The training of hawks affords much scope for judgment, experience and skill on the part of the falconer, who must carefully observe the temper and disposition as well as the constitution of each bird.
It is through the appetite principally that hawks, like most wild animals, are tamed; but to fit them for use in the field much patience, gentleness and care must be used. Slovenly taming necessitates starving, and low condition and weakness are the result. The aim of the falconer must be to have his hawks always keen, and the appetite when. they are brought into the field should be such as would induce the bird in a state of nature to put forth its full powers to obtain its food, with, as near as possible, a corresponding condition as to flesh.
The following is an outline of the process of training hawks, beginning with the management of a wild-caught peregrine falcon. When first taken, a rufter hood should be put on her head, and she must be furnished with jesses, swivel, leash and bell. A thick glove or rather gauntlet must be worn on the left hand (Eastern falconers always carry a hawk on the right), and she must be carried about as much as possible, late into the night, every day, being constantly stroked with a bird’s wing or feather, very lightly at first. At night she should be tied to a perch in a room with the window darkened, so that no light can enter in the morning. The perch should be a padded pole placed across the room, about 41/2 ft. from the ground, with a canvas screen underneath. She will easily be induced to feed in most cases by drawing a piece of beefsteak over her feet, brushing her legs at the time and now and then, as she snaps, slipping a morsel into her mouth.
Care must be taken to make a peculiar sound with the lips or tongue, or to use a low whistle as she is in the act of swallowing; she will very soon learn to associate this sound with feeding, and it will be found that directly she hears it, she will gripe with her talons, and bend down to feel for food. When the falconer perceives this and other signs of her “coming to,” that she no longer starts at the voice or touch, and steps quietly up from the perch when the hand is placed under her feet, it will be time to change her rufter hood for the ordinary hood. This latter should be very carefully chosen—an easy fitting one, in which the braces draw closely and yet easily and without jerking. An old one previously worn is to be recommended.
The hawk should be taken into a very dark room, one absolutely dark is best, and the change should be made if possible in total darkness. After this she must be brought to feed with her hood off; at first she must be fed every day in a darkened room, a gleam of light being admitted. The first day, the hawk having seized the food and begun to pull at it freely, the hood must be gently slipped off, and after she has eaten a moderate quantity, it must be replaced as slowly and gently as possible, and she should be allowed to finish her meal through the hood.
Next day the hood may be twice removed, and so on.; day by day the practice should be continued, and more light gradually admitted, until the hawk will feed freely in broad daylight, and suffer the hood to be taken off and replaced without opposition. Next she must be accustomed to see and feed in the presence of strangers. A good plan is to carry her in the tents at night, and where persons are few, unhooding and hooding her from time to time, but not letting her get frightened.
Up to this time she should be fed on lean beefsteak with no castings, but as soon as she is tolerably tame and submits well to the hood, she must occasionally be fed with pigeons and other birds. This should be done not later than 3 or 4 P.M., and when she is placed on her perch for the night in the dark room, she must be unhooded and left so, of course being carefully tied up. The falconer should enter the room about 7 or 8 AM. next day, admitting as little light as possible, or using a candle. He should first observe if she has thrown her casting; if so, he will at once take her to the fist, giving her a bite of food, and re-hood her. If her casting is not thrown it is better for him to retire, leaving the room quite dark, and come in again later. She must now be taught to know the voice, the shout that is used to call her in the field, and to jump to the fist for food, the voice being used every time she is fed.
When she comes freely to the fist she must be made acquainted with the lure. Kneeling down with the hawk on his fist, and gently unhooding her, the falconer casts out a lure, which may be either a dead pigeon. or an artificial lure garnished with beefsteak tied to a string, to a distance of a couple or three feet in front of her. When she jumps down to it, she should be allowed to eat a little on it—the voice being used—the while receiving morsels from the falconer’s hand; and before her meal is finished she must be taken off to the hand, being induced to forsake the lure for the hand by a tempting piece of meat, This treatment will help to check her inclination hereafter to carry her quarry. This lesson. is to be continued till the falcon feeds very boldly on the lure on. the ground. in the falconer’s presence till she will suffer him to walk round her while she is feeding.
Gradually day after day the distance is increased, till the hawk will come 30 yds. or so without hesitation; then she may be trusted to fly to the Lure at liberty, and by degrees from any distance, say 1000 yds. This accomplished, she should learn to stoop at the lure. Instead of allowing the hawk to seize upon it as she comes up, the falconer should snatch the lure away and let her pass by, and immediately put it out that she may readily seize it when she turns round to look for it. This should be done at first only once, and then progressively until she will stoop backwards and forwards at the lure as often as desired.
Next she should be entered at her quarry. Should she be intended for rooks or herons, two or three of these birds should be procured. One should be given her from the hand, then one should be released close to her, and a third at a considerable distance. If she take these keenly, she may he flown at a wild bird. Care must, however, be taken to let her have every possible advantage in her first flights wind and weather, and the position of the quarry with regard to the surrounding country, must be considered.
Glossary of Falconry Terms
Austringa: A falconer.
Bate: A hawk is said to” bate “ when she flutters off from the fist, perch or block, whether from wildness, or for exercise, or in the attempt to chase.
Bewits : Straps of leather by which the bells are fastened to a hawk’s legs.
Bind : A hawk is said to “bind” when she seizes a bird in the air and clings to it.
Block: The conical piece of wood, of the form of an inverted flowerpot, used for hawks to sit upon; for a peregrine it should be about 10 to 12 in. high, 5 to 6 in. diameter at top, and 8 to 9 in. diameter at base.
Brail : A thong of soft leather used to secure, when desirable, the wing of a hawk. It has a slit to admit the pinion joint, and the ends are tied together.
Cadge: The wooden frame on which hawks, when numerous, are carried to the field.
Cadger: The person who carries the cadge.
Calling off: Luring a hawk (see Lure) from the hand of an assistant.
Carry : A hawk is said to “carry “ when she flies away with the quarry on the approach of the falconer.
Cast : Two hawks which may be used for flying together are called "a cast,” not necessarily a pair.
Casting : The oblong or egg-shaped bail, consisting of feathers, bones, &c., which all hawks(and insectivorous birds) throw up after the nutritious part of their food has been digested. Also the fur or feathers given them to assist the process.
Cere: The naked wax-like skin above the beak.
Check: A hawk is said to fly at “check” when she flies at a bird other than the intended object of pursuit.
Clutching: Taking the quarry in the feet as the short-winged hawks do. Falcons occasionally “clutch.”
Come to: A hawk is said to “come to” when she begins to get tame.
Cope : Cutting the beak or talons of a hawk.
Crab: To fight.
Creance : A long line or string.
Crop: A hawk is said to "put away her crop" when the food passes out of the crop into the stomach.
Deck feathers: The two center tail-feathers.
Eyas: A hawk which has been brought from the nest
Eyry : The nest of a hawk.
Foot: A hawk is said to “foot “ well or to be a "good footer" when she is successful in killing. Many hawks are very fine fliers without being good footers.
Frounce : A disease in the mouth and throat of hawks.
Flack: The state of partial liberty in which young hawks must always at first be kept.
Haggard: A wild-caught hawk in the adult plumage. Hood.
Hoodshy: A hawk is said to be hoodshy when she is afraid of, or resists, having her hood put on.
Hunger trace: A mark, and a defect, in the tail feathers, denoting a weak point; generally due to temporary starvation as a nestling.
Imping : The process of mending broken feathers is called imping.
Intermewed: A hawk that has molted in confinement is said to be intermewed.
Jack : A name for male merlins.
Jesses: Strips of light hut very tough leather, some 6 to 8 in. long, which always remain on a hawk’s legs; one on each leg.
Leash: A strong leathern thong, some 21/2 or 3 ft. long, with a knot or button at one end, used to secure a hawk.
Lure: The instrument used for calling long-winged hawks, a dead pigeon, or an artificial lure made of leather and feathers or wings of birds, tied to a string, with meat attached to it.
Mail: The breast feathers.
Make hawk: A hawk is called a make hawk when as a thoroughly trained and steady hawk, she is flown with young ones to teach them their work.
Man a hawk: To tame a hawk and accustom her to strangers.
Mantle: A hawk is said to “ mantle “ when she stretches out a leg and a wing simultaneously, a common action of hawks when at ease; also when she spreads out her wings and feathers to hide any quarry or food she may have seized from another hawk, or from man. In the fast case it is a fault.
Mew: A hawk is said to “mew” when she molts. The place where a hawk was kept to molt was in olden times called her "mew." Buildings where establishments of hawks were kept were called mews.
Musket: Male of the sparrow-hawk.
Mules: Excrement of hawk.
Passage: The line herons take over a tract of country on their way to and from the heronry when procuring food in the breeding season.
Passage hawks: Hawks captured when on their passage or migration.
Pelt: The dead body of any quarry the hawk has killed.
Pitch: The height to which a hawk, when waiting for game to be flushed, rises in the air.
Point: A hawk "makes her point" when she rises in the air over the spot where quarry has saved itself from capture by dashing into a hedge, or has otherwise secreted itself.
Pounces: A hawk’s claws.
Pull through the hood: A hawk is said to pull through the hood when she eats with it on.
Put in : A bird is said to put in when it saves itself from the hawk by dashing into covert or other place of security.
Quarry: The bird or beast flown at.
Rake out: A hawk is said to rake out when she flies, while waiting on (see Wait on), too far and wide from her master.
Red hawk: Hawks of the first year, in the young plumage, are called “red hawks.”
Ringing : A bird is said to ring when it rises spirally in the air.
Sails: The wings of a hawk.
Seeling: Closing the eyes by a fine thread drawn through the lid of each eye, the threads being then twisted together above the head; a practice long disused in England.
Serving a hawk: Driving out quarry which has taken refuge, or has put in.
Take the air: A bird is said to take the air when it seeks to escape by trying to rise higher than the falcon.
Tiercel: The male of various falcons, particularly of the peregrine; the term is also applied to the male of the goshawk.
Trussing: A hawk is said to truss a bird when she catches it in the air, and comes to the ground with it in her talons: this term is not applied to large quarry.
Varvels: Small rings, generally of silver, fastened to the end of the jesses, and engraved with the owner’s name.
Wait on: A hawk is said to wait on when she flies above her master waiting till game is sprung.
Weathering: Hawks are weathered by being placed unhooded in the open air. Passage hawks which are not sufficiently reclaimed to be left out by themselves unhooded on blocks are weathered by being put out for an hour or two under the falconer’s eye.
Yarak: An Eastern. term, generally applied to short-winged hawks. When a hawk is keen, and in hunting condition, she is said to be “in yarak.”
Care of Falcons
The most agreeable and the best way, where practicable, of keeping hawks is to have them on blocks on the lawn. Each hawk’s block should stand in a circular bed of sand—about 8 ft. in diameter; this will be found very convenient for keeping them clean. Goshawks are generally placed on bow perches, which ought not to be more than 8 or 9 in. high at the highest part of the arc. It will be several months before passage or wild caught falcons can be kept out of doors; they must be fastened to a perch in a darkened room, hooded, but by degrees as they get thoroughly tame may be brought to sit on the lawn.
A prevailing error regarding hawks is that they are supposed to be lazy birds, requiring the stimulus of hunger to stir them to action. The reverse is the truth; they are birds of very active habits, and exceedingly restless, and the notion of their being lazy has been propagated by those who have seen little or nothing of hawks in their wild state. The wild falcon requires an immense deal of exercise, and to be in wind, in order to exert the speed and power of flight necessary to capture her prey when hungry; and to this end instinct prompts her to spend hours daily on the wing, soaring and playing about in the air in all weathers, often chasing birds merely for play or exercise. Sometimes she takes a siesta when much gorged, but unless she fills her crop late in the evening she is soon moving again, before half her crop is put over.
Goshawks and sparrow-hawks, too, habitually soar in the air at about 9 or 10 A.M., and remain aloft a considerable time, but these birds are not of such active habits as the falcons. The frequent bating of thoroughly tame hawks from their blocks, even when not hungry or frightened, proves their restlessness and impatience of repose. So does the wretched condition of the caged falcon (before alluded to), while the really lazy buzzards and kites, which do not in a wild state depend on activity or power of wing for their sustenance, maintain themselves for years, even during confinement if properly fed, in good case and plumage. Such being the habits of the falcon in a state of nature, the falconer should endeavor to give the hawks under his care as much flying as possible, and he should avoid the very common mistake of keeping too many hawks. In this case a favored few are sure to get all the work, and ‘the others, possibly equally good if they had fair play, are spoiled for want of exercise.
The larger hawks may be kept in health anti working order for several years, 15 or 20 barring accidents. The writer has known peregrines and goshawks to reach ages between 15 and 20 years. Goshawks, however, never fly well after 4 or 5 seasons, when they will no longer take difficult quarry; they may be used at rabbits as long as they live.
The shaheen is a falcon of the peregrine type, which does not travel, like the peregrine,all over the world. It appears that the jerfalcons also may be worked to a good age.