The Ancient Art of Falconry

By: Carla G. Harper


Photo: Andre Klimke

Photo: Andre Klimke

Falconry is not a common term. However, the 4000-year-old art and sport of hunting wild birds, rabbits, squirrels, and other animals with trained raptors, or birds of prey, endures. Raptors all have a curved beak for tearing meat, talons for gripping and grabbing prey, forward-facing eyes for keen sight, and they only eat meat. The raptor category includes hawks, eagles, owls, osprey, kites, secretary bird, vultures, and falcons.

An ancient tradition preserved and practiced worldwide

Falconry is the world’s oldest hunting sport. Gathering food with trained raptors has been traced back to Mesopotamia, the region of Western Asia that lies within the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Kuwait occupy this region today.

Many of the kings and queens of every known civilization engaged in the sport of hunting with raptors. Records show that Chinese emperors, Japan’s Samurai nobility, the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan, Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth, and many more enjoyed the sport of Falconry.

The most prized and largest bird of prey then and now is Gyrfalcon Falco Rusticolus, commonly referred to as a Jeer Falcon. In ancient times, the type of bird a person owned indicated status. Kings kept Jeer Falcons, which hunt game. The commoner owned Kestrels, which hunt grasshoppers and butterflies.

According to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), “[Falconry] is a natural activity because the falcon and her prey have evolved together over millions of years; their interaction is an age-old drama. The falcon is adapted to hunt the prey, and the prey has evolved many ways to escape from the falcon. This leads to a fascinating insight into the way nature works and poses an intellectual challenge to the falconer in his understanding of behavior. His task is to bring the actors together on nature’s stage. To do this the falconer must develop a strong relationship and synergy with his bird.”

Photo: Erik van Dijk

Photo: Erik van Dijk

How cool are raptors

Americans readily recognize the majesty of the Bald Eagle. The Second Continental Congress selected the Bald Eagle in 1782 as the U. S. National Symbol. The Bald Eagles exhibits strength, independence, and determination. They are survivors.

Such qualities can be assigned to about all the birds of prey. Their instincts and senses are highly evolved. For example, when a hawk takes an animal down, sensors within its feet can determine if the prey has a pulse or not.

Falcons have been clocked at flying 243 miles per hour. Thus, they can sustain 25 Gs (gravitational force). For context, fighter pilots experience 7 Gs during complex maneuvers.

How do falconers get raptors to come back to them?

Chip Gentry, owner of Hawk Manor Falconry in Lillington, NC, puts it simply when asked about how he manages to get these powerful birds to return after he sends them out on a mission. “I am like a restaurant for my birds. Food is the only thing that binds us with the bird. When you control the stomach, you can control the mind.”

It takes many years of daily interaction with a bird to train them to know that there will be a free meal awaiting them when they go out to hunt and return to the falconer. Chip, and his wife Sommer Gentry, have put in the time to build trust with their 15 birds of prey. This relationship allows them to offer hands-on educational and experiential opportunities with confidence. 

Photo: David White

Photo: David White

Becoming a falconer

Not surprisingly, becoming a falconer requires many years of training and federal and state licensing. In addition, many laws at national and international levels regulate birds of prey. For example, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects over 1,000 bird species.

This international law highly regulates any contact with these birds, their nest, or eggs. Even keeping a feather from protected birds is illegal except for Native Americans. Obtaining a license to own a protected raptor is a big deal.

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How to get a raptor experience

You can get an up-close and educational Falconry experience just down the road in Lillington, NC, at Hawk Manor Falconry. Master Falconers Chip and Sommer Gentry have built a multi-faceted business around Falconry.

A warm and friendly welcome is the first thing you’ll experience at Hawk Manor Falconry. During a recent educational program, Chip and Sommer provided kids and adults alike with the chance to hold owls, hawks, and snakes in addition to learning about raptors and Falconry in a fun and engaging manner.

Austin, a Marine, found Hawk Manor Falconry on Groupon and came because he’s fascinated with how raptors hunt. Dominic, age eleven, came along for an outing to celebrate his dad’s birthday. By the end of the program, he’d decided to one day become a falconer. Monroe, a nine-year-old, loves birds in general and squealed with joy over the chance to hold a barn owl on her arm.

 Hawk Manor Falconry offers opportunities to encounter many bird species through guided hunts or educational programming. In addition, they will schedule individualized experiences. “Whatever you can imagine, we can incorporate our cadre of birds to make it exceptional,” says Chip Gentry.

-Guided hunts

-Personal Falconry experiences

-Business team building programs

-Educational programs for schools or birthday parties


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Carla G. Harper is a North Carolina based writer, publisher, and marketing professional. Learn more about her services at Reach Carla at [email protected]. Sign up for her Leadership Quote of the Day free service hereWhatever it is, the way you tell your story online can make all the difference.