According to Webster's Dictionary, falconry is: "The art of training falcons to pursue game; the sport of hunting with falcons." For centuries, it has been the sport of hunting wild quarry with a trained raptor, and it remains the same today. Hunting is your focus if you intend to become a falconer. You trap, train, maintain and hunt the raptor you choose to fly. If actively hunting wild quarry is not appealing to you, then falconry is not for you.
Of all our field sports, falconry is the only one that uses a trained wild animal. The hawks and falcons that are utilized are a valuable part of the Commonwealth's wildlife. The competent falconer recognizes this and takes care to follow sound conservation principles in pursuit of the sport. In fact, the very existence of falconry depends upon the continued welfare of the birds of prey. The casual and uniformed novice, by attempting to satisfy a passing fancy may, through ignorance or neglect, harm the birds and cast discredit on the sport itself.
As the Pennsylvania Game Commission manages all wild birds and mammals within the Commonwealth and oversees hunting seasons and bag limits, the authority and responsibility to oversee falconry has been vested by state law with the agency. Due to the large number of requests that the Game Commission receives regarding falconry, this website has been developed to outline basic information about this activity. It is evident that these inquiries are often prompted by recent news media coverage about falconry, much of which is inaccurate or exaggerated and without offering information about the commitment required.
While some individuals may have seen a trained raptor in flight, few are acquainted with any falconers, and almost none have any idea about the time, effort, money and facilities required to become a falconer. We ask that you read this information carefully, and then examine your own circumstances with regards to being able to make the commitment necessary not only for your enjoyment, but with regards to the health and welfare of the falcon you seek to fly.
Before most falconers will aid anyone newly attracted to the sport, which is a requirement of law and regulation, they will require proof of serious, dedicated interest. Experienced falconers, such as those who are members of the Pennsylvania Falconry and Hawk Trust, understand that anything less will only bring grief to both novice and hawk, and that birds which fall into the hands of those who are not deeply motivated should be restored to the wild without delay.
The apprentice falconer should learn the sport from a sponsor who hunts frequently and successfully. Seeing a sponsor fly a bird solely to a lure, versus actively searching for game, will not give an apprentice the background necessary to be a successful falconer. The sponsor should be one who maintains a healthy bird, places the welfare of the bird as the highest priority, and uses the bird for hunting, not for show. For a list of reputable falconers, consult the Pennsylvania Falconry and Hawk Trust website: www.pfht.org
Once the prospective apprentice has found an experienced falconer that has agreed to become his/her sponsor, the apprentice should meet with the sponsor frequently. The importance of living in proximity to a sponsor, and being able to gain easy access to a sponsor, cannot be overstated. Ensuring that the sponsor and apprentice both understand what is expected of each other also is vital.
Once a sponsorship is secured, the apprentice and sponsor should review and complete the "Suggested Sponsor/Apprentice Checklist" in the upper right-hand of the website. Go hunting as often as possible with the sponsor, and ask to be shown the traditional methods of making equipment, such as jesses and bewits. The normal daily tasks required to keep a raptor in good health are best learned through experience. This time with the sponsor, coupled with reading the recommended falconry texts, will prepare the prospective apprentice for the state falconry exam, which must be passed with a minimum score of 80 percent.
Assuming that the prospective apprentice feels able to fulfill the stringent requirements to properly trap, train, care for and hunt a hawk, then he or she must accept the very real possibility that the bird will one day revert to the wild. Every time the hawk is cast from the fist, there is a chance that it will never return. Raptors are forever wild creatures. They do poorly in captivity as pets and never show affection for their trainer. Nothing more than mere tolerance, and often precious little of that, ties a raptor to its falconer.
Falconry cannot be learned overnight, or in a single lesson. Only after many years of hard work does the falconer begin to fully understand the complexities of the sport and the birds utilized in falconry. There are countless additional details and suggestions to aid in the successful and legal practice of falconry. To learn more about falconry, please see the links in the box in the upper right-hand corner of this page to find more information about various aspects of the sport.
Whether you eventually become a falconer, the Game Commission hopes that you will retain a friendly interest in falconry and in the conservation of the Commonwealth's birds of prey.