Introduction

Falconry, defined by the IAF as:

'Taking quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of trained birds of prey' depends on two premises:

1. A completely healthy and stress-free bird that is physically and psychologically able to catch its prey sufficiently and

2. A bird that has no reservations towards humans about sharing both the hunting event and the prey with the falconer.

This premises provides a unique and mutually beneficial partnership between the raptor and the falconer. It must be recognised that the only way to achieve excellent performance from a falconry bird is to have it in peak fitness, optimal health and subject to a minimum of stress.

 

brokenPrimaries

There is a considerable body of knowledge that has been developed for more than three thousand years on the management of falconry raptors in a way that will optimize hunting performance, minimize stress and prevent disease.

To understand the behaviour of the bird and the training provided by the falconer one has to take into consideration the reasons for animal behaviour. Every behaviour has, at least, the aim to preserve the life of the animal so that it can transmit its genes into the next generation.

Birds of prey in the wild have a survival rate of approximately 20% of hatched chicks. This means that about 80% die in their first year and most of them starve in autumn/winter. For this reason raptors are 'energy efficient' predators that are largely sedentary when not hunting.

 

Besides positive motivation, negative feelings can influence the behaviour of animals in general. In social animal species like horses or dogs, negative reinforcement, especially if caused by an individual of higher social rank, e.g. the human - can lead to the desired learning experience.
Falconry birds are not social in this sense: negative reinforcements caused by the falconer would just make them avoid the falconer. Falconry practise for this reason has to be based on training through positive reinforcement alone and the avoidance of stress.

In addition to this ethological integrity, physical inviolacy is crucial. Of course, veterinarian health care is obligatory; this includes a laboratory check of the mutes twice a year, and immediate medical treatment by a specialized avian veterinarian if necessary. The maintenance of intact primary feathers has to be a priority. Damaged primaries prevent a raptor from being a successful hunter.