Selecting a Raptor The Birds Most Commonly Used In Falconry
Peregrines are considered by many to be the perfect large hunting falcon. They are arguably the easiest large falcon to train, they have a strong hunting disposition and their mind and way of thinking lend themselves very easily to the waiting-on style of hunting used in falconry. Peregrines easily catch pheasants, ducks, pigeons and grouse. The peregrine falcon is considered to be the fastest animal on earth, capable of diving hundreds of miles an hour.
The Gyrfalcon is the largest falcon in the world. Gyrfalcons range in color from pure white to pure black, and every shade of silver and grey in between. Gyrs are prone to chase their quarry for miles until it tires out and then they pluck them out of the air. A properly trained gyrfalcon arguably offers the pinnacle display of power, grace, and athleticism in falcon flight styles. Gyrs are typically used to hunt sage grouse, geese, ducks, and pheasants.
The prairie falcon is an intelligent and highly independent species. Although this independence often causes frustration to falconers, the prairie falcon is nevertheless, a fine hunting falcon. Most falconers choose to fly prairies in a traditional waiting-on flight style, having the falcon circle high above the falconer, waiting for the falconer to flush up quarry for the falcon to dive on. In this form of hunting, prairies are known to be incredibly hard-hitters and are often used to hunt ducks, pheasants, and pigeons.
The Aplomado falcon is a strikingly marked medium-sized falcon that ranges from Texas, on all the way through South America. Aplomado falcons are quite unusual in their flight style. Both in the wild and flown as a falconry bird, they prefer to fly with a mate or in a pair as a cast. They enjoy direct pursuit flights and are typically used to hunt prey such as quail and doves, although females have been coaxed to consistently take on prey as large as pheasants.
Merlins have often been compared to being a tiny Gyrfalcon, as both species are capable of chasing prey for literally miles. With such abilities and tendencies, flying a merlin absolutely necessitates the use of radio transmitters. Merlins can successfully hunt any bird species from the size of a sparrow to a pigeon, and indeed they used to be referred to as “pigeon hawks”. Just as with kestrels, Merlins require extreme attention to weight management, and the choice to fly one should not be taken lightly.
The American kestrel is the smallest North American falcon species. This species is often used as a first falconry bird because it is easy to obtain and easy to train. Falconers usually train them to hunt small birds such as English sparrows and European starlings. Because they specialize in short distance flights, they can be safely flown without the use of radio telemetry. Kestrels require diligent weight management and dedication to detail. Even a few grams off with weight management can be serious for a kestrel.
The lanner falcon is a medium to large falcon ranging in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and barely into Asia. The lanner was considered to be the perfect beginner’s falcon. Lanner falcons are captive bred in North America, but typically they are utilized as education birds. Lanners are as large as some of the other more aggressive hunting falcons but known for having an easier going disposition. Despite not being as aggressive in the field as other large falcon species, the lanner has nevertheless still been used successfully to hunt ducks, pheasants, doves, and pigeons.
The saker falcon is the second largest falcon in the world. Ranging in northern Africa, eastern Europe, Northern Asia, and the Middle East. The saker falcon is considered by many to likely be the first falcon used in the sport of falconry. This versatile species can be flown from a waiting-on position above the falconer, but it is most often flown in direct pursuit flights, where it is capable of long chases. Traditionally in the Middle East, sakers are trained to hunt giant Houbara bustard birds, and also large rabbits. In addition to being a dynamic hunting bird, the saker, much like the lanner, is a species often utilized in North America as an education bird.
Gyr x peregrine
Many species of falcons are hybridized, but the gyr x peregrine is a favorite among falconers. The goal with this hybrid is to combine the good nature and propensity towards waiting-on flights of a peregrine, with the speed and power of a gyr. Although gyr x peregrines are used to hunt all kinds of quarry, they are a particular favorite of falconers who pursue sage grouse. This hybrid seems to combine the best of both species, and continues to grow in popularity around the world.
Barbary falcons are a desert sub-species of peregrines and they can tolerate the heat very well. Their natural food source consists of smaller birds and doves. Barbary falcons are extremely fast and agile hunters and are smaller sub-species of peregrines. They are native to Northern and Eastern parts of Africa, Middle East, Central and Southern Asia and Mediterranean Europe. Barbary Falcons often may use thermals to rise to the heavens in order to reach cooler air in warmer climates or warmer times of the day. This particular habit appears to be ingrained in these birds and requires a more advanced handler or a tighter window of management to prevent losses or long recovery efforts.
This large common buteo, or soaring hawk, is highly adaptable and it’s range covers all of North America. A favorite among new falconers, the hearty and forgiving nature of the Red-tail makes it a great choice as a hunting companion. When properly trained, the Red-tail becomes very loyal and can typically be safely flown without the use of telemetry. Because of their good nature and adaptability, Red-tails are regionally flown in an extremely diverse range of hunting styles. In eastern hardwood forests, Red-tails are flown tree-to-tree in pursuit of grey squirrels. In the West, they are flown directly off the fist in pursuit of jackrabbits and cottontails.
The Harris’s hawk is a relative newcomer to the sport of falconry, but in its short time of use, it has revolutionized the sport. Harris’s hawks range from the Southwestern United States on through Central and South America. The Harris’s hawk is the only raptor known to hunt in organized groups. Whether flown alone or in a “cast”, Harris’s hawks have a high success rate when hunting nearly any kind of rabbit, squirrel, or game bird. Because of their agreeable disposition, and high success as a hunter, Harris’s hawks have gone on to be bred around the world and are utilized by falconers the World over.
The cooper’s hawk is a medium-sized woodland hawk ranging all across the United States, Mexico, and southern Canada. Like the sharp-shinned hawk, the Cooper’s hawk is a fast, agile, highly effective hunting hawk. Capable of hunting birds from sparrows to small pheasants, cooper’s hawks are incredibly versatile. But despite their amazing hunting abilities, Cooper’s are not widely flown. This is because they do not easily forgive training mistakes and can become aggressive when mistakes are made. But for the highly attentive falconer who can troubleshoot the training process and be religious about weight management, the Cooper’s hawk will provide some of the most breathtaking flights imaginable.
The northern goshawk is a large circumpolar woodland hawk, spanning many countries of the northern hemisphere. Goshawks have a long history in falconry all around the world. Fast, agile, powerful and determined, goshawks are among the most productive of game hawks, their high success rate when hunting, combined with the range of prey they can easily capture, makes them a favorite both anciently and in the modern-day. Goshawks are routinely used to hunt rabbits, pheasants, ducks, geese, quail, grouse, partridge and doves. Goshawks can be temperamental, but when properly trained, goshawks reign supreme as the king of the forest hawks.
The sharp-shinned hawk is the smallest true hawk in North America. This species is used to hunt prey from the size of sparrows to quail. Fast, determined, and incredibly agile, the sharp-shin has a very high success rate as a hunting companion. As with kestrels and merlins, the sharp-shin requires absolutely religions attention to weight management. Sharp-shins are quiet and elusive but get a bit more gregarious at migration, sometimes traveling in small groups at that time; they are typically the most numerous birds seen at hawk watches. Even though they are fairly easy to train, their delicate build does not lend itself to a beginner.
The ferruginous hawk is the largest hawk in North America, it ranges in the open prairie and desert country of western Canada, USA, and Mexico. Ferruginous hawks are not a beginners bird. For their size, they have surprisingly narrow wings, and their flight muscles are far larger and more highly developed than that of other soaring hawks. This allows them to fly much faster than their closest relatives. Ferruginous hawks are typically used to hunt rabbits but are fast enough to catch ducks and some game birds on the rise. Falconers have also had success flying them from a waiting-on position like a falcon.