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.