I braced myself the first time Monty descended onto my gloved hand, assuming that a Harris Hawk with a 3-foot wingspan would knock the wind out of me as he landed. Monty alighted on my leather glove with a dancer’s grace.
I met Monty at the British School of Falconry at the Equinox Resort, in Manchester, Vermont. Raptors are birds of prey that use their extraordinary eyesight to hunt from the sky, and just the name—derived from the Latin word rapere, meaning “to seize or take by force”—inspires awe.
Falconry classes are the best way to spend hands-on time with raptors. In addition to teaching people about hunting with trained falcons or other birds of prey, some schools offer falconry experiences
focused on handling and flying raptors. Steve and Emma Ford founded the British School of Falconry in Scotland in 1982 and opened the Vermont school in 1995.
Believed to be the oldest sport in the world, falconry began as a hunting method in the Far East around 2000 BCE. It reached Britain around 860 CE and became known as the “sport of kings,” an important part of a nobleman’s education. Today, falconry enthusiasts play important roles in the conservation movement.
After I was fitted with a leather falconry glove, I was introduced to Monty and taught how to hold his “jesses,” leather leg straps that kept him in position in my gloved hand. I learned how to “cast off” Monty to his perch and call him back to my hand. After practicing this ancient rhythm of release and return—the heart of the falcon-human relationship—we began the hour-long Hawk Walk. I cast off Monty to a tree. As my instructor and I walked the trail, Monty flew from tree to tree, waiting for me to periodically call him back to my glove. During this “following on,” as it’s called, the instructor explained some physics of flight and feathers, wind and weather. Monty flew from treetop to treetop, staying with us in much the same zig-zag way as my dog stays with me when we walk in the woods.
Like most trained hawks, Monty wore bells on his legs so we could hear him as he alighted. As I walked with Monty, I was struck by this ancient sport’s romance: the leather glove, the sound of bells in the treetops, the beautiful landscape and, of course, Monty—a magnificent raptor at my beck and call. Sometimes when I called him back to me, I kept him on my gloved hand for a few minutes, a lady and her hawk, side by side.
BELINDA RECIO, recipient of the Humane Society’s Award for Innovation in the Study of Animals, owns True North Gallery (truenorthgallery.net) in Hamilton, Massachusetts, where she exhibits art that connects people with animals and the natural world.
The British School of Falconry
Equinox Resort, Manchester, Vermont
West Coast Falconry
New England Falconry
Quebec Falconry Centre
Saint-Narcisse-de-Beaurivage, Québec, Canada