Edward B. Michell.

The Art and Practice of Hawking online

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[Illustration: _Falcons and Goshawk Weathering._]











Notwithstanding the large number of books, both ancient and modern,
which have been written on the art of Hawking, it cannot be said that
the English-speaking people generally have more than a very vague idea
of the character of the sport, or the mode in which it was, and still
is, conducted.

Yet, in an experience of Hawking which extends over more than thirty
years, the author has found that a great and increasing curiosity,
and even a real interest in the subject, prevails, especially amongst
sporting men, who are in many notable instances beginning to believe
that hawks and their owners have been unduly disparaged, and that there
is more to be said in their favour than has for the last two centuries
been imagined.

There has not been space in this volume to discuss the much-vexed
question how far the use of hawks is compatible with the preservation
of game. But it may be said here, without any reservation, that
wherever experiments have been actually tried, Hawking has been found
not to spoil but to improve the shooting.

The object of the author has been to describe as briefly as was
consistent with clearness the birds now chiefly used in the chase, and
the manner of training and flying them. His hope is that some of the
sportsmen who read these pages may, in spite of the difficulties which
they will have to encounter, resolve to give this old and honourable
sport a trial.

The use of technical terms has been avoided as far as possible; and
those which could not be excluded have been explained in the text. When
the reader is puzzled by any word, a reference to the Index will direct
him to the page where the meaning of it is given.



History and Literature

Antiquity of hawking in China - Introduction into Europe - Royal
and Imperial falconers - Decline of the sport - Survival and
revivals - Modern falconers - Early writers - Leading
authorities - Modern books 1-8


The Birds Used in Hawking

Three classes - Long-winged hawks: Ger-peregrine, and kindred
varieties, shaheens, barbary, saker, lanner, and desert
falcons, hobby, merlin, and kestrel - Short-winged hawks:
goshawks and sparrow-hawks - Eagles, golden, Bonelli's,
etc., falconets 9-39


Furniture and Fittings

Jesses - Bells - Swivels - Leashes - The screen-perch - Blocks -
Bow-perches - Hoods - Brails - The bath - The lure - Cadges -
Gloves - Mews 40-54


Eyesses and Hack Hawks

Taking from the eyrie - Feeding - Turning out to hack - The
board system - Hacking to the lure, and to the hand - Learning
to fly - Dangers and diversions of hack - Taking up - The bow-net 55-69


Passage Hawks

Valk enswaard - Hawk-catcher's hut - The shrike sentinel -
Handling the wild-caught hawk - The sock - The dark cell - Prison
fare - Early discipline - Waking - Hooding - Carrying - Manning -
Pegging out 70-86


Training and Entering

Reclamation of wild-caught and hack hawks - Making to the lure -
Calling off - The first quarry - Innocent deceptions - Making in -
Waiting on - Stooping to the lure - Exercise 87-100



Good and bad country - Entering to rooks - Throwing off -
Ringing flights - Shifting - Throwing up - Putting in - Riding
to hawks 101-114



Eyesses and passagers - Teaching to mount and to wait on -
Entering - Raking away - The pitch - The stoop - Pointers -
Speed and cunning of grouse - Partridges, black-game - Some
good bags 115-129



The hobby, ancient and modern - Daring larks - The merlin -
Difficulties of training and flying - Making in - Fishing-rod
trick - Good and bad larks - High flights - Double flights -
Winter larks 130-141


Gulls, Heron, Kite, Duck, etc.

Double flights at gulls - The Loo Club - Kite-hawking - Wild
ducks, magpies, plovers, woodcock, snipe, and other quarry 142-149


The Goshawk

Hawks of the fist - Training - Rewards for good conduct - Yarak -
Pheasants, partridges, rabbits, and hares - The goshawk in
covert - Variety of quarry - Some good bags - A famous goshawk 150-159


The Sparrow-Hawk

Vices and merits - A fine hawk for the bush - Partridge-hawking -
Blackbirds, quail, and other quarry - How to manage a
sparrow-hawk - A modern record 160-169


Home Life

The falconer's establishment - Good and bad falconers -
Hawk-houses - The falconer's day - Bathing - Weathering -
Exercise - Diet - Castings - Tirings - Rangle - Bedtime 170-191


Hawks in the Field

Hooding up - Accoutrements - Field tactics - Markers - Mounted
men - Successful and unsuccessful flights - Putting in - Picking
up - Consolation quarry - Disobedient hawks - A good quarry-book 192-212


Lost Hawks

Carelessness and imprudence - A kill out of sight - A night
out - Search and recapture - Chance witnesses - Decoy hawks -
Winding up - Snaring - A fresh start 213-224


Accidents and Maladies

Broken feathers - Imping - Broken bones - Diagnosis - Croaks,
cramp, ague, apoplexy, frounce, inflammation, and fever -
Corns, broken talons, blain, craye, and other maladies 225-243



Early and late moulting - Flying through the moult - Throwing
into the mews - Diet and management - Bad moulters - Intermewed
hawks - Physic and treatment 244-254


Virtue and Vice

Good and bad hawks - Temper, shape, size, and colour - Style
of flying - Carrying - Soaring - Raking away - Checking -
Perching - Hood-shyness - Screaming - Refusing - Running
cunning - Seven deadly sins - Four cardinal virtues 255-274


Anecdotes and Adventures

Lessons from the quarry-book - The old authors - Modern
experiences - Peregrine and pigeon - A miraculous rabbit -
Queer hiding-places - Wild _v._ tame hawks - Merlin-hawking
with peregrines 275-284




Falcons and Goshawk Weathering _Frontispiece_

Death of the Rook 110

Sparrow-Hawk and Partridge 168
(_From Drawings by G. E. Lodge_)


Shape of Wings 11
(_From a Drawing by Mrs. Sachs_)

Trained Kestrel "Thunderbolt," owned by Mr. R. Gardner 30
(_From a Photo by C. Reid, Wishaw, N.B._)

Hawk's Furniture 40
(_From a Drawing by the Author_)

Blocks and Perches 46
(_From a Drawing by the Author_)

Hawk's Furniture 48
(_From a Drawing by the Author_)

Cadge with Peregrines 52
(_From a Photo by C. Reid, Wishaw, N.B._)

Falcon and Tiercel Weathering 86
(_From a Photo by C. Reid, Wishaw, N.B._)

Pluming the Dead Grouse 127
(_From a Photo by C. Reid, Wishaw, N.B._)

Trained Merlin 132
(_From a Drawing by Mrs. Sachs_)

Trained Goshawk, "Gaiety Gal," owned by Mr. A. Newall 159
(_From a Photo by Herbert Bell, Ambleside_)



History and Literature

IT would be easy to fill a large volume with dissertations on the
antiquity of the art which is now called Falconry, and with records
of its history in different countries during the many centuries that
have elapsed since it was first practised. In a treatise on practical
hawking, such as the present, there is no room for such matter; and the
omission will be the more readily excused when it is explained that
only a short time ago the antiquities of the art, and the literature in
which its records are embodied, were most carefully and ably explored
by Mr. J. E. Harting, the erudite Secretary of the Linnean Society,
whose catalogue of books on hawking contains a reference to every known
publication on the subject (_Bibliotheca Accipitraria_, London, 1891).
The actual origin of hawking, as of other old sports, is naturally
hidden in the obscurity of the far-away past. No one would suppose that
it was practised as early in the world's history as the sister sports
of hunting and fishing. But Mr. Harting's researches have resulted
in convincing him that it was known at least as early as 400 B.C.,
although its introduction into Europe must clearly be placed at a much
later date. It is remarkable enough that the Greeks, whose country
abounds in wild hawks, should have known nothing of their use in the
service of man. Homer, indeed, speaks of the mountain falcon as "the
most nimble of birds," ([Greek: êute kirkos oresphin, elaphrotatos
peteênôn], _Il._ xxii. 139); but Sophocles, in alluding to the triumphs
of man in taming and using wild creatures, omits all mention of the
training of hawks, which is certainly more worthy of notice than mere
bird-catching or the breaking-in of oxen (Soph. _Antig._ 343). Even the
later Roman authors refer to the use of trained hawks as an unfamiliar
practice, in vogue only amongst some of the barbarian tribes.

Until at least some centuries after the Christian era, China and other
countries in the Far East seem to have been the chief if not the only
homes of falconry. But the Lombards, when they settled in North Italy,
in the latter half of the sixth century, were acquainted with the art;
and before the end of the ninth century it was familiar to the Saxons
in England and throughout the West of Europe. Henry the Fowler, who
became Emperor in 919, seems to have been so nicknamed on account of
his devotion to this form of sport, which was already a favourite with
princes and magnates. The Saxon King Ethelbert wrote to the Archbishop
of Mayence for hawks able to take cranes. King Harold habitually
carried a trained hawk on his fist; and from the time of the Norman
Conquest hawking was a sport as highly honoured in the civilised world
as hunting. The greatest impulse that was ever given to the sport in
Western Europe was derived from the returning Crusaders, many of whom,
in the course of their travels to the East, had become acquainted with
the Oriental falconers and the Asiatic modes of training and flying
hawks. Conspicuous amongst such Crusaders was the Emperor Frederick
II., who brought back with him some Asiatic hawks and their trainers,
and who not only was himself an enthusiastic and accomplished falconer,
but even declared that falconry was the noblest of all arts. From that
time - early in the thirteenth century - for more than four hundred
years falconry flourished in Europe, as well as in the East, as a
fashionable sport amongst almost all classes. As in the case of hunting
and fishing, its attractions as a sport were supplemented by the very
material merits it possessed as a means of procuring food. While the
prince and the baron valued their falcon-gentle for its high pitch and
lordly stoop, the yeoman and the burgher set almost equal store on the
less aristocratic goshawk and the plebeian sparrow-hawk as purveyors of
wholesome delicacies for the table. Even the serf or villein was not
forgotten in the field, and was expected, or at least allowed, to train
and carry on his fist the humble but well-bred and graceful kestrel.

During this long period the example of Henry the Fowler was followed
freely by many of the most celebrated and powerful rulers in European
countries. Hardly a prominent personage amongst the great conquerors
and lawgivers in mediæval times was unacquainted with the art. Most
of them were as enthusiastic in their devotion to it as they were
to the more serious objects of their ambition. It would be wearisome
to recount the long list of royal falconers; and it will suffice to
merely mention a few of the most notable examples. Thus Edward III. was
accompanied on his warlike expedition with a whole train of falconers.
His father had been indulged in his imprisonment with liberty to go
hawking. Shakespeare has familiarised his readers with the hawking
parties of Henry VI. and his Queen (_2 Hen. VI._ ii. I); and few
people have failed to read the story of the broken leaping-pole which
precipitated Henry VIII. into a ditch as he was following a hawk. Louis
XI. and a host of French kings, including Francis I., were ardent
falconers, as were many of the kings of Castile and Arragon, Sardinia,
and Hungary. Henry of Navarre was excelled by few men in his passion
for this sport. James IV. of Scotland gave a jewelled hood to one of
the Flemings, because the latter had won a match in which his hawk
flew against the King's. And James I. of England enjoyed nothing more
keenly than a day's hawking, declaring that if a man had only patience
and good-temper enough to contend with the disappointments inseparable
from it, the sport would be preferable to hunting. Catherine II. of
Russia was as great at falconry as at most other things, and specially
delighted in the flight with merlins. Ecclesiastics, both great and
small, were not a whit behind the laity in their devotion to the sport
of the air. It was thought no scorn for a holy-water clerk to carry
a "musket" or male sparrow-hawk. Not only did Cardinal Beaufort fly
his falcons with those of the great Duke of Gloucester, but no less
a potentate than Pope Leo X. was constantly in the field at Ravenna,
and even incurs the blame of the great D'Arcussia for being in the
habit of too soundly rating his comrades during a flight. The hawking
establishments of all the earlier Bourbons were kept up in more than
royal style, and were supplied annually with rare falcons from many
parts of the world.

It was the invention of shot-guns that struck the first and most
deadly blow at the popularity of hawking. It was soon discovered
that wild-fowl, rabbits, and most kinds of game could be captured
much more easily and cheaply by the aid of "vile saltpetre" than by
the laborious and costly processes involved in the reclaiming and
moulting and conditioning of hawks. Economy, as well as novelty,
pleaded in favour of the new sport of shooting. At the same time, the
common use of fowling-pieces added a fresh and formidable danger for
the owners of hawks, already exposed to a thousand unfair risks of
losing their favourites. In the unsettled state to which Europe was
reduced by the innumerable wars consequent on the Reformation, it was
impossible for falconers to identify or punish those who recklessly or
deliberately slaughtered a neighbour's lost hawks; and although the
offenders were still liable to serve penalties, they could snap their
fingers at the protective laws. Finally, the more rapid subdivision
of the land, and its enclosure with fences for agricultural purposes,
spoilt, for the falconer's purposes, large tracts of country which had
formerly been the most suitable, and was especially hurtful to the
flying of the long-winged hawks, for which an expanse of open ground
is indispensable. On the Continent these various causes operated
surely but slowly to displace falconry in the public estimation. But
in England a special circumstance almost ruined it at one blow. The
outbreak of the Great Civil War interrupted rudely all peaceful sports,
and its disasters destroyed a vast number of those who were the best
patrons of hawking. From the blow then struck English falconry never
rallied in any general sense. Certainly it did revive, or rather
survive, to a certain extent. It would be wrong to suppose that the
sport has ever been extinct in the British Isles, as so many writers
are fond of reiterating. But its devotees have kept it up without
any of the pomp and show which once distinguished it, carrying on in
comparative privacy, and in the retirement of rather remote spots, an
amusement in which the difficulties always besetting the sport were
aggravated by a thousand new dangers and annoyances.

The annals of falconry, since it was deposed from its fashionable
place - in England by the Great Rebellion, and afterwards in France by
the Revolution - are obscure, and for the most part buried in oblivion.
Here and there the name of a notable falconer, professional or amateur,
emerges from the mist, showing us that the sport was still carried on
with vigour by a few. In the middle of the eighteenth century Lord
Orford flew kites in the eastern counties, and this sport, as well
as rook-hawking and heron-hawking, was successively carried on by
the Falconers' Society, the Falconers' Club, and the High Ash Club,
which latter existed from about 1792 to later than 1830, and included
amongst its members Lord Berners, Colonel Thornton, and other sporting
celebrities. In Scotland falconry has always been kept up. The life
of John Anderson covers the whole of the last half of the eighteenth
century, as well as more than a quarter of the nineteenth. This
accomplished trainer of hawks was for the first twenty years or so
of the present century in charge of the Renfrewshire establishment
kept by Fleming of Barochan, and flown chiefly at partridges and
woodcocks. During the early years of the same century, until 1814,
Colonel Thornton did a great deal of hawking on his own account, at
first in Yorkshire, and afterwards at Spy Park, in Wiltshire. From
1823 to 1833 Mr. John Sinclair flew woodcocks with success in Ireland.
In 1840 Lord O'Neill and Colonel Bonham took a moor in Ross-shire
for hawking; and in the following year the Loo Club was started for
heron-hawking in Holland, under the auspices of Mr. E. Clough Newcome.
This influential club continued to flourish till 1853. Its place was
taken, not many years after, by the Old Hawking Club, which, although
it has never undertaken the flight at herons, continues to carry on an
annual campaign against rooks and game with great credit and success.
In France a hawking club was started in 1865, under the title of the
Champagne Club, but was not long-lived; and several minor attempts
at organising new clubs have been made in England during the last
thirty years. There are at the present moment at least thirty private
establishments in England alone where trained hawks are kept and flown,
besides several in Scotland and Ireland. The names of several of the
leading amateurs now living will be mentioned in this and following

Of professional falconers, the supply has sadly dwindled away since
the time when the office of Grand Falconer was something more than
the hereditary title of the Dukes of St. Albans. It was not, however,
until quite recent years that the supply became quite unequal to
the demand. At the death of John Anderson in 1832 there were able
successors to keep alive the best traditions of the old Scotch school.
Foremost among them was Peter Ballantine, of whom, as well as of Mr.
Newcome, excellent likenesses are published in Mr. Harting's fine work,
_Bibliotheca Accipitraria_. This accomplished trainer survived until
1884. Nearly contemporary with him were the brothers Barr, whose names
are frequently mentioned in these pages. While these and others upheld
the sport in Scotland, England, Ireland, and France - for John Barr
acted as the falconer of the Champagne Club - John Pells in Norfolk,
once falconer to the Duke of Leeds, attained to great efficiency and
repute; and the names of Bots and Möllen became celebrated in Holland
as the successful hawk-catchers and servants of the Loo Club. Later
still, John Frost acted for eighteen years as the energetic and skilful
falconer of the Old Hawking Club. He was succeeded by George Oxer,
who, with the Retfords (James and William) and the sons of John Frost,
is still living. There are at the present moment several very young
falconers who bid fair to attain distinction, though their training
is derived mostly from lessons imparted to them by the amateurs who
have brought them out. It is to be hoped that, now the facilities
for travelling are so immensely increased, some modern imitator of
Frederick II. will bring back from India a native falconer or two,
whose experience in the tropics would be invaluable, and thus infuse
new life into the professional world of Europe.

Of amateurs there has been for some years past no lack in England;
and want of space alone prevents the enumeration of the distinguished
falconers who still keep up in the British islands and dependencies
the best traditions of their art. Amongst these it would be unfair
to pass over the most conspicuous names, such as those of the late
Lord Lilford and Captain Salvin and Mr. William Brodrick, the first
named as justly famous for his acquaintance with hawks as for his
knowledge of ornithology. Captain Salvin first familiarised the modern
English people with the training of cormorants, and with the flight
with peregrines at rooks. Mr. Brodrick illustrated with his own
admirable coloured figures the handsome and useful book on falconry
which he published jointly with Captain Salvin. Another joint-author
with the latter was the Rev. Gage Earle Freeman, who for many years
most successfully flew, in a far from perfect country, peregrines
at grouse, merlins at larks, goshawks and sparrow-hawks at various
quarry. The small book which owes its authorship to these two masters
of the art has long been out of print. It is impossible to praise it
too highly as a handbook for beginners. Of living falconers, no one
can be compared in experience and general knowledge with Major Hawkins
Fisher, of the Castle, Stroud, whose game-hawks have for more than
fourteen years annually killed good bags of grouse at Riddlehamhope, in
Northumberland, and whose favourite peregrines, such as "Lady Jane,"
"Lundy," and "Band of Hope," have been a terror to partridges in Wilts
and Gloucestershire. Mr. St. Quintin, of Scampston Hall, Yorkshire,
probably the most successful game-hawker of whom we have any record,
has recently brought to a high degree of perfection the flight with
peregrines at gulls. The fine sport shown at rooks every year in
Wiltshire by the Old Hawking Club, is due chiefly to the ability and
energy of their secretary, the Hon. Gerald Lascelles. In flights with
short-winged hawk of both descriptions, Mr. John Riley, of Putley
Court, Herefordshire, is _facile princeps_. The late Rev. W. Willemot
did some good work with falcons at gulls before this branch of the
sport was taken up by Mr. St. Quintin; and the late Mr. T. J. Mann, of
Hyde Hall, Sawbridgeworth, was successful with rooks and partridges
in Cambridgeshire. Probably the most splendid establishment of hawks
in England during the last forty years was that of the late Maharajah
Dhuleep Singh at Elvedon. Falconry in India has been extensively
practised by many English officers quartered in that part of the
world, and notably by General Griffiths, and more lately by Captain
S. Biddulph, who has probably killed a greater variety of wild quarry
than any European now living, and whose portraits of trained hawks are

Online LibraryEdward B. MichellThe Art and Practice of Hawking → online text (page 1 of 30)