For thousands of years, from Mesopotamia to Mongolia, people have trained birds of prey to hunt. Falconry is an art form as much as a sport, with years of work and patience required to become intimate with a bird.
In this exclusive video by Joshua Van Patter, a GearJunkie contributor, falconry is put into modern-day focus. The subject is Wayne Skankey and his trained birds, which fly and hunt with him near his home in Oregon.
“When I was a kid, I would find every book on falcons at the library,” he said. “I read about falconry, and it immediately grabbed me.”
Fast forward a few decades and Skankey has been a licensed falconer for about 45 years. He is a master at the craft, having trained and successfully flown Kestrel falcons, Merlins, Prairie falcons, Peregrine falcons, Gyr falcons, Saker falcons, Goshawks, Cooper Hawks, Sharp Shinned hawks, Harris hawks, Red Tail Hawks, Red Shoulder Hawks, and many hybrid falcon breeds.
Falconry: Hunting With Bird Of Prey
“The thing that fascinates me is the behavioral study of the different species of raptors,” he said. “There are different training techniques used for each one. I love seeing what a new bird will bring, and for about 17 years straight I specialized in Merlins, a very cool little falcon, that I would trap on the migration south.”
He would fly them for months and let them go again on the migration back north. Other birds met a harsher fate: “Some have been killed, like many wild birds are,” he said, noting larger raptors attacking his trained animals. Others were tragically killed by electrocution on power poles, an unfortunate manmade hazard.
Some birds he has trained were given to other falconers. “I had a Harris hawk I flew for eight years that I gave away. He still hunts during each season. The bird is 28 years old now and still going strong.”
In this video we see a day in the life with Skankey and one of his current birds, a Peregrine falcon. He works to train the bird to hunt ducks, which are knocked from the sky and retrieved. Instead of a shotgun, he hunts with his trained bird, taking the prey during the hunting season in his state.
A final note: Skankey said falconry is the most heavily regulated sport practiced in the USA.
“One must pass a test covering the care and natural history of birds of prey; you need to know the basic diseases and treatments for those diseases; and once the test is passed, you will have your facilities inspected, and then you will serve a two-year apprenticeship where you can have a wild trapped raptor under the tutelage of a general or master falconer.”
Once the sponsoring falconer feels you have gained the needed skill and abilities, Skankey said, then you obtain a general level falconer certification and can have more types of birds, ready to fly, hunt, and perform for their partner in the sky.