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Lure your falcon "up" - Downrig setups


An overview by Dave Scarbrough

"The sport of falconry, the art of training hawks and falcons to hunt with humans, is 4,000 years old. Kites have been around for a long time as well, but it was only a year ago that I discovered a use for kites in the training of falcons. A little background is in order.

The ultimate goal in falconry is height. A falconer tries to get his bird to cruise high in the sky above him before he flushes the quarry, which his falcon should then capture in a spectacular high speed dive, or "stoop." Historically, the problem has been that some falcons are satisfied with a fairly low cruising altitude, or "pitch." A stoop from 200 feet is effective, and somewhat impressive, but it in no way compares with the breathtaking beauty and style of a falcon streaking earthward from over 1,000 feet. No one knows exactly the speed at which falcons can stoop, but it's safe to say that no living thing moves faster. It's something that must be seen to be appreciated.

So it's worth the effort to encourage a high pitch in a trained falcon. But how? You can't make a falcon do anything. All you can do is reward the behavior you want and hope your bird makes the connection. So if your falcon goes higher today than yesterday give a reward, i.e., flush the quarry. If your falcon goes lower, don't flush the game for her. Simple.

But what if your falcon never ventures higher than, say, 200 feet? You could wait a lifetime - a falcon's lifetime, anyway - vainly hoping your bird, quite on her own initiative, will decide to fly higher. That's where the kite comes in. By using a kite to hoist a piece of your falcon's meal, you can entice an underachieving falcon up to any pitch you desire.

After your falcon learns to fly up to the bait at 1,000 feet or so, you can flush the quarry just before she reaches it. These birds are confirmed opportunists, and they soon see the wisdom in flying higher. From then on you can park your kite and go hunting.

Even wild falcons detest windy conditions and will sit out rough weather,content to wait for a more settled day, unless hungry. Consequently, most falconers ground their birds on really windy days. But with a kite, you can at least exercise your falcon in winds too extreme for successful hunting. Like the kite enthusiast, falconers don't like to skip flying due to wind conditions.

A few years ago, before I thought of using a kite, a handful of the 4,000 falconers in the U.S. began using 5-foot helium balloons to hoist bait for their birds. But wind was a problem - anything over 5 mph to 10 mph would blow a balloon toward the horizon. The kite, of course, takes full advantage of the breeze...In November of '94 I presented a program on my kite technique at our annual North American Falconers Association Field Meet, and followed up with an article in our quarterly publication. The response has been great, and I continue to hear from falconers from as far away as Australia on the topic of kites in falconing.

In 24 years of training and hunting with falcons I have seen a lot of innovations. Few techniques have been as enthusiastically received as this one. If the results in the first year are any indication, kites will continue to be an important tool for falconers for a long time to come."

David Scarbrough is a falconer who lives in Fairfax, Missouri.

Dave Scarbrough's own web site: (no longer on line)

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Dan Leigh, 54 Osborne Road, Pontypool, Gwent, Wales, UK NP4 6LX