Hawks for hunting

Falconry is a centuries-old form of hunting in numerous countries around the world. It is considered an integral aspect of many cultures, and was therefore added to the UNESCO Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage as a living human heritage element in 2010.

Falconry involves a trained bird of prey that is instructed by a falconer to hunt its natural prey species. The birds can be falcons, hawks, or eagles: even a few owl species have successfully been used. The falconer releases his bird once he has seen a potential prey animal. The bird flies after the prey, and pins it to the ground. The falconer follows, kills the prey, and gives the hawk a compensatory food reward. Falconry can be practiced during regular hunting seasons.

Wetland ecology group_Stella Thompson_University of Helsinki_falconry

Several cultures utilize birds of prey for hunting. Lotta the goshawk hunts in Finland. ©Markku Kallinen

Falconry is practiced in many Arab nations, European countries (e.g. Great Britain and the Czech Republic), and in most US states, to name a few examples. The International Association for Falconry (IAF) carefully regulates falconry. The association’s objective is to advance the protection and conservation of birds of prey through falconry and awareness raising.

Despite conservation efforts, many people harbor negative feelings towards falconry. And true problems do exist; certain countries allow the crossbreeding of species. If hybrid hunting hawks manage to escape from captivity, they can weaken the genetic purity of local birds. Alien species are also used in certain areas. For example, Britain has imported Harris’s hawks (Parabuteo unicinctus) into the country for pheasant hunting, but escapees have been reported nesting in the wild. The ethics behind captive wild bird species and breeding them in captivity also remains an issue. On the other hand, falconry has also managed to lessen prejudices that people have harbored against birds of prey in many countries, and falconry organizations further the conservation of both birds of prey and other bird species by e.g. raising awareness and campaigning against illegal animal trafficking.

At one time, falconry was also popular in Finland, where the goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) was the bird of prey most used. Falconry is technically legal according to Finnish hunting legislation, but actually obtaining a hunting hawk is not easy in practice. Goshawks are protected in the country, so a native bird cannot be captured. Therefore a bird must be brought in from abroad. The bird cannot be an alien species, and individuals brought in must also be sterile, as goshawks in other countries are of different populations than in Finland.

Wetland ecology group_Stella Thompson_University of Helsinki_falconry

Markku and Lotta mainly hunt mountain hare. ©Pia Kallinen

However, Finland certifiably has one pair of hunting goshawk and falconer. Markku Kallinen and Lotta the goshawk uphold an old hunting tradition that disappeared during the 1960s. Markku and Lotta mainly hunt mountain hare (Lepus timidus). See a video of Lotta feeding, filmed by Pia Kallinen.

Lotta’s activities can be followed (in Finnish) at https://www.facebook.com/haukkametsastys/


2 thoughts on “Hawks for hunting

  1. Though falconry has found it’s way to the UNESCO’s list ‘Iintangible heritage of mankind’, we should bear in mind that todays falconry is quite far from it’s ancient form of hunting, mostly today just a snobbish hobby. It is true that IEF carefully try to regulate falconry but still illegal falcon trade exists because of corruption. Bird smuggling is capitalising terrorism, arms and even sex trade. Are these worth to heritage of mankind. I think there is plenty of powerful and peaceful practices to teach children the importance of raptors than falconry. One can also ask, is the interpretation of Finnish hunting legislation correct that falconry is legal in Finland.

    Read more: http://bioweb.ie/sex-drugs-falcons/, https://vimeo.com/79803003


  2. You provide a very valid point; illegal hawk trafficking is a big problem. Though the IAF has implemented several projects for fighting it (e.g. satellite tracking and nest box campaigns for saker falcons and a breeders registry for Bonelli’s eagle), falconry associations are still not doing enough to stop the illegal trapping of birds of prey. I believe education is very important, and although I’m more of a conservationist at heart, I think that conservation measures and education should be implemented by falconers/hunters along with conservation associations. It is much easier for a fellow hunter to gain the trust of people and communities who are involved or witness illegal hawk trafficking, than a pure conservationist working from top down.

    With the saker falcon, in 2012 the IAF launched the Saker Net initiative (http://www.sakerfalcon.org/), which is a portal designed specifically for gaining trust between the various parties involved. There is also talk of requiring the tagging of wild-caught saker falcon individuals, to prove they have been trapped by specific trappers that trap sustainably and are committed to working against illegal trafficking. These are steps in the right direction, which have apparently helped in forming small-scale conservation efforts. But more joint work should still be made.

    However, there are examples of success also; conservation efforts of the peregrine falcon in Europe have been aided by falconry. Kenward (2009) shows that peregrine populations are highest in areas with high numbers of falconers. Falconry is certainly not the only reason behind the increase in peregrine populations, but it has played a role.

    Falconry is changing, as you say. However, the adopted technological advances (e.g. GPS collars and microchips) have more to do with keeping the bird of prey from escaping than with increasing bag size. i.e. with making hunting more efficient. And this is a good aspect, because it decreases the risk of escaped birds breeding with wild individuals. Another important aspect to note is that falconry adds to the recreational and financial value of local communities. Since falconry brings with it an added element of novel experiences and tradition, it brings in tourists curious to see a hunt without actually participating in it. Additionally, the kill rate of quarry during a falconry session is often much lower than when hunting with firearms (Šegrt et al. 2008), meaning the total population of hunted game species can remain at higher levels while still bringing in more money to local communities. This in turn can help other species in the area, as game species and their environments are not managed as strongly.

    Finnish legislation is fairly ambiguous on the matter. Falconry is not specifically banned in the hunting legislation, although strict regulations do apply with respect to other laws. A wild animal cannot be used and alien species cannot be brought in the country. However, a captive-born bird of a native species to Finland can be brought from another country as long as it is sterile. So hunting using hawks is not illegal in Finland. Personally speaking, I do not want the practice to increase in Finland, and I don’t really believe it will, due to the heavy paperwork and long waiting periods involved to be able to obtain a hunting hawk.

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