This year sees the 4th anniversary of World Falconry Day, in recognition of Falconry by the UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage, celebrating with the theme Recovery of the Peregrine Falcon.
By Falconry we understand the hunting tradition defined as taking quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of trained birds of prey. Preserving falconry involves maintaining not only the traditional culture that builds practical skills of empathy with animals, but also the conservation of raptors and their prey through preservation of natural habitats. Therefore falconry is encouraged within the context of sustainable use of wildlife.
Here I’ve selected a dozen of books available from Leeds Libraries on the topic:
A Kestrel For A Knave – Barry Hines
Everybody has heard of this book or seen the film by Ken Loach “Kes”, which is based on it. A working class boy troubled at home and school snatches a kestrel chick from its nest (totally illegal nowadays) and trains it to fly with him with the help from a book he steals from his local library (tut tut). It is pretty much a classic that highlights the life hardships of a boy in the 60’s in South Yorkshire. Even though kestrels are falcons they are not used much in falconry as a way to bring meat to the table because you’d be feeding yourself on mice, voles and the such, which are the typical quarry.
Training Birds of Prey – Jemima Parry-Jones
Jemima Parry-Jones is one of the best known names in the falconry circles. She is the director of the International Centre for Birds of Prey, Newent, which I recommend you visit if you get a chance. Following in her father’s (Phillip Glasier) steps, she has written several books about falconry and become a world-renowned falconer and conservationist. This is the book to read for those with an interest in taking up falconry; it covers all aspects in training your hawk from even before you buy it, and it’s an eye-opener for those who think of them as pets, dispelling any similarities with Harry Potter.
Fledgling days – Emma Ford
As well as Jemima, Emma Ford is another world acclaimed female falconer, who has also written several books on falconry. Together with husband Steve, they opened the British School of Falconry at Gleneagles hotel in Scotland. In this book Emma tells us of her first encounters and fascination with birds of prey when she was just a young girl aged 8 and how she went on to train and look after birds and other animals, teach falconry, work for TV and films and even the Emir of Abu Dhabi, Seikh Zayed. An inspirational biographical read for anyone with a love of animals.
Historical Falconry – Helen Rowlands
This is a superb illustrated guide to the history of falconry from its beginnings to present times with regards to attire, training methods, evolution of chosen species, etc., how falconry became popular and fashionable and how it declined with the advance of firearms. The book explores falconry both as an art and as a hunting method, including techniques and skills and how it’s always been part of the cultural heritage of the country where practised. Not so much about modern falconry but more focused on its historical aspect.
No Way But Gentlenesse – Richard Hines
I haven’t read this book yet but it’s in my “to read” list. Richard Hines is brother to Barry, who wrote the first book in this list. The main character Billy Casper is based on Richard, he found the kestrel and trained it, and A Kestrel for a Knave is pretty much his biography written by his brother. Aaaah, I hear you say. Yes, I was surprised as well when I found out this.
H is for Hawk – Helen MacDonald
This is an autobiographical account of how the author, an experienced falconer, went to train a goshawk, Mabel, to cope with the sadness and bereavement after her father died. For those who don’t know, goshawks are notorious for their nervousness and killing instinct and can be quite a handful to train compared with other bird of prey species. Helen grudgingly decides to re-read The Goshawk, by T.H. White, as she trains Mabel and exposes the differences in technique between themselves. The story tells us of the bonding between human and bird, both predators with a wild side.
The Goshawk – T. H. White
You can borrow this book from the library but personally is one of those books I don’t want to read because it’s going to make me cross and angry. Mr White wasn’t a falconer as such but an eccentric character with an obsession for “belonging” in a society he didn’t really fit in. Thus, he goes to train birds of prey without knowing what he’s doing and sadly killing them in the process. His lack of skills and experience added to the ancient and superseded books he uses as reference translate as cruelty to the bird. Perhaps I should do as Helen and one day, grudgingly read it.
Of Falconry (Book III of The Ornithology) – Francis Willughby of Middleton in the county of Warwick Esq. REFERENCE ONLY
This jewel is only available from the Information and Research department of Central Library, so you won’t be able to take it home. However, it’s worth spending some time in the library marvelling at this book from 1678!! The book is divided into books, sections and chapters and the last book is about falconry, wherein the 2 main parts are “reclaiming and managing hawks” and “diseases of hawks, prevention, signs and cures”. It also includes over 100 pages of illustrations of the birds he talks about throughout. A truly interesting read all in all.
Eagle & Birds of Prey – Jemima Parry-Jones
Even though this book is classed as Junior, the information within is apt for adults as well. It deals with hawks, falcons, eagles, vultures and owls covering all aspects from anatomy, reproduction, hunting techniques, types of quarry, and extinction of species, especially vultures, of which Jemima is a stalwart conservationist. Raptor weekend at her centre on 2nd and 3rd Sept 2017 – not to be missed.
All British Eagle – Captain Charles Knight
This is a 1943 memoir of the war-time adventures of Charles William Robert Knight with his famous golden eagle Mr Ramshaw. Captain Knight was a great British falconer, writer, lecturer, photographer, explorer and film director. His travels with the eagle are well recorded in his own books and films (I Know Where I’m Going). He is uncle of Phillip Glasier, who is Jemima’s father. Falconry runs in the family.
Falcon – Helen MacDonald
Another book by Helen MacDonald and previous to H is for Hawk. Here we learn all about falcons from all aspects other than just the obvious naturalist ones. She covers history, culture and folkloric meanings, conservation and use in falconry; but also how falcons have been used in war and by NASA and even publicity campaigns. This is a truly enjoyable read for everyone with an interest in nature and birds of prey. Lots of illustrations accompany this cultural analysis of falcon-human relationship.
Peregrine Falcon – Patrick Stirling-Aird
Last but not least, this book comes with dozens of amazing photos of falcons in colour and close-up detail, but also it’s full of information about different aspects of the bird including biology, behaviour, reproduction and hunting. It tells the gripping story of how peregrines were rescued from the brink of extinction and inhabit our cities. Well written and easy to read.
Blog Post by Montse, an Assistant Community Librarian based in the east of the city.