to use dogs for hunting also, then he exposes them to the dogs as well.

The falconer uses a dead bird attached to a string to lure the falcon, which is tied to a lengthy line until it learns to come to the falconer. After it has learned to come to him with the dead bird, it is given the chance to hunt.

Some falconers put radio transmitters or bells on their falcons. This way, if they travel beyond the area where they can be seen, the owner can find them.

By kylee07drg — On Sep 11, 2011

@Perdido - I have a falconer in my family as well. My grandfather worked with birds for several decades, and he developed a pet-to-master relationship with them like some people have with dogs or cats.

After his apprenticeship, he progressed to the General Class. In this stage of training, he was allowed to pick from a bigger selection of birds, so long as they were not endangered. He picked an eyass and trained it from the beginning.

He loved this bird, and it was loyal to him. Unlike some falconers who trade out their birds as often as they are allowed, my grandfather would keep them until they died.

By Perdido — On Sep 11, 2011

My uncle is a falconer. He told me that there are three classifications of birds to train. One is an eyass, or a young one obtained from a nest prior to learning to fly. When it is ready to learn, the trainer lets it fly freely to develop its skills. It must be held captive in between flying sessions.

Another is a passager, or a young one that already knows how to fly but is only a year old. The third is a haggard, or an adult, but sometimes laws ban the capture of these birds if they are old enough to mate.

As an apprentice, my uncle had to catch a passager to train. He could only choose between the red-tailed hawk or the American kestrel. He would gain more liberty as he progressed, but he started out with a red-tailed hawk.

By seag47 — On Sep 11, 2011

It is astounding to me that a falcon can be trained. I didn’t know they were that intelligent. I really didn’t think they would have any contact with humans.

I suppose if a bird were raised up from a baby around people then it might be more likely to interact with them. I guess if the humans with baby falcons provided food to them, then they would be more willing to trust them.

It’s just hard for me to imagine a bird willingly returning to a person who is going to put it back in captivity. The best thing about being a bird is the freedom to fly wherever and whenever you want!

By jmc88 — On Sep 10, 2011

I can see through reading the comments that falconers can be more than a sport or lifestyle and can provide a very valuable service to the community and help save lives. However, a question I have about falconry concerns how it is used for spectacle.

I once went to a dinner theater and there was what I thought a falconer there and he had his bird fly over the crowd for awhile then did this incredible catching of the bird by throwing something up in the air and having it land on what he threw up.

My question is considering that this was only done for entertainment and not to catch wild game was this a falconer or was it just a trained bird used for entertainment? If it was a falconer then I would assume it is possible to teach a falconer's bird other things besides catching prey.

By titans62 — On Sep 10, 2011

@matthewc23 - That makes very good sense. I have driven by airports and on a couple of occasions seen some very massive birds. I assumed that there was simply something dead around and it could have been a falconer's bird or it could have been a turkey vulture.

That being said that is another problem that falconer's fix at airports. Say something is dead on a runway or within the boundaries of the various runways at an airport there will probably be birds circling it, usually very big one. It is very dangerous for big birds to be around in an area where airplanes are getting ready to land and could create a tragedy during descent. Sending out a falconers bird to gather all the dead animal carcasses not only keeps the dead animals off the runways but keeps circling birds in the sky away from the airports and makes the runways much much safer.

By matthewc23 — On Sep 10, 2011

@cardsfan27 - You are totally correct. Sometimes on rare occasions falconers services are called upon in major cities if there is a major pest bird or rodent problem because it is the bird's natural instinct, as well as training, to hunt prey like that, as opposed to humans trying to catch them. It is safe to the environment and in a ways keeps with the natural order of things.

I will say another place that falconers are used quite often is at airports. Of course the runways need to be clear in order for the planes to land so if falconers will send their birds out and gather the rodents, whether dead or alive, and usually do a much better job than the airport workers will do.

By cardsfan27 — On Sep 09, 2011

I have heard of falconers being used to control pests in major cities. Although falconers can be seen as a sport, or lifestyle as the article states, they seem to be able to provide valuable and practical services to the community if they need to be called upon to do.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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