When I say that I work with birds of prey, the first thing people assume is that I am a falconer.
Falconry is an incredibly old sport. Some sources I’ve seen have dated it up to 10,000 years ago. For most places, it seems as though there are records beginning around 3000 years ago. It’s a way of life that has provided people with food and a relationship with nature from the time history started to be recorded. In case you aren’t familiar with it, the concept is simple: you train a dinosaur to hunt for you. The dinosaur isn’t a pet and in the tradition of some falconry, is released after a time to procreate in the wild and live its life as naturally as possible.
It’s cool as shit.
It’s also where my field found its footing and for the life of me, I cannot find where raptor rehab began in America. I would assume that it began sometime before the Migratory Bird Act came into effect because of the decline in raptor populations in the United States. Center-wise, I can find plenty of some of the oldest in the country; however, they all still seem relatively recent and I know it’s got to have deeper roots. Most were started in the 1970’s-1980’s but that’s about all I can find.
(I.e. If anyone knows anything about the subject, spread the knowledge my way!)
Rehabbers will use falconers as resources and vice versa. If there’s a particular bird that needs to hone hunting skills after being in captivity for a while, a falconer can be called to help. Falconers often know more about the raptor populations in the area and are an invaluable resource to centers everywhere. If a rehabber has a bird that may not be releasable, it could be a breeder for a falconer. (It’s a topic I’ll touch on later, but we will try to find the best way possible a bird can live out its life, even if it can’t be released into the wild.)
When it comes to our Education Ambassador birds, how we train them and how we create living spaces for them come straight from falconers—I mean, I’m pretty sure that our standards were SET by falconers. And, I mean, if anyone know what they were talking about, it’d be the guys participating in a few thousand old tradition. (HINT: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.) The equipment that we use are essentially the same set up with anklets, jesses, and a leash. Oh, and a glove. That’s a pretty important one. The types and methods vary greatly–it’s important to realize that in this field there are many different ways to skin a cat–but all have to accomplish the same task with one thing holding priority: the raptor’s safety.
Having any bird of prey, whether it be for falconry or education, comes with a strict set of rules, restrictions, and prerequisites. It can depend on where you live as well. For instance, in Pennsylvania, to be a falconer you need letters of recommendation, a hunting license, a falconer that will take you under their wing (ha), among other things. You can only start out with a red-tailed hawk or an American kestrel. Whereas in Mongolia, I’m pretty sure you only need the balls to climb down a cliff, brave angry, wolf-killing, goat-dropping golden eagle parents, and steal a young eagle and then somehow learn how to ride a horse with said eagle on the glove.
Toe-mae-toe, ta-ma-toe, am I right?
I’m pretty sure Mongolian natives are simply born knowing these skills. They’re some of the true masters of the art.
To prevent rambling, I’ll leave off with: Everything we do as raptor rehabilitators has a foot in falconry. Falconry can survive without us, but we couldn’t survive without the knowledge and expertise passed on through the ancient practice. I want to reiterate as well that the field I’m in is incredibly regulated, more than I want to bore you with, but our image to the public and our strict following of the laws (set both by people and nature) are the pinnacle of what we do.