About the falcons

Falcons are divided into dozens of groups, which vary in size, weight, feather colors, speed and ability to fly. There is a miscellany of falcons living in various geographical and climatic regions, from extreme deserts to even colder snowy areas. However, researchers have scientifically divided falcons’ origins into four main types: Falco Cherrug/Saker Falcon (Hurr), Gyrfalcon Falco Rusticolus (Jeer), Falco Peregrinus (Shaheen) and Lanner Falcon/Falco Biarmicus (Wakri).

The Gyrfalcon Falco Rusticolus is the largest of the falcon species. It lives in mountainous and cold environments. It is sometimes called the Canadian falcon because it was brought from Canada and Alaska to the Arabian Peninsula. It is also one of the fastest flying species.

Average Length in both sexes: between 41 and 56 cm.

Average weight in both sexes: between 800 and 2100 grams.

The color of the feather varies according to the environment in which this falcon lives; such as white, black, brown and dark brown feather. The Gyrfalcon Falco Rusticolus lives in cold environments, especially in Northern Europe, North America and the Arctic. Also, it can hunt large and small deer, as well as little birds and rodents.

This falcon is one of the most preferred falcons by Arabs. It is called Falco Cherrug and Saker, and the last name is taken from the Arabic translation of the word “falcon.” The Arabs prefer this falcon since the warm climate is its natural habitat, and it is a highly clever hunter.

Average Length in both sexes: between 37 and 47 cm.

Average weight in both sexes: between 765 and 1190 grams.

The Falco Cherrug/Saker Falcon is able to snap large and small rodents. It is found in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in Manchuria, Mongolia, Siberia, China, and Pakistan. During winter, it passes through the Arabian Peninsula on its way to Africa. Some of its descendants can be found in the Arabian Peninsula, southern Iraq, Sudan and Egypt.

The Falco Peregrinus is the fastest flying species in the world. It can fly at a speed of 320-km/h. It has around 19 factions in varied parts of the world. Because of its frequent mobility, it will be dubbed in this article as “Falcon Mobile” or “Wandering Falcon.” It is well-known for its ability to hunt while flying. It hunts small mammals, birds, and insects. The Falco Peregrinus is one of the highly desired falcons by Arabs.

Average Length in both sexes: between 38 and 46 cm.

Average weight in both sexes: between 565 and 1050 grams.

The Falco Peregrinus is widespread in many parts of the world and its descendants are found in Japan, Bailey, and Tundra.

The falconers in the Arabian Peninsula divide the Falco Peregrinus into two types: “The Sea Falco Peregrinus” and “The Mountains Falco Peregrinus”. The Sea is characterized as one the largest Falco Peregrinus; and is marked by its light color; and it migrates to the Arabian Peninsula from its place of reproduction. The mountain Falco Peregrinus tends to live in the dark and it dwells and breeds in the Arabian Peninsula.

It is considered as an average falcon in terms of hunting efficiency, along with its high stamina through hunger and disease. It is found in Africa and South Asia. This falcon is a malleable falcon; it is easy to direct and train.

Average Length in both sexes: between 36 to 51 cm.

Average weight in both sexes: between 500 to 900 grams.

Although the Lanner Falcon is less efficient in hunting, the well-trained falcons are capable of hunting bustards. Usually, it hunts small, medium mammals. The Lanner Falcon lives in Arabian Peninsula, Africa, and the Mediterranean Basin.

Mankind has practiced hunting with birds of prey for thousands of years. The inscriptions show that the Arabian Peninsula has known falconry for nearly nine thousand years. Arabs have, for a long time, shown preference in hunting with falcons rather than other animals, while other nations have hunted using different animals, such as eagles, buttocks, to name a couple.

There are dozens of species and breeds of falcons and hybrids. Falcons are generally divided into four main species, Falco Cherrug/Saker Falcon, Gyrfalcon Falco Rusticolus, Falco Peregrinus, and Lanner Falcon/Falco Biarmicus.

The Cherrug/Saker Falcon has been the Arabs’ most favorite since ancient times. They also knew different types of Falco Peregrinus and Lanner Falcon/Falco Biarmicus. On the other hand, the Gyrfalcon Falco Rusticolus was not common because it lived in cold places and it did not migrate or pass through the Arab areas, all this made it difficult for it to be adopted.

Evidence in Arab heritage suggest that AlHarith bin Muawiya bin Thor Al Kindi was known to have obtained firsthand knowledge of falconry at the time of the Kingdom of Kenda. Upon seeing one falcon fall into a trap for birds and eat the birds in it, AlHarith liked the unique bird and ordered to capture it. Surprisingly, while AlHarith was with his falcon, the falcon slipped out of his hands to catch a passing pigeon. A few days later while AlHarith was looking, the falcon also slipped to catch a bigger target as he snatched a rabbit.

Eventually, AlHarith knew that this bird was of different kind, so he ordered to tame the bird and train it for hunting. After that, the Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula kept hunting with Falcons and it was passed down from generation to generation.

While Falconry was a luxury for kings, princes, and the elite people of the Arabian Peninsula, it was also a tactic to supplement a sparse diet for the poor. Falconry was not only limited to the Arabs. It had spread from the middle valleys of Asia to Europe where it became the symbol of nobility as a hobby as well as a mean to serve a great diplomatic role in the middle ages. Falcons were also sent as presents to the kings of Europe.

The Arabs knew Falconry since thousands of years as early accounts document the practice of raptor hunting for prey among Arabs for more than 9,000 years before Christ, which is thousands of years before the story of the AlHarith from Kenda and the attributed story to the Assyrian King Sargon II. The remains of the recently discovered “Al-Mager Civilization” in the Second Stone Age showed that man in the Arabian Peninsula tamed horses, falcons and other animals very early in comparison to other civilizations.

The Arabian Peninsula was still a transit point for migratory falcons from Central Asia and Eastern Europe to Africa. Falcons were located in the deserts of northern Arabia for hunting in the summer each year. Some falcons also inhabited in the Arabian Peninsula up in the mountains for reproduction.

Falconry has a great deal of interest in Saudi Arabia among those who seek to revive the Bedouin side of their culture. Festivals usually dedicate a space to display live falcons’ shows. The importance of specialized courses in falconry education has not been overlooked. Moreover, Saudi Arabia cooperates with the rest of the GCC to prevent hunting falcons with guns, reduce illegal hunting, and promote compliance with laws imposed to maintain the balance of endangered species. However, due to adverse environmental conditions i.e. high temperature and too much humidity for breeding falcons, production and hatching became very limited.

The Arabs were among the most interested nations in falconry. Indeed, the Arab kings had a clear mark in the history of taming and companionship with the falcons, especially in the Arabian Peninsula. They have even given it a high social status that it has become a symbol of strength, honor, courage, pride, beauty, loyalty, unity and trust.

Mankind’s love for falcons has evolved over time from hunting them to feed on them to placing traps to own them, to becoming friendly as they took good care of them. When needed, falcons would also be used to hunt for animals. However, falconry is not very common these days neither is the strong bond between the falcon and its owner. This hobby has evolved over the ages as diversified methods of breeding falcons have been used in various countries of the world. Falconry has turned from a hobby to a profession, as it became an integral part of the lives of people.

The Importance of International Falcons

Some falcons were classified as rare and endangered animals after World War II, and most countries adopted legislation and strict laws, accompanied by awareness campaigns that help reduce excessive hunting and preserve ecological balance and wildlife. Falconry has also been included in the 2010 list of UNESCO’s non-human heritage, in which it lists a number of countries involved in this practice: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Morocco, the Syrian Arab Republic, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia and Spain. The document explains the great importance of falcons, as they constitute a broad cultural heritage base, which is associated with long-standing relations.

 

Studies indicate that Europe was known to practice falconry as early as the third century AD, but this hobby didn’t become popular until after the sixth century. The obsession with falcons peaked in the seventeenth century with some kings of Europe issuing a legislation limiting falconry to the elite. In addition, this new law also identified the types of falcons that were not allowed to be owned or hunted by the elites as these types were reserved exclusively to the kings.

Falcons were spread across vast areas of the medieval European countryside and cities. The rulers saw falconry as an art that served as a great challenge to their character in terms of endurance, perseverance and concentration.

Spraying of pesticides on crops; falcons became a rare and threatened species of extinction, and they were not seen in the cities as much as before as people were used to seeing them often nesting on the edge of the windows of tall buildings. However, these countries didn’t consent to silence while watching falcons’ extinction, they made a fuss about it and that led to set measures in place to protect the rest of the falcons and monitor their breeding with special devices. The hunters were subject to strict laws. More importantly, pesticides, such as DDT, were also banned. In late 1999, after these major efforts, falcons were removed from the list of threatened species. The world’s fastest birds had returned from the edge of the abyss, adapting to a new environment, ready for breeding and growth, both within cities and beyond.

Generally, the Arab countries are similar in their methods of raising and training falcons, yet when it comes to the precise details, these may vary from one falconer to another and they require patience. Falcon training time may last up to a full month of daily work and may reach up to 40 days if the chick is older than a year. When the falcon is older it takes a longer time. Falcons differ in their response time and are dissimilar from each other.  For example, the “Peregrine falcon” is known to be quick in learning and easier to train than the “Lanner Falcon”. However, the main problem with Peregrine falcons is the fact that they are difficult to preserve due to its vulnerability to disease and its slow process of moulting – the phase of replacing its feathers. Nonetheless, falconers never hesitate to take care of the falcon’s health through periodic examination and medical examination.

Falcon training requires many modern and traditional techniques and tools, including “Binoculars” which reveal the falcon movement, the hood “burqa” covering the head of the falcon to keep it calm and tame it, and the “Skin Glove”: a thick garment covering the whole hand and the falcon should be placed on the left hand due its languid pace/less agility and the hand must remain high. The falcon must be escorted to gatherings, so it can get used to noises. Also, it should be given a name and be trained to respond to its name. The methods and tools of training are not limited to the ones mentioned. In fact, methods and tools vary and techniques improve over time.  The most recent technique is the small drones, where the prey is placed in a small cage for hunting practice during the training period. After completing the training, the falconer must be sure that the falcon will not escape when it is propelled and will always return to its falconer.

International Falconry

The European training methods differ from those used in the Arab world but are similar in some traditional falconry tools. Due to the ecological crisis, falcons have been raised, trained and reproduced within private reserves. They are trained inside the reserve and sometimes let go to soar in the wild. In Belgium, although there is high interest in falcons, they are usually left undisturbed, the falcon builds its nest near humans and adapts easily to living in the environment. Today, however, amateur falconers can breed falcons and practice hunting in the UK without a license. However, a falconer must adhere to the laws and regulations of falconry.

A European Model Reproducing Institute for Birds has been established under the guidance of an Austrian Falconer Mr. Josef Hilber. It offers flacons air show using baits. Falcons were used in many other ways in Europe since ancient times, which are not limited to reproducing and hunting. It was not only the rich who owned falcons, the workers also used them to search for food. In World War II, they were used to kill the carrier pigeons for messages, and to scare birds at airports to reduce the risk of colliding with the aircraft.

On the other side comes Korea, where the art of falconry is very popular. It has been practiced during the spring through the winter seasons. They had their own style of training falcons, where they tied its foot and neck with a leather strap and tagged it with a bell on the tail to reveal the location of the landing.