Falconers deal with birds in three stages of life.
- An "eyass" is a young bird taken from the nest before it is ready to fly. Once
it is ready to fly, a young bird like the peregrines in A FALCONERS MEMOIR
is "hacked," allowed to fly free until it is ready to hunt its own food.
This helps the bird develop its flying skills. Then, the bird is returned to captivity.
- A "passager" is any young bird that already can fly that is taken while it is
still in its first-year plumage.
- A "haggard" is a bird captured as an adult and therefore of unknown age;
often, the law prohibits capturing birds of mating age.
Falconers begin with a Falconry Permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service plus
state permits where required. But before the beginner can even apply for the permit,
Benzon says, a would-be falconer must have the proper gear and facilities for the bird.
Then, he or she must pass a test (100 questions, 80 percent required) and pay the
appropriate fees. In South Dakota, for example, the falconers facilities and
equipment must be inspected and approved by Game, Fish & Parks and the application and
test must be approved on the state level before being forwarded to the national Fish & Wildlife
The beginner (Apprentice) will be required to work with an experienced falconer for two
years. Plus, apprentices are generally limited to two choices of bird: the American
kestrel or the red-tailed hawk, both common raptors in the United States. The
apprentices first bird must be obtained from the wild and beginners are required to
capture a "passager" or first-year bird that already has learned how to fly.
More experienced falconers at the General Class or Master Class have the option of
obtaining a nestling (or "eyass") and can choose from a larger variety of birds
anything not endangered or threatened. They even can acquire young birds from
After two years, an Apprentice can move up to the "General Class" level.
After five years experience at that level, a Master Class permit can be obtained.
Each level allows the falconer more options.
An Apprentice may have only one bird and may only replace it once during any 12-month
period. A General Class falconer may have two birds and can replace them once during a
12-month period. A Master can have three birds. Birds from the wild may only be replaced
once during any 12-month period, but Masters can change birds more often by making use of
captive bred birds. So, Benzon said, if a Master Class falconer has a bird he doesnt
like he could free it or give it to someone else and get another bird from a breeder.
Once a falconer has a bird and it has developed its flying skills, the birds are
constantly exposed to people ("manned"), human surroundings and other factors
like dogs that may be used in the hunt.
A bird is trained to come to a lure, a dead bird on a string used as a simulated
quarry. In the beginning, the young or newly captured bird is tethered to a long line
until it is accustomed to returning to the falconer.
Finally, it is ready to hunt. And if all goes well, the bird will kill its prey and
then return to its captor. Birds often are fitted with bells and/ or radio transmitters so
that birds who have traveled out of sight can be located.
A bird and falconer, both properly trained, can enjoy a hunting relationship for many
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