Falconry, Part 2: Becoming a Falconer Apprentice to Master

December 10, 2014 by  
Filed under All Posts, Animal News, Pet Birds

See the world of birdsRed-tailed Hawk, Photo courtesy John Wilkes

Falconry begins with a fascination of the majestic birds of prey and their hunting skills… but becomes the passion of a lifetime!

Falcons and other raptors are magnificent birds of prey. They display elegant form and beauty while in flight and are able to swiftly pinpoint and take down their prey. These birds are awe-inspiring masters of the sky, and the hunt!

Each hunt is just a moment in time, but the journey of the Falconer is one that demands passion and dedication for many years. To seize each moment requires long hours of training and an ongoing devotion to the craft. With a strong and serious commitment, the Falconer and bird of prey build a fascinating working relationship.

Beginning the journey of Falconry

A passion and commitment to the craft of Falconry can be incredibly rewarding!

In our introductory article “Falconry, Part 1: A Journey of Passion and Dedication” Master Falconer John Wilkes describes the experience and incredulous joy that comes from working with these birds.

Falconry is a serious commitment and there are a lot of details involved. To start this journey requires a Falconry license and to get the license starts with knowledge. Beginners must learn about the biology and characteristics of various gaming birds as well as the training, care, and veterinary aspects of raptors. This is followed by a written test which must be passed with a score of at least 80%.

There are three recognized Falconry levels; Apprentice, General, and Master. An Apprentice permit requires that the beginner has a sponsor that is either a General or Master Falconer. The sponsor will assist the Apprentice in learning about all aspects of Falconry for the first two years.

American Kestrel
Photo courtesy David Brough

The beginning Falconer will obtain and train a bird, and then must fly the bird on an ongoing basis. This is not a pursuit for everyone and is not suitable for young children. Children must at least 12 years of age and for those under 18 a guardian must provide a signed permission form.

Before getting a bird the Apprentice needs to prepare for its care. A proper shelter must be created providing food, water, and perches. A variety of other equipment will also be needed to transport and work the bird. Then an area needs to be located where the bird can be exercised and hunted safely.

A big thank you goes out to Master Falconer, John Wilkes. In this interview he tells us what inspired him to become a Falconer. He shares the process he went through from Apprentice to Master, and then he describes how new people can start their own journey into Falconry!

John, when did you first become interested in Falconry?

When my son was in middle school, there was always a hawk perched on a telephone pole just outside the school. We would watch each day when I picked him up. One day he came to me and said “Dad, do you know anything about Falconry?” I told him it was something they did in the Middle Ages. In addition, he said, “No Dad! They still do it today.” Being one of those people who loves to learn new, arcane skills, I hit the internet myself and that started us down the Falconry road.

African Lanner Falcon
Photo courtesy John Wilkes

Can you describe what inspired you to become a Falconer?

We found a local Falconer, called him and asked if we could visit with him. When we arrived there, we found that he had Red-tailed Hawk and Harris’ Hawk. His wife had a Great Horned owl and a male Kestrel.

I had never been inches from a raptor before. I think I was probably hooked then, but what set the hook was when he took us to exercise his bird. We walked a few blocks down to an unimproved set of lots that had about half a dozen large live oak trees.

Northern Goshawk
Photo courtesy David Brough

He unclipped her, pointed to the tree, and gave her a little push with the gloved hand and off she went. She flew about 3/4 up the tree, landed, turned around and just stared at him. He had already placed some tidbits in his glove. He waited about 30 seconds, yelled “Hawk!” and stuck his gloved hand straight out. She literally jumped off the branch and dropped straight down. For a second I thought she was going to fly to the ground. She was just gaining some airspeed. She pulled up about 6 feet off the ground, set her wings and flew straight to his glove.

Seeing that the first time made my heart pound, it was mesmerizing. He repeated it about five times and then asked if I would like to try. It only took about 10 seconds for me to say yes and get the glove on. He put her back in the tree and had me imitate what he had done.

It was a thousand times more exciting than watching him. The bird looked like a drone coming at me. Its gaze pegged on me (really on the glove but it does not look that way.) After that, I was obsessed with becoming a Falconer even if had to call on the Host of Heaven to get it done.

How did you pursue entry into this interesting world?

Harris’ Hawk newly trapped
Photo courtesy John Wilkes

First, I had to find a sponsor. Luckily, the Falconer we had visited agreed to sponsor me for my two-year Apprenticeship. It was then just a matter of lots of paperwork, study, learning new skills, much reading, making and buying equipment and waiting for trapping season. I drove almost 3000 miles from the first day of trapping season until I finally trapped my Red-tailed Hawk.

Was it difficult to find a sponsor?

I was lucky. For many aspiring Falconers it can be a long and frustrating process. The main reasons are:

  • There are not a lot of Falconers to begin with.
  • Many of those just do not want be a sponsor, it is just not their thing.
  • Many others have had bad experiences with Apprentices and will not do it again.

The ones that will consider it (sponsorship) will make sure the candidate is committed to what it is going to take to be successful.

Describe your experiences working with your sponsor.

Peale’s Falcon (Peregrin subspecies)
Photo courtesy John Wilkes

It was a very good experience. As an Apprentice, you have a million questions, make many mistakes and generally just do not understand some things. He was patient and attentive. He took me on all the trapping trips he and his wife went on. Having a sponsor that fits your personality is essential to a good Apprenticeship. Given the difficulty in finding a sponsor that is not always possible. After all these years, he and I are still close friends.

Once you became a General Falconer, what did you primarily do?

Becoming a General Falconer means that I am no longer responsible to my sponsor and he is not responsible for my actions. I can have three raptors; an Apprentice Falconer can only have one. An Apprentice Falconer must choose between, essentially, a passage Red-tailed Hawk and a Kestrel.

Harris’ Hawk, Photo courtesy John Wilkes

A General Falconer can trap other allowed species like a Harris’ Hawk. A General Falconer can sponsor Apprentices. Additionally, the fee for permit renewal is much higher. I trapped a female Harris’ hawk my first year as a General Falconer. There are also other allowances and restrictions applicable to a General Falconer and they can vary by state. Here is the link to the TPWD regulations for Falconry: Texas Parks and Wildlife Falconry Regulations.

Have you sponsored Apprentice Falconers as either a General or a Master Falconer?

I have sponsored two people since becoming a General Falconer. I am one of those people that really does not like to sponsor Apprentices. Not because I do not like it, but because it takes a lot of time and energy. Until lately, I have been extremely busy. I would not have been able give the type of effort required for the process to be performed correctly and thoroughly.

What qualities does a prospective Falconer need?

Eurpoean Eagle Owl
Photo courtesy John Wilkes

The most important quality of a perspective Apprentice is dedication. This is time consuming and, sometimes, frustrating art. They need to have a lot of free time, common sense, patience and uncommitted money is helpful. They also need the abilities to learn to think the way a raptor thinks, adjust to quickly changing environments and situations and be willing to read, absorb and use an enormous amount of information.

For someone interested in becoming a Falconer, how would you suggest they proceed?

The first thing they need to do is contact their local state wildlife department. Requirements, laws and procedures vary from state to state. Much of the responsibility for Falconry is given to the states. The USFWS only grants the permit to take a raptor covered by The Migratory Bird Act. Most states have a packet or information sheet that will tell the prospective Falconer how to proceed in their process. Once that is completed (this also may vary by state) they must begin the search for a sponsor. They usually cannot do anything until that is accomplished.

Clarice Brough is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and write-ups.

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