Becoming a falconer is not for the faint of heart. For those just wanting to ‘see what it is like’ type of an endeavor should just stop here. Falconry is a full commitment to the bird and to the living cultural heritage that most falconers cherish. Falconry must be practiced with the bird’s well-being as the foremost priority and conducting yourself ethically while representing the culture of falconry. Falconry demands time, patience, incredible dedication and self-discipline. If you are not willing to submit to these requirements then falconry is not for you.
The proceeding information is general with requirements and guidelines to becoming a falconer in the United States with some specific focus on the State of Arizona. The general concepts apply regardless of the state; however, falconry regulations are governed by the state in which you want to obtain your permit. The Federal agency US Fish & Wildlife Service oversees the general regulations of falconry but each state has the freedom to regulate with stricter regulations that run the spectrum.
If you are still with me this far, my first suggestion for you is to go to your state Game & Fish agency’s website and go over the regulations carefully. If you still feel this is something you want to explore, then my next suggestion is to find your local falconry club/association and begin going to functions and/or find falconers that will let you go out hunting with them. Some clubs have an apprentice liaison to contact that can help you. You will need a sponsor in order to become an apprentice but you really need to see how the whole concept of falconry operates first. DO NOT START CONTACTING FALCONERS RANDOMLY ASKING FOR A SPONSOR BECAUSE MOST WILL TELL YOU “NO”. If you do get someone to sponsor you without any sort of requirements or meeting them first, then be very wary. Choose your sponsor carefully because this will be the basis of your falconry education. Just as with anything you learn, the quality of your foundation is important.
A quick note about sponsors: You want a sponsor that will spend a lot of hands-on time with you. Having what we call a ‘paper sponsor’ always ends badly at the expense to an innocent bird. When you trap a juvenile from the wild, or any bird for that matter, you have taken away that bird’s ability to make decisions for itself. The bird is DEPENDING ON YOU to make the best decisions for it because their life and well-being depend on it. If you do not have the proper guidance from a capable sponsor, you will make bad choices that could cost a bird its life. So again, choose wisely!
Finding a sponsor is the most difficult component when starting falconry. In general, falconers are a quirky group that are not always welcoming of outsiders so, you will have to prove yourself first. There are justified reasons for falconers’ tendencies to being a bit reserved so do not take it personally. Most falconers want to see commitment and that you are entering the culture for the right reasons.
When I am approached by want-to-be falconers inquiring about sponsorship, I have three main rules that if they cannot live by or if they break them I do not sponsor. I do not sponsor many people because I take these and other factors very seriously.
1. The bird’s well-being ALWAYS comes first. Ego, compliancy, over confidence and lack of self-discipline has no place in caring for a raptor. I see any of these and I will tell you “no” or drop you like a bad habit.
2. Protecting the legacy and culture of falconry. You must practice falconry and conduct your hunting ethically. Portraying falconry in a bad light or practicing unethical hunting will get you dropped.
3. My time and protecting my permits. You waste my time because you are not listening or think you know more than you do will get you dropped. If you conduct yourself in a manner that puts my own permits on the line, you will be dropped immediately.
Anyone not willing to follow the above guidelines regardless of their sponsor should not become a falconer. Being a falconer is a privilege and not a right. By conducting yourself poorly whether an apprentice or master falconer can lead to all falconers losing their right in practicing the culture of falconry in this country. Raptors are not pets, they are wild predators that deserve and command the utmost respect.
Still with me? Okay! Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of becoming a falconer!
Although this states AZ Falconry (IRFC location) the laws of falconry are the same in every state in this regard. I also want to point out that if you noticed I never use the word ‘sport’ because I do not define falconry as a sport. Falconry is a living cultural heritage that is based on lived experience and knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation. However, Game and Fish calls it a sport for the purpose of defining a type of hunting.
A note about finding information on the internet and/or online groups. Just because you can find it on the internet does not mean that the information is solid or even a good idea. The best thing to do is find good and reputable sources in books and actual credible falconers themselves. At this point if you are studying for the exam, you should have been making the rounds in attending local falconry functions and meets as well as out hunting with falconers. Draw on their knowledge and if you have a sponsor at this point, they are your FIRST GO TO person for knowledge. Your sponsor is the first person to ask questions and going around asking other people for advice or information is disrespectful to your sponsor. Also, your sponsor has the ultimate decision and say whether something should be employed or not. If your sponsor does not have the answer or knowledge then go to outside sources with their blessing. Remember your sponsor’s permits are on the line so, do not jeopardize their willingness to sponsor you by practicing something that might not be a good idea.
In order to obtain your falconry permit you must pass a facility and equipment inspection. This inspection is conducted by the falconry coordinator in your state’s Game & Fish Department.
The design of your mews is based on your climate and the species you plan to fly. I prefer to tether our birds during the hunting season. Some birds are able to be free loft but that is very dependent on the individual bird’s temperament. This is something you and your sponsor will need to agree upon. Airflow is very important for birds due to their unique respiratory system. Stale and stagnant air will cause many issues for your bird’s health. Must be easy to clean as well as safe from injury and escape.
Weathering areas are a way your bird can get sunshine and enrichment under the safety of wire. Not every state requires a weathering area but some do; therefore, be sure to double check your state’s regulations.
I cannot stress this point enough! You cannot expect to have a ‘baby’ and expect your life to stay the same. YOU MUST MAKE CHANGES! If you and/or the people in your household are not willing to make the necessary lifestyle changes accommodate a new bird to be safe, healthy and free of stress then do not become a falconer. It is not fair to the bird.
The following list of things is just the basics and there is always something else to consider; however, this will give you an idea what is involved. Obviously it depends on how much you can make yourself and if you are handy the costs can go down.
If you have read everything this far AWESOME!!
If you have any questions please feel free to email me! firstname.lastname@example.org
This is what IRFC is here to do!
For more information
North American Falconers Association (NAFA) https://www.n-a-f-a.com
Raptors in Captivity: Guidelines for Care and Management by Lori Arent - This should be your bible!
The Red-Tailed Hawk: A Complete Guide to Training and Hunting North America's Most Versatile Game Hawk by Liam McGranaghan - This book can be bought online from Mike’s Falconry
Desert Hawking by Harry McElroy
Falconry and Hawking by Phillip Glasier - This is a good book to read but just keep in mind that any book written outside the United States has different regulations.
Anything by Jemima Parry-Jones - She is from the UK so, keep that in mind while reading.
Anything by Bruce Haak - You will not fly a falcon as a new falconer but his books are great for those that are thinking about it.
Harris Hawk Revolution by Tom and Jennifer Coulson
The Imprint Accipiter II by Michael McDermott - You will not be flying an accipiter as a new falconer; however, he does a great job explaining weight management.
These books are a good place to start but the best way to learn is to surround yourself with quality falconers! And the best place to do that is start going to falconry meets such as the NAFA Meet held every fall, usually in November.