From the blog of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine:
The art of falconry involves the use of trained “birds of prey” to hunt or pursue game for people. Falconry has been practiced in Ireland for centuries (dating back to 3000 BC, according to some accounts) and has a long social and historic background. It became known as the “Sport of Kings” in medieval times, and dozens of English phrases come from falconry, including hoodwinked and fed-up.
This week, we enjoyed a “halk walk” with Jason Deasey, the owner of the Falconry at Mount Falcon, and his Hungarian Vizsla named Chili in Co. Mayo in West Ireland. The bird of prey and Chili work together; the dog flushes out the game, and the bird swoops down and grabs it . During our two hour walk in the woods, we learned the history of falconry; examined the birds of prey up close —including Harris Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, a Barn Owl and a Great Gray Owl named “Gandalf”; watched the hawks and falcons fly through the air and return on command; and saw one of the birds capture a rabbit.
In a first-hand experience, we saw a hawk glide through the woods at upwards of 35 miles per hour and land on our gloved fist. It was a close encounter to remember.
Our tour began in front of the Mount Falcon manor house, located on a 100-acre estate on the banks of the River Moy with magnificent mowed lawns, abundant wildlife and grazing sheep. Our falconer Jason was waiting for us, dressed in green tweeds, with a pouch (that we learned later was filled with dead rodents).
We watched as Jason raised his arm and loosed his bird, which soared more than 100 feet into the air. Then Jason arched a bit of rope in a ‘figure 8’ pattern, meat attached to the end, and the bird gracefully swooped down in pursuit.
We visited the mew, which the birds called home, and a stone tower where they sleep. Then we went for a walk in the woods to watch the birds in action. The birds weaved their way between branches and narrow gaps before landing on a gloved hand. Our teenage son was thrilled.
Jason’s learned his trade at The Irish School of Falconry in Ashford Castle, Ireland’s oldest school of falconry. He began as an apprentice, as all licensed falconers do. The work require a high level of commitment seven days a week. In a high-tech twist, Jason has used drones to train his birds (details are here). Jason also rehabilitates injured birds.
Nowadays, we learned, birds of prey are used to deter pest birds away from airports, landfill sites, vineyards and other places, including Wimbledon. As it turns out, falconry has a California connection. West Coast Falconry in Marysville is the first in the state to offer an apprentice seminar to help students prepare to become licensed falconers. The California Hawking Club is the largest state falconry organization in the Unites States.