This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
The Falconidae or Acciptrinae form one of the two divisions of diurnal birds of prey, and include falcons, hawks and eagles. The falcons proper (genus Falco), for strength, symmetry and powers of flight, are the most perfectly developed of the feathered race, and have been employed for affording sport, known as falconry or hawking, in Europe, Asia and Africa from time immemorial. King Alfred wrote on the subject, and the pastime once took precedence of fox-hunting in England, where it was in great favour, having its hereditary grand falconer - the Duke of St. Albans - who, in his office of grand falconer, presents the king with a cast of falcons on the day of his coronation. A similar service was due from the representative of the Stanley family in the Isle of Man. These observances have fallen into desuetude, and the pursuit of hawking in Britain has practically ceased. Attempts have recently been made to revive that sport in this country, but it is hardly consistent with the usages of our times, particularly in the case of highly cultivated land, on account of the general enclosures and from the game being largely followed on foot. Formerly the quarry was usually followed on horseback, but where horses could not follow without difficulty, it was the practice to carry poles.
In this connexion Dean Stanley told a good story of King Henry VIII, who, while pursuing his hawk at Hitchin, attempted, with the assistance of his pole, to jump over a wide ditch full of muddy water; but the pole unfortunately breaking, the king " fell head over ears " into the thick mud, where he might have been suffocated had not one of his attendants, seeing the accident, leaped into the ditch after his royal master and pulled him out.
The question of breed in falcons was years ago carefully studied, and the prices paid for good birds were great, a sum of £1,000 being paid for a pair of Iceland hawks, which were regarded as amongst the finest birds for the sport about two hundred years ago. The Iceland falcon (Falco Islandus) (Fig. 141), also the Greenland falcon (F. Greenlandicus or candicans), and the Gyrfalcon proper (F. gyrfalco) have been shot in the British Islands. Cranes and herons were considered to furnish the best sport with these large falcons in former times, and they were used in later times for catching hares and rabbits. The peregrine falcon (F. peregrinus), not so large as the gyrfalcon, but more elegant in shape, and exceedingly swift in flight, said to be 150 miles an hour, was one of those most frequently used in falconry, it naturally preying on grouse, partridges, ptarmigans, pigeons, rabbits, etc. For small game the hobby (F. subb uteo), (Fig. 142) was a great favourite for the chase when falconry was in fashion, especially by the " ladies."
Fig. 141. - The Iceland Falcon.
It is strange how the sport of falconry has dropped into oblivion in this country, as there are still many districts where it might be followed without disadvantage to husbandry, especially as so much arable land has been laid down in recent years to permanent pasture, though possibly this depopulation and depression of food-production process may be restored with advance in the price of breadstuff; and then, as in the time after the seventeenth century up to which falconry continued in favour, firearms supersede it. Attention has lately been drawn to the pursuit of hawking near London, and as a set-off against rabbit-coursing. Mr. B. Morris, of New Park Road, London, has recorded sport in Hertfordshire so recentlv as seven years ago. "I remember," he states, "the first day I had the privilege and pleasure to be of the party. The goshawk killed two couple of rabbits. A terrier was used to find the rabbits, and good law being given, the hawk was thrown off the wrist of the falconer, and usually knocked the rabbit over in a few seconds. Once a rabbit took shelter in a thorn-bush, but so great was the speed of the hawk that she dashed into the bush before she could stop herself, and was released with some difficulty.
So well trained was this hawk that on the return home she sat on the seat of the phaeton, without being hooded, so far as I can remember" (The Herts Advertiser and St. Albans Times).
Fig. 142. - The Hobby.
"The training of a hawk is a matter requiring great pains and protracted attention. It is first kept immovable and deprived of light for seventy hours. Its legs are kept bound by jesses, or slender thongs of leather, terminated with bells. It is carefully kept from sleeping, and if it shows signs of resistance its head is plunged in water. It is also deprived of food until, exhausted with want of rest and nourishment, it suffers itself to be hooded. When this first discipline is completed it is unhooded from time to time and offered food, which it seizes with avidity. When it allows itself to be hooded again without resistance it is considered tame. To make it still more dependent, its appetite is stimulated artificially by cleansing out its stomach with balls of tow attached to a thread, which it is made to swallow, and which are afterwards pulled up. This operation produces a raging hunger, by satisfying which the bird is attached to its trainer. These operations have to be frequently repeated. The bird is next taken into a garden and placed on the turf. His hood is lifted, and the falconer presents him with a morsel of meat. If he leaps on the hand of the trainer to receive it, his education is considered far advanced, and the trainer now endeavours to accustom him to the lure.
This is a piece of leather to which the wings and feet of a bird are attached to make it resemble the falcon's prey. To this a piece of meat is attached. The use is to recall the bird when it is allowed to fly into the air. The lure, in order to make the bird thoroughly accustomed to it, is made the means of conveying to it all its food. The bird is also taught to obey the voice of the falconer, without which precaution even the lure would be insufficient. When it has been taught to obey the lure in a garden it is carried to the open field, and being attached to a cord 60 or 70 ft. long, it is uncovered and shown the lure at a little distance. If it flies to it it is fed. The next day it is tried at a greater distance, and when it flies to the lure at the full distance of the cord it is considered fully tried. It is then practically in the mode of seizing its game, which is done with tame game attached to a peg. It is then made to fly at free game whose eyes have been bound, and when it is fully trained it is used for sport.
It is always kept hooded during excursions, until it is wanted to fly " (The Popular Encyclopedia, half-vol. V., p. 301).