Paul greeted us with a Gyr Falcon on his fist, which was hooded. On the hood are the feathers of the bird of prey’s usual quarry. In the case of the Gyr Falcon they hunt on large birds, cranes, heron and storks.
Falconry was first recorded in Anatolia, on the Syrian/ Turkish border some 4500 years ago. At this point falconry was used to supplement the diet. By 600BC falconry was widespread across China, Japan, India and most of the Middle East. In 5th-6th century the Europeans , especially the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons were falconers. The first 8 yards of the Bayeaux tapestry was devoted to falconry and hunting of Wild Boar, hare and deer, all of which were domains of the wealthy. The Crusades were a time when the Europeans advanced their knowledge of falconry as the Arabs were extremely skilled in their art. By the time of the third crusades Richard the Lionheart took falcons to the Holy Land, and bonds were made with Saladin as Saladin helped to feed the European falcons when food was short. Many kings were famous falconers, most notably Henry II and Henry VIII. Charles II kept his birds in the New Park in the New Forest. Falcons were a sign of enormous wealth, and people would take them to chapel, to market and on visits to neighbours. In the 18th century falconry started to decrease .
Paul mentioned many terms in modern usage that have falconry origin.eg Fed up – when a bird of prey eats until it can eat no more and sits in a tree for a couple of days to digest. Mantle –surrounding their food with wings, gives rise to mantlepiece around the fireplace. Also “making a pass”, “codger”, “Rouse yourself “and” Hoodwink”.
In falconry birds are classified by body shape, broad wings, short wings or long wings. A Buzzard is a broad wing, and generally they circle looking for carrion. There is little power in the beak, all the power is in the feet. The short wing birds of prey, such as Goshawk, are the true hawks. Birds of prey are not technically a falcon unless they are in the long wing group, the Peregrine is the ultimate example, and they hunt by the stoop method, and can gain speeds of 238 mph. They are adapted by an extended eye brow, and a black line under the eyes to prevent glare, also having baffles in their nostrils to prevent suffocation during speed.
The last bird of prey Paul showed us was a European Eagle Owl, the largest species of owl in the world. These birds hunt by stealth, their feathers adapted to be silent in flight , they can turn their head through 270 degrees, but both ways and can carry off prey to the size of small Roe Deer.
The audience had many questions at the end of the talk from Paul, which showed the level of interest in his fascinating skill. During this time we learned that, although more people are now flying birds of prey, sadly few are true falconers – the ancient and awesome art where one must accept the birds are always wild.