The following information is intended to be a guide for those interested in getting in to falconry. Note that while much of this may apply to anyone in the United States, certain things suggested here are specific to Washington. If you reside in another state, be sure to review your state’s regulations.
Before you commit yourself, make sure that you have a clear understanding of what falconry is. These birds are not pets. Falconry defined is the sport of hunting with birds of prey, and includes the keeping and training of them. If you are not hunting your bird, you are not practicing falconry. Falconry is time consuming, requires dedication, and can be costly. It is also VERY rewarding.
Research and Learn
Falconry is not something to be taken lightly. It is a huge commitment. Take some time to learn about it. Make sure it’s for you, and that it will fit within your lifestyle.
Read! There are lots of great books on falconry. A few to get you started are North American Falconry and Hunting Hawks (Beebe and Webster), A Falconry Manual (Beebe), and A Falconer’s Apprentice (Oakes). If you are considering working with kestrels, American Kestrels in Modern Falconry (Mullenix) is a must. You will find that some falconry books are expensive and some are very hard to find. If you are having trouble tracking something down, check your library or see what you can borrow from other falconers.
At the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/falconry/) you can download their Falconry Packet for lots of information on the steps to getting your permit. You will also find links to Washington’s falconry laws and regulations, reporting requirements, information on hunting seasons, their contact information, and more.
The Modern Apprentice website (www.themodernapprentice.com) is a wealth of information about falconry. You will find this to be a useful resource not just for getting started, but well into your falconry career.
There are other good websites and online communities where you may find helpful information. Get some recommendations on which ones to join. Also, you will read about many methods and approaches to different aspects of falconry. ALWAYS, defer to your sponsor. Many sponsors encourage you to seek out information and are open to discussing alternative methods, but ultimately, follow what your sponsor says.
Sign up for Hunters Safety Education
Please note that if you do not yet have your hunting license and you need one (you were born after January 1, 1972), passing Hunter’s Education is required to get a small game license, which is required to practice falconry. Even if you’re going after the “no-season-no-limit” quarry such as starlings or English sparrow, a small game license is still required. Don’t delay – register today!
Successful students must pass a written test, demonstrate safe firearm handling skills, and have a positive attitude. There is no minimum age required to enroll, but instructors may require a parent or guardian to attend with any student under 12 years of age. All instructors are certified by the WDFW. The class format includes lectures, video, and hands-on training exercises.
Join Washington Falconer’s Association (WFA, http://wafalconers.org/join/) and the North American Falconers Association (NAFA, http://www.n-a-f-a.com/). Get connected with the state and national falconry organizations, their members, their issues, and activities.
Go to a Field Meet
If you have an opportunity to meet with some falconers, it is a great way to get some questions answered, see some birds, and maybe even a chance to get out hawking. A great way to meet falconers is by attending a WFA event, either a field meet or the picnic in the summer. The picnic is often a great time to find a sponsor and attend the apprentice workshop.
Find a Sponsor
Finding a sponsor is going to be your next step. When looking for a sponsor, it’s important to remember that the person who sponsors you is making a significant commitment of their time and effort. There is no obligation for anyone to sponsor you. They are doing this because they care about the future of falconry and they want to pass on their knowledge and experience. An apprenticeship is a minimum of two years, so make sure that person is someone that you personally get along with. Also, ask them questions about their experience. Don’t just find any sponsor, find a good sponsor who has experience and has been successful with the birds you are interested in flying. If a potential sponsor wishes to simply sign a piece of paper without committing to a more personal relationship, consider finding a different sponsor.
The best way to find a sponsor, as mentioned above, is to attend the annual WFA picnic in July. This is WFA’s most attended event and offers the best chance to meet people and ask questions. You can also contact your Regional Director and the Director-at-Large who may be able to assist you in finding a sponsor in your area. WFA Board Member contacts can be found here: http://wafalconers.org/contacts-and-info/
Take the Falconry Exam
Once you have found a sponsor, you can take the falconry exam. If you are preparing to take the exam, in addition to the books and websites listed above, the Apprentice Manual and Apprentice Study Guide published by the California Hawking Club will be extremely helpful to you.
An 80% score is required to pass the exam. It will take roughly a week after you’ve taken it to get your results.
Equipment, Birds, Facilities
Do you know the kind of bird you want to fly? Typically, apprentices start out with a wild-trapped Red-tailed Hawk. Whatever you decide, make sure that the sponsor you are working with has good experience with the bird you have chosen to fly.
Are you going to have a hunting dog? If you are going to run a dog with your bird, talk to local falconers about the breed of dog that will work best with your bird in the environment you’ll be hawking. Get advice on when to get the dog and training your dog to work in the field with birds. There are different views on these decisions so make sure you have resources to guide you through this process. You may find the book Rabbit Hawker’s Dogs: Dogs for the Bush (Eagle Wing Publishing, Oakes et al.) to be helpful.
It is usually best BEFORE building your facilities, making your equipment, and buying any gear, to check with your sponsor. They will help you figure out what is appropriate for you and your bird. They can suggest places to buy materials or equipment that will best suit your needs, as well as make sure that everything is made or used with the safety of your bird first and foremost.
Once you have passed your exam, have your equipment ready, and have your facilities ready, you can contact WDFW to coordinate your inspection. WFA is authorized by WDFW to conduct inspections on the state’s behalf. However, this is not mandatory, and you may opt to have a WDFW official inspect your facilities instead. More information on this process can be found at their site.
Getting Your Bird
Now you have your sponsor, you passed the exam, have your apprentice permit, your facilities have been inspected, and you have all your equipment ready… it’s time to trap your bird!
Before you head out, do you have a supply of food? Your sponsor will likely be able to recommend some reputable suppliers. Make sure that all your paperwork is in order. Do you know a good avian vet that is knowledgeable about raptors? It is advisable to get a general checkup for your newly trapped bird, and for any issues that may come up. Note that with birds of prey, they don’t often show symptoms until they are well into whatever their issue is. So, if you see something wrong, time is critical to respond.
Laws, Regulations, Ethics, and Conduct
Once you have trapped your bird, you must file your Form 3-186A online. You have ten calendar days in which to accomplish this. This is done through the Federal system, but passes on to WDFW. Make sure that you are familiar with all the regulations around reporting any activity with your bird(s).
Stay familiar with all State and Federal regulations applicable to falconry.
Washington State Regs (WAC 232-30) http://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=232-30
Federal Regulations (Title 50 §21.29) http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=0ed1c1213d6bde9cf5f0514eb0c2ec68&mc=true&node=se50.9.21_129&rgn=div8
Always conduct yourself in an ethical manner, keeping public perception in mind. Remember that your actions can impact falconry in Washington. Respect private property; always ask for permission to hunt.
Keep you and your bird safe. These birds are not pets and they must be handled properly and with care. You must also make sure that your equipment, facilities, and handling practices are such that a bird cannot injure itself.
If you still have questions, feel free to contact a WFA Board Member. We’re happy to help and look forward to seeing you in the field and at the next WFA event!