One of the benefits of falconry's long evolution is that it has acquired a versatility probably unmatched by any other sport. It is possible to fly one kind of hawk or another anywhere there is suitable wildlife, which excludes very few places on Earth. Falconers everywhere have developed ways of dealing with differences in climate, habitats and potential quarry, and they have established the training techniques and hawks most fitting for those conditions. Although, in many countries, including the UK, it is illegal to take indigenous raptors from the wild, the great range of species produced means there are available hawks suitable for all sorts of local terrains and personal circumstances.
However, while these hawks may be specially bred, there are some important and fundamental differences between falconry birds and other captive birds. For example:
- Falconry birds fly free
- They are trained to return to their handler and for those trained for hunting
- They catch wild quarry, mostly for the benefit of their falconer.
Achieving free flight with a hawk, and getting her to return to you, requires a thorough understanding of falconry techniques. Switching her on to hunting, training her to do it where, when and in the way you want her to, persuading her to relinquish her catch then carry on hunting without loss of motivation, and maintaining discipline throughout, are all additional skills even more difficult to acquire.
Some falconers limit hawks to flying free and catching a piece of artificial prey called a lure. Others flying hawks in public demonstrations may deliberately encourage them not to hunt so that they can exert more control over their hawks within a tight time frame and minimise any risk of upsetting their audience.
Others feel strongly that hunting wild quarry is of primary importance to falconry, the reason that birds of prey were trained in the first place, and the only activity which enables captive hawks to realise their full potential. As with working dogs, it gives them a purpose in life and, through that, a high quality of life.
Whatever your purpose in acquiring and training a bird of prey, training any bird to use its inherited expertise for the benefit of a falconer is an art that requires many different kinds and levels of skill, as well as a great deal of specialised knowledge. The art will come into play when the falconer puts this all together. Where to fly, when to fly, what to fly, if and when to flush game, which way to flush it: the falconer has to make all of these choices and more to be successful.
Even a top-notch falconer flying a peregrine could not claim that he teaches his game hawks to catch a partridge or a grouse, for in this respect he cannot teach them anything. If they achieve it at all, it is through their physical condition, playground equipment, natural aptitudes and instincts. Of course, he has a direct influence over their condition, but his training of them will be limited to maintaining discipline in the field and persuading them to gain height for their characteristic hunting style, the stoop. Other than that, all he can do is present them with hunting opportunities by finding and flushing game in their vicinity. What happens next is up to each individual hawk, and the falconer merely assumes the role of spectator.