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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 FALCONER’S 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 falconer’s facilities and equipment must be inspected and approved by Game, Fish & Parks and the application and test must be approved on theA photograph of Erney holding a hooded falcon. Photo (c) Jill Kokesh state level before being forwarded to the national Fish & Wildlife Service.

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 apprentice’s 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 captive breeders.

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 doesn’t 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 years.


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