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Falconry is the art and sport of hunting with raptors. In this modern age it is a highly regulated sport that demands time and serious commitment. Currently there are an estimated 4,000 falconers in the United States with roughly 5,000 birds. Falconry has been practiced in many forms for thousands of years by many cultures. Some speculate that falconry dates back as far as 4000 - 6000 BC in Mongolia, Egypt, and possibly Asia, however there is no concrete evidence to support that. It is known that falcons were given as presents to Chinese princes as early as 2200 BC, but these may have been for pets and not for hunting. Modern falconry, particularly as practiced in North America, has elements of many ancient practices, yet looks modern in many other ways. The modern falconry lifestyle is varied, yet the integration of the people with their raptors is common through all practices.

A Falconry Timeline
  • 722-705 BC - Assyrian Bas-relief found in the ruins at Khorsabad during the excavation of the palace of Sargon II (or Saragon II) depicts falconry. A. H. Layard's statement in his 1853 book Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon is "A falconer bearing a hawk on his wrist appeared to be represented in a bas-relief which I saw on my last visit to those ruins."
  • 680 - Chinese records describe falconry
  • E. W. Jameson suggests that evidence of falconry in Japan surfaces
  • 4th Century BC - Gold coin pictures Alexander the Great with a hawk on his fist. It is assumed that the Romans learned falconry from the Greeks, although it was uncommon; there are accounts of Caesar using trained falcons to destroy pigeons carrying messages
  • 384 - Aristotle and other Greeks made references to falconry
  • 200 BC - Japanese records note falcons given to Chinese princes
  • 355 AD - Nihon-shoki, a historical narrative, records falconry. It is said that the first Japanese falconer was a woman named Kochiku, and her only daughter was also a falconer.
  • 500 - E. W. Jameson pins the earliest actual evidence of falconry in Europe is represented in a Roman floor mosaic of a falconer and his hawk hunting ducks.
  • 600 - Germanic tribes practiced falconry
  • 8th and 9th century and continuing today - Falconry flourished in the Middle East
  • 9th century - Japanese records mark the presence of women falconers
  • 875 - Western Europe and Saxon England practiced widely; Crusaders are credited with bringing falconry to England and making it popular in the courts
  • 1066 - Normans wrote of the practice of falconry; Following the Norman conquest of England, falconry became even more popular. The Norman word 'fauconnerie' is still used today.
  • 1600's - Dutch records of falconry; the Dutch city of Valkenswaard was almost entirely dependent on falconry for its economy
  • 1801 - James Strutt of England writes, "the ladies not only accompanied the gentlemen in pursuit of the diversion [falconry], but often practiced it by themselves; and even excelled the men in knowledge and exercise of the art."
  • 1934 - The first US falconry club, The Peregrine Club, is formed; subsequently died out during World War II
  • 1961 - NAFA formed
  • 1970 - The Peregrine Fund is founded mostly by falconers to conserve raptors, but focusing on Peregrines
A special thanks to Noriko Otsuka for her information on the Japanese falconry history and for historian David Zincavage for his review of some of this data.

Famous Falconers
Between 500 AD and 1600 AD falconry was an incredibly popular sport, art, and pastime in Western Europe being as popular through society as golf is today. Just about any historical figure that could be named during this time had an association or dabbled in falconry. Falconry still has strength throughout the Middle East and Asia, but its popularity declined throughout Europe during the 18th century with the invention of the gun and land restrictions. It was so common that for any given historical figure of this time period, the chances are that they engaged in falconry at some point.

Perhaps the most famous falconer was Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Sicily and King of Jerusalem. He was such an avid falconer that in 1274 he wrote a comprehensive book, De Arte Venandi cum Avibus (The Art of Hunting with Birds or The Art of Falconry), taking over 30 years to complete. As he was such an opponent of the Church, he did not receive much credit for his work for many years - his writings were even prohibited. Finally published in 1596, it was only "discovered" by ornithologists in 1788. This was one of the first scientific works and laid the foundation for ornithology. Frederick was such an avid falconer that he was said to have lost a military campaign when he opted to go hawking instead of maintaining a fortress siege.
Pope Leo X was a frequent hunter with his birds.
The Bayeux tapestry depicts King Harold taking a falcon and hounds on his visit to William of Normandy. The two are known to have hawked together during this meeting. William brought with him Flemish falconers when he conquered England.
Albertus Magnus, the Catholic saint, wrote extensively on falcons and falconry. His real name was Albert von Bollstädt and he was a teacher and doctor at Cologne and also a Dominican friar. As a chemist he was the first to make arsenic in its free form.
There is some speculation that Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun were also falconers. Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai Khan most definitely was a falconer. Marco Polo wrote of him, "takes with him full 10,000 falconers and some 500 gerfalcons, besides peregrines, sakers, and other hawks in great numbers, and goshawks able to fly at the water-fowl..."

Nobility and falconry were synonymous for centuries. Some of the ruling class that were avid falconer were:
  • Empress Catherine of Russia - her favorite falcon was the Merlin
  • Mary, Queen of Scots - was allowed to fly a Merlin from her window during her imprisonment
  • Edward III of England - during the invasion of France, he brought 30 falconers and 70 foxhounds to occupy his knights between campaigns
  • Ethelbert II of England - likely the first English king to be a falconer
  • Alfred the Great - also wrote on falconry
  • King Henry - called Henry the Fowler for his love of falconry
  • Canute the Great - King of England
  • Edward the Confessor - King of England
  • Athelstan of England
  • Henry VII
  • Henry VIII - had very elaborate mews built where the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square stands today
  • Francis I of France - kept 300 falcons and 50 masters of falconry
  • Queen Elizabeth I - one source claims she had a woman Grand Master of Falconry, Mary of Canterbury
  • Maximilian I - Holy Roman Emperor
  • King Richard - took his birds with him on the Crusades; when he was captured part of his ransom was 2 white Gyrfalcons
  • King John - had a passion for crane hawking with a cast of Gyrfalcons which were a gift from the King of Norway
  • James I - commissioned the translation of the Bible into English; a falconer, but also experimented with cormorants and osprey to take fish; kept white-tailed sea eagles for hunting teal
  • James IV - ran large, organized hunts on horseback; believed to have spent 1,000 pounds on a pair of Gyrfalcons from Scotland
  • Henry II - favorite birds were eyass Peregrines from Ramsey Island (Wales); he and his nobles were known to bring their hooded birds to the table during meals
  • Charlemagne - believed all gentlemen should be trained in falconry
  • Ottoman Sultan Beyazid - kidnapped the son of Philip the Bold and turned down the ransom of 200,000 gold ducats accepting 12 white Gyrfalcons and a jeweled gauntlet paid for by Carl VI of France
  • King Cardoman
  • Edward III
  • Edward IV
  • Edward the Black Prince - took 30 falconers with him when he invaded France
Other famous falconers, or falconers well-known outside the falconry community, are:
  • Heinz Meng - one of the first to breed the peregrine falcon in captivity; credited with being one of the most influential people to save the Peregrine from extinction and one of the most influential people of the 20th century environmental movements; developed a style of perch known as the Meng perch
  • Pedro Lopez de Ayala - Spanish statesman, historian, and poet
  • Gace de la Bigne
  • Juliana Berners - prioress of Sopwell nunnery near St Albans, wrote the Boke of St Albans
  • George Turberville - English poet
  • Symon Latham - Author
  • Edmund Bert - English author of Treatise of Hawks and Hawking (1619)
  • Colonel Thomas Thornton - noted sportsman and founding President of The Confederate Hawks of Great Britain
  • Gerald Lascelles - Deputy Surveyor of the New Forest; instrumental in keeping the sport of falconry alive in Britain as Secretary of the Old Hawking Club through the 19th century
  • Gilbert Blaine - Author
  • Frank Beebe - Canadian artist and naturalist; favorite bird is a tiercel gyrfalcon
  • Franks and John Craighead - American naturalists
  • Field Marshall Hermann Goering, Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, President of the Reichstag, Prime Minister of Prussia
  • Jack Mavrogordato - Attorney-General in the Sudan; expert with both short and longwings
  • James Robertson Justice - British actor; enjoyed grouse hawking
  • T.H. White - author (The Once and Future King, The Goshawk)
  • Philip Glasier - British naturalist
  • Edward Blair Michell - barrister (at one time legal adviser to the King of Siam) and author and possibly the greatest authority on Merlins until his death in 1926
  • Cpt Guy Aylmeri - falconer who developed the revolutionary two piece jess system
Ancient Falconry
Sports and Pastimes of the People of England

All images and text Copyright © 2004 - 2020 - Lydia Ash