Frequently Asked Questions

The Falcony School FAQs (12)

Owning and flying a raptor involves a great deal of commitment, so it’s best to know what to expect before you start. Come to us on a beginner course. It will be hugely informative, great fun and at the end of three days if you decide against taking up the sport that is a good result as well.

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In the UK, unfortunately not. This results in many irresponsible people buying hawks who should not own any animal, let alone a creature which is essentially wild.

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Owning a bird of prey is not falconry, and particularly not with owls. Falconry is all about flying a falcon, hawk or eagle, and we have to own one in order to be able to fly it. We don’t necessarily want to own one. Some owls can be flown successfully, but they can be quite hard work and the results are very unexciting. Some owls can be cheap to buy, and they look very cute, but in order to fly one you will need the proper equipment, including a tracking system. A good new tracking system alone will cost ten times the price of a Barn Owl, let along the accommodation and other equipment. The time, cost and commitment are far better spent on something where the results are more rewarding.

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You can:

  • read as many falconry books as you can. These must be proper reference books that show how to house, train, feed and fly a bird of prey used in falconry. Not story books. Older books (before the 1970s/80s) will often not give much tuition, but will give a real flavour of the sport and its traditional skills and techniques.
  • avoid anything written on the internet. Some of it is good, but most of it is bad and misleading advice.
  • find a local falconer who will take you out and show you his hawk flying, but REMEMBER that person is not necessarily an expert, and information you may receive could be harmful or misleading.
  • come to us on a beginner course.
  • make sure you are fully prepared, with knowledge, proper housing, good equipment, a source of proper food, and somewhere to fly your hawk.
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If your housing and equipment are set up properly, about ½ an hour each day will be all you need for day-to-day management. Training a hawk involves perhaps 45 mins to an hour a day for about 3 weeks. Flying your hawk takes more time, particularly hunting, but after all that’s what you have the hawk for!

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The cost of your first bird will often be the least of the expenses. Accommodation for your hawk could cost anything from a few hundred pounds upwards if you have to build something. You may be able to convert an existing building, which could be less expensive.  You will need about £500’s worth of equipment (everything that goes on the bird, plus scales, perch, bath, glove, etc.), PLUS a tracking system, which will cost new about £700. Second hand systems can be found, but take advice from us before buying, as there are some poor systems around. All of these things will last a very long time if they are of good quality. Top quality falconry equipment can be found at www.benlongfalconry.co.uk

Buying cheap things can, and often do, result in the loss or death of a hawk. Flying any bird of prey without radiotracking or GPS is stupid and irresponsible.

Sometimes you can be given or lent a hawk by a friend. The commonest “beginner birds” will be something like £200-400 when you buy them from a breeder.

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You can feed day old chicks, plus a variety of other foods which can be obtained frozen, specifically for feeding birds of prey. These can include quail, rats, mice etc. The biggest supplier of food is Honeybrook Farm, who distribute hawk food all over the country and through mainland Europe.

The amount of food depends on what the hawk is doing, and if in flying condition the amount is regulated according to the weight of the hawk.

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Birds of prey do not really have the capacity to enjoy flying (although some seem to do more than is necessary), and are designed to sit around conserving energy most of the time. In the northern hemisphere we generally only fly between about August/September around to about March, and in the late spring and summer the hawks are moulting so can’t be flown. During the flying period some species can be flown successfully just at weekends, while some will need to be flown more often to keep them fit. This will be particularly falcons. Whatever you have, remember you have them to fly, not as a garden ornament.

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In the past it was, but we now have other devices for falcons to hunt, such as drones and radio-controlled “birds”, which can produce brilliant flights with falcons, arguably better than at live quarry. “Hawks of the fist” like Harris Hawks, Redtailed Buzzards, Goshawks etc., do not produce spectacular flights, so really they are purely for hunting. If you do hunt, it should be remembered that the object of the sport is NOT to catch large amounts of quarry, but to see high quality, fair and sporting flights, whatever species you fly. Quantity is the opposite of quality.

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You may have some experience of field sports and already have land to fly on, but if not remember in the UK, there is no land you can fly a hawk on without permission from a landowner, the owner of the sporting rights, or perhaps a local council. The way to obtain land to fly on is to ask local farmers, which may be a long process and will involve plenty of rejections. Of course, finding somewhere to fly a falcon at the RC prey and drones will be considerably easier, but hunting land is a different thing. If you can find somewhere to do your training it’s a start, and this can often lead to gaining permission to hunt things like rabbits. To hunt game (pheasants, duck, partridge, grouse etc.) you may well need to pay for the privilege, and even then it might be difficult to find as you will be in competition with those who shoot, where large sums of money are involved. If you are determined enough, you will find what you need.

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It’s certainly worth joining a club, particularly our largest one, the British Falconers’ Club. However, they do not give tuition. The Club has regional groups, and if you attend their meetings you will meet other falconers and may be able to pick up some information, but always remember that you may not be talking to an expert, and information you may receive could be harmful or misleading.

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Join The Falconry School’s Mentorship Scheme. We will give you comprehensive advice and help with any problems you may encounter.

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Beginner Tips (7)

Remember you are taking on a live creature, which is essentially wild, even though it is domestically bred. You will need time for it EVERY day. Remember you will have this bird-of-prey to FLY, not just to look at, and not as a fashion accessory. Read as many books and see as many DVDs as possible, to get an idea of what you will be taking on. Find an experienced local falconer who will help you. Go on a good course for at least two days to get a feel of the whole thing.

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Most of all, make sure you have the correct housing, food and equipment before your bird arrives. The correct accommodation for a falconry bird is not an aviary, but should be a fully-enclosed “mews” (a modified wooden shed is OK) for initial training and afterwards every night. From the time when the hawk is at least part trained, during the day the bird is “weathered” – tethered to its perch, with a bath within reach, if possible on a lawn, but under a lean-to-shelter (a “weathering shelter”) in case of bad weather or very hot summer sun. No hawks should be left outside in temperatures BELOW FREEZING, or you will risk the hawk having frostbite. This is often in the form of “wing tip oedema”, and the wing tips will be damaged such that the hawk will NEVER fly properly again. The weathering lawn may need to be fenced to keep out dogs or foxes if no-one is around to look after the hawk. Domestic cats are not usually a problem.

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Training is a surprisingly short process. A Harris hawk can be trained to fly totally free and retrun to the falconer in about 3 weeks, or even less.

The hawk must be a little hungry when flown, as it ONLY returns to the falconer for food. It is weighed at the beginning of the training, and the falconer will expect to reduce the fat weight of the hawk by about 10% to start with, and will adjust this “flying weight” a little if necessary.

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This is a process whereby the hawk is made steady to all the things it has to see when in a captive state. The hawk is firstly expected to take food on the glove, which will require a reduction in weight to make it hungry enough to do this. Afterwards, the hawk can be carried around whilst eating. This can help to take its mind off any scary sights and sounds. To make the meal last longer, we use “tirings”, which are pieces of meat with bones in , which the hawk can only eat slowly. The longer the meal lasts, the more manning the hawk gets every day. If you try to man the hawk without tiring, it will take much longer, and it will never be as steady as one which is manned using tirings. HAWKS KEPT AT THEIR FAT WEIGHT DO NOT MAN, and will NEVER be trained.

REMEMBER: Hawks return to the falconer for food, NOT for affection, and must be a little hungry when flown. Appetite is induced by weight reduction ONLY. It is not possible to start training without weight control.

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All birds of prey eat raw meat only. It is common to feed a day-old chicks, but this diet is not sufficient on its own. You should feed a varied diet, including possibly rabbits, quail, rats or mice, along with a vitamin/mineral supplement.

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There are differing opinions, but if you intend to go an to take wild quarry, a Harris’ hawk is very user-friendly, robust, and easy to train and handle. You could also consider a redtailed buzzard, although they are slightly harder for a beginner. With any bird that will not generally catch anything its usefulness ends as soon as it is trained, whereas the Harris’ or redtail will go on taking quarry and improving over months or years. AVOID anything small, like a barn owl or kestrel, and there is no margin for error with weight, NEVER think of the hard birds like goshawks, sparrowhawks or eagles until you are very experienced. Some of the middle-sized to larger falcons are relatively easy to train, but will ALWAYS need to be flown with radio-tracking equipment. You may be interested in owls, and some species can be flow successfully, and some will even take quarry. However, if it is your intention to fly at quarry you may be giving yourself a very hard time.

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A Harris’ or redtail, trained properly and flown at the correct weight is unlikely to be lost, but they ARE regularly lost by inexperienced falconers, and it is likely most will not survive in the wild. Tracking equipment is NOT a shortcut to training a hawk properly, but is the next best thing to a guarantee that you will get your hawk back if anything unforeseen occurs, and is therefore well worth considering if it can be afforded. A good system is probably going to cost more than the bird, but remember that you keep the system for many years, and it will help to locate lost hawks time and time again. NEVER buy a cheap system. You will not have an effective guarantee if it goes wrong, and they are ALWAYS inferior in operation.

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