June 2005: Page 1, 2, 3, 4

Submitters Perspective

Page 3


They consult you concerning what is lawful for them; say, “Lawful for you are all good things, including what trained dogs and falcons catch for you.” You train them according to God’s teachings. You may eat what they catch for you, and mention God’s name thereupon. You shall observe God. God is most efficient in reckoning. [5:4]

I’ve always been fascinated by this verse. God dispels any negative notions about animals and their association with humans by saying that they catch good food and that we train them according to God's teachings. Any mention of dogs always catches my attention. I understand training dogs—it’s what I do. But this verse also includes falcons, and I realized I had no idea how falcons were trained and used.

In the above verse, God mentions only dogs and falcons. Interestingly, they are about the only animals regularly used to help humans hunt. In ancient Egypt, cats were sometimes taught to retrieve birds that their masters

brought down with a boomerang. While modern cats are very domesticated, they are very rarely trained to do anything. Wild cats such as the cheetah and the caracal have been used in India and Asia. Both display speed and agility and can be tamed, but both are endangered and rarely seen. We’re left with dogs and falcons.

Dogs have been bred over the last few centuries to perform specific tasks for their owners. There are different kinds of hounds that use their noses, eyes and ears to find and chase prey; there are pointers and setters that alert to the prey; spaniels that chase and flush prey; and retrievers that retrieve the fallen prey.

Falconry involves the use of a wide variety of birds of prey—eagles, owls, hawks, true falcons, down to the tiny kestrel. As in dog training, understanding the animal is important to success. The kestrel is the most easy-going of all but is barely larger than a robin so it’s a good bird for beginners but can’t be expected to bring down anything larger than a mouse.

On the other extreme, the eagle is very difficult to use because it’s so big and strong. Carrying one on the arm is exhausting, and its grip on the wrist is like a vise. Arguably the best hunter is the peregrine falcon. It has a wingspan of 40-46 inches and dives between 100-120 MPH. Part of the joy for modern falconers is the sheer pleasure to be derived from watching one in action, a master of the air. One falconer wrote: “It’s a unique hunting partnership—you tame her, tend her, train her and work her to the peak of physical condition, then release her to the elements while you become no more than a mere spectator of a totally natural event.”

Falconry is a very ancient form of hunting, going back to China before 2000 BC. It shows up in some of the oldest Egyptian wall

paintings. The Romans introduced it throughout Europe, and it became extremely popular among English nobility in the early part of the last millennium. In fact, the type of bird an Englishman carried on his wrist when he went hawking marked his rank. A king carried the gyrfalcon, an earl the peregrine, a yeoman the goshawk, a priest the sparrow hawk, and a servant the kestrel. The Middle East has always embraced falconry, as evidenced in bas-relief from 1700 BC and by its inclusion in the Quran.

I was interested to learn that the training of falcons has a lot of similarities to dog training. While there are a lot of books out on the subject, they acknowledge that trying to train a bird “by the book” is out of the question. Hawks, like dogs, have both inherent traits and individual characteristics that shape them and must be taken into account. But the approach is gentle and deliberate, not pushing the animal beyond its capacity.

First the bird gets used to its new surroundings. Today most birds used in the sport of falconry are bred and raised in captivity, eliminating the need to trap wild birds. But of course, when they were truly used for hunting, a wild bird was all there was. If an adult bird was captured, it would take longer to adjust to working with man, but it already knew how to hunt so training was easier. Nestlings would bond more quickly but had not been taught to hunt by their parents so more training was required.

The falconer might stay long hours in a darkened room next to the bird in its cage, talking quietly and stroking the hawk. This is vital in the early stages if the bird is to accept and tolerate its new partner.

Cont’d on page 4