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Falconry is the art/sport of hunting wild prey with trained hawks. Its origin is uncertain. Japanese records indicate that falcons were given as presents to Chinese princes of the Heian dynasty around 2200 BC. Pictorial records and wall hangings dated to around 1700 BC show falconers with birds on their wrists in Arabia and Persia . These early pictorial records may be that hawks were merely kept as companion animals. However in written records of the king Wen Wang who reigned over a province China in 689 B.C. proves that the art was at that time in very high favor.
Little is known about the early history of falconry in Africa. There are however very ancient Egyptian carvings and drawings that seem to depict scene's of falconry. It is also believed to have spread to the countries of Morocco, Algiers and Tunis. English and continental Europe writers on falconry, often made mention of Barbary and Tunisian falcons.
Some of the oldest records of falconry in Europe are vague suggestions in the writings of Pliny, Aristotle and Martial. Although somewhat vague, they are adequate in showing that falconry was being practiced actively by the year 384 B.C.
It is commonly believed that falconry was introduced to Europe by the Germanic tribes. However it is likely that the Romans learned falconry from the Greeks. Falconry in the Roman Empire does not appear to have become very popular. There are however references to Julius Caesar using falcons to destroy pigeons carrying the messages of his enemies.
Falconry reaches great popularity in Medieval Europe (500-1500) and was highly popular up until the time of the French Revolution (late 1800's). The Bayeux tapestry shows King Harold taking a trained raptor and hounds on his visit to William of Normandy in 1064. During the reign of Edward VIII, 1327-77, theft of a trained raptor was punishable by death.
Falconry was also practiced and indeed popular in France. In fact many falconry terms come from French influence. Some include bowsing for drinking, from the French "boire", and austringer for a trainer of accipiters, from the French "autour" for goshawk.
Falconry also thrived in the Middle East, with a first treatise in Arabic in the 8th or 9th century. The Arabs surely gave many techniques to the crusaders.
The first surviving "western" falconry treatise De Arte Venandi cum Avibus was written approximately 1247 by the Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen.
Falconry was responsible for the earliest legislation protecting raptors. Henry VII of England protected goshawk nests with the following decree "in pain of a year and a day's imprisonment." In fact there was a structure set forth for "classes" of people that directly correlated with what hawks they may fly. It's not known how strictly this was enforced and indeed the existing lists are a bit confusing as sometimes they use different names for the same species of raptors allowed for several different "classes" of nobility.
Interestingly enough the Conquistadors (1500) make reference to the Aztecs using trained hawks. It's unclear whether these hawks were trained for hunting purposes or for ceremonial purposes.
The writings of William Shakespeare (an avid falconer) furnish ample testimony to the popularity and prestige which falconry held in his days.
By the middle of the 18th century falconry began to decline in England and most of Europe. The social change brought about by the French revolution as well as a variety of causes such as a change in agricultural techniques, and the introduction of more efficient and novel methods of killing animals for both sport and table. Namely the introduction of the firearm. In fact it became a bit of a rarity to see trained raptors used in much or Europe. Thankfully falconry has continued to flourish in Asia and the Middle East to the present day. Not until recently has there been any marked decline in the interest of falconry in these countries.
Approximately 1900 records of the practice of Falconry in the United States start to appear. Unlike many sports introduced from Europe falconry never has an explosion of popularity. Slowly the numbers of practicing falconers begins to rise. As early as the 1930's there are falconry Clubs such as The Peregrine Club established at the University of Pennsylvania. Sadly this early club dissolves during the years around World War II. The next sizable falconry club North American Falconer's Association was established in 1961.
The art and sport of falconry are to this day spread throughout countless countries of the world. Some are rediscovering ancient techniques of their countryman, others are building upon the proud tradition that is Falconry.
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