The roles of Falconry in the modern World – Part 1

International Association for Falconry and Conservation of Birds of Prey (IAF) Vice-President for Europe Janusz Sielicki, shares with as the importance of Falconry in the Modern World. This is Part 1 of articles Janusz will be sharing with us in regards to the oldest living hunting tradition; that is Falconry. Declared by UNESCO as a World Intangible Living Heritage, it is our interest to safeguard the 4,000 year old practice for future generations.

Falconer - Stephen Neville Photo: Della Bellamy

Abstract

Falconry is one of oldest human activities, goes back thousands of years. It is defined as “taking quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of trained birds of prey”. It was for centuries using wild birds of prey. Falconry is sustainable, as the numbers of birds used are small comparing to the natural mortality rates. Protection of nests of birds of prey were amongst the oldest conservation laws in Europe.

Falconry techniques are widely used in conservation and rehabilitation of birds of prey of prey have proved through millennia to be effective in taming birds and to keep them healthy and in good condition.

Falconers were the first to notice the decline of Peregrine numbers in Britain and in other countries. They also started the studies to unveil the reasons for this decline. As a result DDT was banned and birds of prey populations started to grow.

Falconers learned how to intensively breed Peregrines, the methods used later for many other birds of prey species. Large projects for the breeding and reintroduction of Peregrines were started by falconers in the USA, Canada, Germany, later also in Poland. Falconry techniques were used even in the countries where falconry was not practiced, like Sweden. Reintroduction was the only way to recover Peregrines in areas where they we extinct. Falconers in the USA organised a largest birds of prey protection organisation in the world – (e Peregrine Fund.

Large crisis in vultures of Asia was also unveiled in 2004 thanks to projects financed by TPF. (e reason for the catastrophic decline of vulture populations was diclofenac. Its effect was disorder of the kidneys and rapid death, effecting in decline of even 99% of Indian vultures by 2008. Falconers are working to restore vulture populations by breeding and reintroduction projects.

Currently we see a large decline in Saker Falcon in Asia. Large studies undertaken in Mongolia by falconers have proved that at least 5 thousand Sakers are killed annually by electrocution on mid-voltage lines.

Falconers are involved in conservation of huntable species. One of first large scale programmes by falconers was the establishing of the North American Grouse Partnership in 1999. The aim of this organisation is the protection of the habitats of the North American grouse species and their sustainable use. (e latest initiative of IAF is a Perdix portal, aimed at conservation of habitats of European partridge, sharing knowledge on their management and best cases of sustainable use.

Falconry is inscribed on UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Falconry today is not only hunting, but also conservation, culture and education.

 

Introduction

We cannot be sure exactly how old falconry is because a significant problem with recorded history is that history can only be recorded where records exist. (e earliest written records found describe a highly organised and technical falconry that must have taken many hundreds, if not thousands of years, to evolve to that level of sophistication. (ere are artefacts depicting falconry which are at least 4,000 years old and such date was used in the UNESCO submission (UNESCO 2016).

Petroglyph from Golpaygan, Isfahan, Iran (Wikimedia)

Here are some petroglyphs in Golpaygan, Isfahan, Iran, depicting a horseback hunter with a bird, which could be a falcon, and a cheetah or saluki-like sighthound. They can be dated as far as ca. 8000–10 000 B.C., what means that falconry is even older than 4 thousand years.

For at least 10 000 years of sustainable falconry falconers have been using wild hawks, falcons and eagles, sometimes in very large numbers, as in the time of Chinggis and Kublai Khan whose hunting campaigns included as many as 5000 falcons.

 

 

Falconry and conservation

Protection of nests of birds of prey used for falconry were amongst the first laws of nature protection. Falcons belonged to the rulers, together with large ungulates. Such laws in medieval Europe named falcatioobliged peasants to protect falcon nests. If they failed they were obliged to pay a significant penalty (Mizera, Sielicki 2009).

Falconers mostly use first few month old birds. (ese are easier to train. Immature birds in nature survive at circa 20–30% rates in their first year (Newton 1979). Usage of young birds in falconry is sustainable and does not affect their populations, being outnumbered by natural mortality. Birds of prey used in falconry are traditionally released after the hunting season in some cultures or kept for many years in other traditions. Both minimise any effects of falconry on the wild populations.

Falconry techniques are widely used in conservation and rehabilitation of birds of prey. Through millenia they have proved to be effective in taming birds and to keep them healthy and in good condition. Especially maintaining their plumage in good condition, which is crucial for the raptors.

In the mid-20th century falconers started to breed falcons. The first ever to breed a bird of prey was Renz Waller, a German falconer, who managed to breed Peregrines in 1944 (Waller 1973). He was followed by Professor Tom Cade, an American falconer, who also started work on the reintroducion of Peregrines (Weaver, Cade 1991). In Europe the first to breed and release Peregrines was Prof. Christian Saar, another German falconer. Later in Poland breeding projects were started by Prof. Zygmunt Pielowski and Czesław Sielicki. Methods of intensive breeding, incubation of eggs and reintroduction of Peregrines were later adapted to other species of birds of prey.

Reintroduction of Peregrines in Poland to re-establish tree-nesting population (Photo. Slawomir Sielicki)

That work came at just the right moment. In the 1960’s there began an unprecedented crisis in birds of prey populations, especially in the large falcons. The reason was a widespread usage of new pesticides of the organochlorine group, especially DDT. DDT and its derivatives accumulated in the food chain. A long term effect of DDT on falcons was the deregulation of their calcium economy resulting in the thinning of eggshells. Eggs were crushed under incubating females. This resulted in dramatic declines of Peregrine populations worldwide and the extinction of this species in many areas of the world, in most of Europe, including central Europe and most of North America. Decline was also observed in many other species of birds of prey (Hickey ed. 1969).

Falconers were the first to notice the decline of Peregrine numbers in Britain and in other countries. They also started the research to unveil the reasons for this decline. A ban on DDT was enforced in the early 1970’s and some populations slowly recovered.

Large projects for the breeding and reintroduction of Peregrines were started by falconers in the USA, Canada, Germany, later also in Poland. Falconry techniques were used for these projects, even in countries where falconry was not practiced, like Sweden (Sielicki, Mizera 2009). Now the IUCN status of Peregrine is not anymore threatened, it is “Least concern”.

Falconers in the USA organised a largest birds of prey protection organisation in the world – The Peregrine Fund. Since than many projects on all continents have been financed by this organisation. One of these projects is California condor rescue, conducted together with other organisations, including the San Diego Zoo. In the mid-1980s the last 8 wild condors were captured and put into a breeding project which also included all captive birds from zoos. Only 22 California Condors altogether were alive at that time. Now more than 400 Condors are in captivity and living free in several areas of the South-West USA (BirdLife 2015). Many other projects on birds of prey conservation have been conducted or are ongoing in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Another organisation started mainly by falconers is Raptor Research Foundation, more scientific oriented than The Peregrine Fund.

The last mysterious crisis in vultures of Asia was also unveiled in 2004 thanks to projects financed by The Peregrine Fund. The reason for the catastrophic decline of vulture populations was diclofenac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug widely used in human and animal medicine. Its effect on vultures was disorder of the kidneys and rapid death. The decline of Indian vulture populations was recorded as 99% by 2008 (BirdLife 2008). Again falconers are working to help the vulture population to restore by breeding and reintroduction projects.

Currently we see a large decline in another species – the Saker Falcon in Asia. Again falconers are working to find out the reasons for the decline. Large studies undertaken in Mongolia have proved that at least 5 thousand Sakers are killed annually by electrocution on mid-voltage lines (Dixon et al 2013). The International Association for Falconry and Conservation of Birds of Prey together with its partners have been actively looking for possible funders of the mitigation works necessary on the most dangerous lines in Mongolia. IAF also proposed a dedicated to this problem resolution adopted by World Conservation Congress of IUCN in 2016.

A Saker management project is currently being carried out in Mongolia. 5000 artificial nests are to be built in the steppe, where there are no natural nest sites for the Saker. In 2014 almost 800 nests were actively producing more than 3000 chicks. In exchange for that up to 300 licences for trapping wild Sakers are issued in Mongolia (MEFRG 2016). This is an example of a sustainable use project. An additional project connected to the artificial nests project is the School Link Programme, aimed at promotion of knowledge of Sakers and birds of prey and their conservation.

Saker falcon electrocuted in Mongolia (Photo. Andrew Dixon)

Mongolian Falconers Association in 2018 started a small scale project to mitigate one of the most dangerous lines in Mongolia, the Argalant line. The crowdfunding campaign was organised and with the money collected the most of the line line was mitigated, with help of newly created The Mohamed bin Zayed Raptor Fund (MBZRF) which provided expert knowledge, consultations, and financial contribution to remediate remaining parts of the Argalant line. The Mohamed bin Zayed Raptor Fund (MBZRF) is another conservation initiative of UAE, which got a million dollar to mitigate all dangerous for birds lines in Mongolia, which should be executed in 2019-2020.

The Polish Peregrine Project started in the 1980s with breeding centres in Czempin and Wloclawek. The first reintroductions started in 1990 and the first breeding attempt was in Warsaw in 1998, with the first success a year later in Wloclawek and Torun. (e main aim of this project, bringing back Peregrines to Polish fauna was achieved. In subsequent years reintroductions were continued and at the end of the first decade of the 21st century there were circa 20 pairs of Peregrines in Polish cities and mountains (Sielicki, Sielicki 2009).

In 2010 a new intensive project of reintroduction of Peregrines in forests was started. Traditionally Peregrines in Central Europe nested on trees. (is ecotype was lost during the DDT crisis. In the Eastern part of Germany a similar project on restitution of tree nesting Peregrines was started in 1990 and resulted in circa 20 pairs in 2010 (Kleinstauber 2010) and more than 60 in 2018 (Kirmse inlitt.). The Polish intensive reintroduction project is run by Society for Wild Animals “Falcon”. Since 2010 a total of almost 700 Peregrines have been released in Polish forests, in 4 releasing sites. In 2013 the first nest in a forest was confirmed in Barlinek forests (NW Poland), near the release site. In 2014 a first nest in Mazury region was found in the reintroduction box, being the result of a 3 year release project in this area. In 2018 we have already 8 nests of Peregrines in forests, all near the release sites. An important part of the project is a wide awareness campaign among the foresters. Each forestry in Poland has a brochure and poster on Peregrines and in areas close to the release sites 2-hours courses for foresterswere arranged. A special prize for those who find the new nests of tree-nesting Peregrines is high quality optics.