We are often asked about falconry, and how to train hunting birds.
Q: What is falconry?
A: Falconry is a form of hunting that uses a hawk, falcon, eagle, or owl to catch prey. Birds of prey that are commonly trained are: Peregrine Falcons, Red-tailed Hawks, Harris Hawks, Golden Eagles, and Great Horned Owls. Commonly hunted species are: Rabbits, Ducks, Pheasants, Partridge, and Crows.
Q: How do I become a falconer?
A: If you are a California resident, go to the California Hawking Club's Apprentice Page. If you are a resident of another state, then go to the North American Falconers Association's What is Falconry? page.
Q: How are hunting birds trained?
A: You must learn how to train a hunting bird from an experienced falconer. This is only brief summary.
First a bird has to be trained to accept and trust the falconer. This is done by using food. The bird is always fed while perched on the falconer's glove. At first the bird will be hesitant, but after a few attempts and the bird's appetite increases, it will will take a very cautious bite. Usually, after the first bite, the bird's hunger overcomes its fear of the falconer. After a couple of feeding sessions, the bird looks forward to the presence of the falconer, as it knows it will be fed.
After trust has been established, the bird will be trained to come to the falconer for food. This is done using a creance: a long line of string that is tied to the bird, with a weight on the other end, in case the bird tries to take off. (An untrained young bird has very little chance of survival in the wild, so making sure it does not escape is very important to the safety of the bird.) At first, it will only have to jump to the glove for food. The distance will then gradually be increased, until the bird is flying a few hundred feet to the falconer. Once the bird has been trained to reliably come to the falconer, it will be flown free.
Once the bird is flying free, it is time to train it to hunt. This is done by training the bird to position itself, usually flying directly above the falconer or perched high up in a nearby tree. When the bird is in position, the falconer, or his dog, flushes the quarry (the animal they are hunting). Over time, the hunting bird gains experience and learns how to best position itself, and how to approach its quarry and counter the quarry's escape methods. The end result is an exciting glimpse into how the predator and prey relationship plays out in nature.
Q: How long does it take to train a hunting bird?
A: Generally, it takes two weeks to get a bird flying free and ready to go hunting. It takes a full hunting season for the bird to become an experienced hunter.