The origins of falconry can be traced back long before the origins of writing had emerged. The earliest written records found describe an already highly sophisticated and technically evolved falconry which should have taken many decades and possibly centuries to reach that level. Several sources suggest that falconry was born over 4,000 years ago.
Falconry, the true “sport of kings,” may be traced to around 2,000BC in China. Many historical artifacts in the form of literature, poems, painting and porcelain featuring falcons are attributed to that period in China. The first poetry dedicated to falconry is also recorded in China. Chinese falconry had a linear relationship with politics and power for ages. Records suggest that the imperial family of the Chu Kingdom were already using falcons in ways similar to those which we employ these days.
For centuries Middle Easterners didn’t perceive falconry as a sport, considering it only as a means of obtaining food. It developed first among nomads. In 1486, the Book of St. Albans spelled out the pecking order: a king must hunt with a gyrfalcon (an arctic falcon, and the largest of the species); a lady, with a merlin (a small falcon, also known as a pigeon hawk); a knave, with a kestrel (another small European falcon).
Image: Ruwala (Bedouin) hunter with falcon, Northwestern Saudi Arabia, 1952
Today, within the Middle East, falconry is not only considered a sport but also an important aspect of the region’s cultural heritage. However only a few of the wealthy, and those bedouin who dedicate their lives to such birds, have the resources and time to engage in this appealing art.
Falconry has remained a sport of the privileged few. Majority of falcons bred today in the Arabian Gulf originate in the UAE and Kuwait. However, falcon breeding in Saudi Arabia started many years ago, with the Al Faisal Falcon Centre bred around 200 falcons back in 1986 including the Barbary and Sooty, the Saker, Peregrine, Laner and Gyr falcons.
Today, the majority of falcons in Saudi Arabia are either imported from USA and Canada or trapped. Although the cost of an imported falcon begins at SAR 25,000 and may reach SAR 265,000 for a high-quality falcon, a correctly trapped falcon may be trained in only ten days before it is ready to entertain its master and possibly bring a delicacy for a family dinner. The advantage of a freshly trained wild juvenile in this instance is their naturally retained tenacious hunting skills. Although, falcons are priced very individually, a price is very often linked to their colour and size. Female falcons are known to be bigger thus female predators are known to be the ones who bring a bigger prey.
Since falcons breeding usually starts in March, September and October are known to be just right time for falcon trapping – a time when juveniles are actively screening a surrounding area to place their nest in, and although their first flights are rarely recorded to be farther than 10 kilometers from their mother’s nest, an amateur falconer will be there just on time to spot a right juvenile, who is juvenile enough to retain the mental flexibility for acquiring the new skills necessary to join a privileged falcons sports club.
There several falconry courses offered around the world for starters and those wishing to improve their falconry skills. For example, there is the British School of Falconry at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland which offers Falconry Certification Courses. The Certification Courses cost SAR 4,000 per level per person (not including room and board). Another falconry school exists at the Equinox Hotel in Manchester, Vt. Thousands of amateurs emerge from these falconry schools each year.