TRAINED DOGS AND FALCONS
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
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
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