This section is from "The American Cyclopaedia", by George Ripley And Charles A. Dana. Also available from Amazon: The New American Cyclopędia. 16 volumes complete..
The falcons belong to the former division; from their long and slender and entire wings, when they wish to rise in the air vertically they are obliged to fly against the wind, though obliquely they easily mount to great elevations, where they sport rapidly in all directions; they carry the head straight; their claws are long, supple, and sharp, and their grasp is firm; they seize their prey at once if small and slow, but strike repeatedly with their talons to weaken and arrest the flight of heavier and swifter birds, and with great precision attack the vital part at the hollow of the back of the head or between the shoulders and ribs. These birds have been called rowers from their mode of flight. The ignoble birds of prey, as the goshawk and other hawks, are called sailers; their wings are shorter and thicker, with their surface interrupted by the unequal lengths of the quills, and they fly to best advantage with the wind, sailing with the wings extended and motionless, allowing themselves to be carried along by the wind; their talons being shorter, less powerful, and straighter than in the falcon, they strike with less force and precision, and when they have seized a bird or a quadruped compress it to death or strangle it with their claws; their beaks are not toothed, and they can seldom penetrate the skulls of the larger birds; they prefer to hunt in thick woods, while the falcons pursue their prey high in the air.
Falcons and hawks are best trained from the nest; they have bells attached to their feet, jesses of soft leather to the tarsi, and hoods on the head which prevent them from seeing while they allow them to eat; birds taken after they have left the nest, or which have been caught in snares, are the most difficult to train, and confinement, hunger, fatigue, and purgatives are employed to subdue them to a point necessary for lessons; they are taught to leap upon the hand of their master to receive food, which is placed on a rude representation of the bird or animal which they are to be taught to pursue; from an effigy they are advanced to living animals, with more or less length of tether, until left at perfect liberty. The larger and older the bird, the more difficult the training, and the most ignoble are generally the most rebellious; in the order of docility these birds are the merlin, the hobby, the common falcon, and the gerfalcon (all noble birds); and the ignoble hawks are the least docile, though the goshawk is said to be very easily trained. They are fed with beef and mutton, deprived of all fat and tendon, and scrupulously cleaned of all dirt; they are taught to pursue other birds of prey, the heron, the crow, the pie, larks, quails, partridges, the hare, and other game.
Descriptions of the lordly sport of falconry can be found in the romances of Walter Scott and other delineators of the days of chivalry. (See Falconry.) The falcon is a very long-lived bird; there is a tale that one which belonged to James I. in 1010, with a gold collar bearing that date, was found at the Cape of Good Hope in 1793, and, though more than 180 years old, was said to be possessed of considerable vigor; but the natural term of life of this species must be much less. The falcon of Henry IV. of France flew from Fontainebleau to Malta, 1,000 miles, in a day; and many sim-ilar instances of their speed are on record.-
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrin us).
The lanner (F. lanarius, Linn.) seems to be an undoubted species of northern Europe and Asia, and intermediate between the gerfalcon and the peregrine; it is about"1 1/2 ft. long, with wings two thirds as long as the tail; its colors resemble those of the young peregrine, and the name has even been applied to immature birds of this species; but Mr. Gould, in his "Birds of Europe," figures and describes it as distinct. It has not the black spots on the cheeks, and the markings of the breast are longitudinal instead of transverse.-The Iceland falcon or gerfalcon (F. gyrfalco, Linn.) is the largest of the genus, .and varies much in its appearance at different ages. In the adult the head is nearly white, the feathers of the crown having hair-brown shafts, those of the nape having the brown more extensive; the under parts are white, the breast, thighs, and tail coverts pure white, but the sides and abdomen are often spotted and lined with brown; the upper parts have the centre of the feathers hair-brown, with a white margin; the greater coverts, secondaries, and quills are barred with brown and edged with white, and the two central feathers of the otherwise white tail are barred with ' brown; the bill is pale bluish gray, with the upper tooth and the lower notch strongly developed; the legs and feet are colored like the bill.
Some specimens are almost entirely white. The length is from 20 to 24 in., the extent of wings a little over 4 ft., the bill 1 1/2 and the tarsus 2 in.; according to Audubon, in the immature state, as observed by him in Labrador, the female, though the larger and heavier bird, has the extent of wings less by an inch than the male; the weight of the male is a few ounces less, and that of the female a few ounces more than 3 lbs. The form is that of a very powerful bird, the tail being longer in proportion than that of the peregrine, and the tarsi feathered I 3/4 in. downward. It ranges over the northern regions of Europe and America; Iceland is one of its favorite resorts, so much so that the bird has received one of its most common names from this island; it is found along the precipitous shores of Norway and Sweden, and in Greenland, the arctic regions, and the Hudson bay district, extending as far south as Labrador, where Audubon found it breeding; it is rare in Great Britain, and is a northern and maritime species, especially frequent near the breeding places of sea fowl. In manner, flight, and cry it resembles the peregrine, being if possible more daring.
In falconry this species was highly prized, and extraordinary prices were formerly paid for individuals; they were brought chiefly from Iceland and Nor-| way. There is still much uncertainty about the varieties of this bird; naturalists generally make but one species, but falconers are of opinion that the Iceland and the Norway birds are distinct species; if the latter be true, the ! American bird may also prove different from any of the European species. The American bird is sometimes called F. Islandicus (Gmel.). Audubon describes and figures a pair of immature birds which he obtained in Labrador in August. The general color of the plumage in this condition is brownish gray above, the feathers having a narrow paler margin; the upper tail coverts, quills, and tail are tipped, spotted, and barred with brownish white; the throat is brownish white, with five streaks of brown, and the lower parts generally are of the former color, longitudinally patched with dark brown; the under tail coverts are striped alternately brown and white. The female has the same colors, except in having the two middle tail feathers spotted with white like the others, these in the male being without the spots. The nest found by Audubon was about 2 ft. in diameter, flat, made of sticks, seaweed, and mosses.
The eggs, according to Mr. Yarrell, are dull white, mottled all over with pale reddish brown. They feed in Lab-rador on puffins, grouse, partridges, ducks, hares, and other animals of this size, and also on fish. Mr. Hancock (" Annals and Mag-azine of Natural History," vol. xiii., 1854, p. 110), who described the Greenland falcon (F. Groenlandieus, Hanc.) as a distinct species, says it is never dark-colored like the young of the Iceland falcon, its plumage from the nest being whiter than the mature livery of the latter, and not unfrequently as white as that of the adults of its own species. The mature Greenland bird is distinguished from the young by the cordate and arrow-head markings of the back and scapulars; the young have above large oblong spots, with long narrow dashes on the head and lower parts, the marking from dark gray becoming with age almost black; the cere, feet, and toes also change from light livid blue to pale yellow. Like other falcons, it gets the mature plumage at the first moult. In fact, the Greenland falcon may be said to have a white plumage with dark markings, and the Iceland bird dark plumage with white markings; whether they are distinct species will be determined by the definition of what constitutes specific characters.
Both species occur in America; the Greenland bird probably does not breed in Iceland, and is only occasionally seen there, driven from its more northern haunts by severe weather; the Iceland bird sometimes breeds in Greenland. The weight of evidence seems to be in favor of these birds being distinct species.-Other falcons, which have been trained to pursue game, are the H. siibbuteo, H. cesalon, and T. alccudarius, which will be described respectively under the popular names of Hobby, Merlin, and Kestrel.
Lanner Falcon (F. lanarius).
Gerfalcon (Falco gyrfalco).