“My lord protector’s hawks do tower so well; They know their master loves to be aloft
And bears his thoughts above his falcon’s pitch.”
— Henry VI, Part II
What is Falconry?
Falconry is the practice of using birds of prey — known as raptors — to hunt small prey, such as rabbits. The birds are highly trained and obedient, requiring intense devotion and care from the falconer. Raptors that are commonly used for falconry include red tail hawks, kestrels, peregrine falcons, and golden eagles. The practice dates back thousands of years, and falconry remains popular today, playing an integral role in conservation efforts.
The History of Falconry
Records show that falcons were used for hunting in China as far back as 2200 BC. They became a status symbol and were given as royal gifts.
Ancient Mesopotamian ruins show depictions of falconers holding hawks on their wrists, and Aristotle made references to the sport of falconry dating back to the 300s BC in Greece.
It is believed that Crusaders brought falconry to Western Europe, where it reached its height of popularity during the Medieval period. Strict rules governed which birds could be used by different levels of nobility, and Shakespeare made over 50 references to falconry in his plays — more on that below.
Students from the University of Pennsylvania established the Peregrine Club in 1936. Thanks to the club’s influence, falconry grew in popularity in the United States, leading to the formation of the North American Falconer’s Association in 1961. The association is still very active today with thousands of members.
Nonprofits like The Peregrine Fund have made major contributions in restoring the peregrine falcon population after it was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1970. The peregrine falcon was removed from the list in 1999, and the population is now stable.
Discover the ancient form of falconry at the oldest established Falconry School in Ireland. The Falconry School at Ashford Castle aims to share with you the pleasure and excitement of falconry, a fascination that has enthralled people for 4,000 years, and today provides guests with a unique experience in magnificent surroundings. No-one ever forgets the moment when their hawk first swoops down from a tree to land on their gloved fist – Flying a hawk is an experience of a lifetime!
Falconry’s Impact on Language
Thanks in large part to Shakespeare, many of the colloquialisms associated with falconry have made their way into everyday English language. You probably recognize:
- “Under your thumb”: Refers to tightly gripping the bird’s tethers to keep it under control.
- “Wrapped around my little finger”: Falconers wrap the tethers around their pinky to prevent the bird from flying away.
- “Eyes like a hawk”: Birds of prey are known for their incredible eyesight, which can be ten times stronger than the human eye.
- “Fed up”: When a bird has eaten its fill, it will no longer hunt.
- “Booze”: This term draws its roots from the word bouse, which meant to drink excessively. Again, a bird will refuse to hunt after drinking too much water.
- “Haggard”: An untamed, wild hawk; the word came to mean disheveled or exhausted.
- “Hoodwinked”: Falconers cover a bird’s eyes with a leather hood to prevent distraction until they are ready to begin hunting. Hoodwinked is now used as a verb to describe tricking someone.
- “Rouse”: The term for a hawk shaking its feathers; beginning in the 16th century, it began to mean “awaken.”