Peregrinations

Gyrfalcon 1759 wikiSusan here, researching a new novel, looking through my bookshelves and files for research notes and books on falconry and hawking–I'm returning to those scribbled handwritten notes, books on falconry and now some new books on the subject, putting together a plot spin for my newest novel. I love revisiting old research and adding new to it, wandering a bit to see where it goes–so I've been, uh, peregrinating through the falconry notes. <groan>

And I came across some photos taken several years back when a friend and I flew hawks for a day, and when I visited a local falconer to meet his trained goshawk. The photos brought back the feeling of what it's like, even briefly, to fly hawks and be around birds of prey. The research filled out the story for my Laird of the Wind and other medievals, and later added detail to Lady Macbeth and Queen Hereafter. Experiential research is a great way to add layers to the writing of a story–I've flown hawks, shot arrows (and caught them!), trained with swords and weapons, taken harp lessons and more. I love the chance to try for myself what I'm researching for characters and story, discovering details I might not learn otherwise.

256px-Egyptian_-_Figure_of_a_Horus_Falcon_-_Walters_571484_-_RightFalconry, the skill of keeping, training and hunting with falcons, hawks and other birds of prey, has been around a long, long time, developing in the ancient world in Mesopotamia, Assyria, Egypt, Rome, where stelai, mural paintings and sculptures show birds of prey in hunting and domestic scenes. In Egypt, thousands of mummified falcons and hawks have been found in tombs, showing the great significance of the birds in culture and religion. The falcon-headed god Horus, with his dominion over the sky, over war and hunting, lent falcons and hawks an aura of magic, mysticism and mythology — and that layer of meaning has stayed with the birds.

In Europe in the Dark AgesBlanche of Lancaster through the Middle Ages, falconry (austringers use hawks, falconers falcons, but the term falconry is used for both) became an essential part of hunting, as birds could be trained to pluck game birds out of the sky and hares in the fields. Among the Saxons and Normans and later British and European cultures, falconry quickly developed into more than sport, requiring high skill and years of training; today, just to be licensed, falconers must fulfill apprenticeship years. 

Medieval treatises such as The Boke of St Albans as well as modern techniques of falconry show that the keeping, training and flying a bird of prey requires utter dedication and total focus, particularly in the training phase. They are not pets; they are always a challenge, wild, instinctive, highly intelligent; capable of leaving a trainer in the blink of an eye and never looking back.  

Audubon hawksBirds of prey are raptors (in this age of Jurassic Park, raptors Velociraptorconjures another meaning that reminds me of the many plastic velociraptors and other dinos that populated my house for years) and some of their characteristics and instincts support the theory that some species of dinosaurs, including velociraptors, evolved into birds. The range of species is wide, from falcons to hawks, eagles and owls. Falcons typically have sharply pointed wing profiles and fly very fast (peregrines can reach well over 200 mph and have been called the fighter jets among birds) and are capable of very steep dives, a flying style suited to wide sky and open areas over field and desert. Falcons include falcons, peregrines, gyrfalcons, kestrels, merlins, lanners and sakers (just a few!).

Ladyhawke hawkHawks have broader, “fingered” wings and tails, great strength, and their beat-and-glide flying pattern suits them to flying through forest and wooded areas; species include goshawks, sparrowhawks, red-tail and Harris’ hawks, and they're related to buzzard species; other birds of prey that can be trained and flown include owls and eagles. The hawk we all loved in Ladyhawke looks like a Harris' Hawk, large, dark, powerful–and though not a historically accurate hawk for the film's setting, a gorgeous bird nonetheless. 

Throughout history a special sense of royalty has been accorded falcons, hawks, eagles and owls, with deep symbolism and iconography associated with them, and the art of falconry. Shakespeare, when he needed ready symbolism understood by his audiences, often used falconry terms – Though that her jesses were my dear heartstrings/I'd whistle her off and let her down the wind/To prey at fortune. (Othello)

Cremona tranquillo falconerOver the centuries these birds have been treasured, valued, revered, even worshipped. A hierarchy of ownership and privilege developed in medieval and Renaissance Europe and Britain. Kings and princes flew gyrfalcons and peregrines, the larger and rarer sort, and the list went from there—ladies flew merlins, children kestrels, while lanners and sparrowhawks, smaller and less challenging, were more often owned by priests, gentry and commoners.

Goshawks, being high-strung and a real challenge to train and maintain, were quite interesting to serious falconers; sparrowhawks were more biddable and common, ranking a bit lower on the social bird scale, and so on. Hawks and falcons occupied perches in throne rooms, bedchambers, great halls and dedicated mews; kings and noblemen, gentry too, employed falconers to train and care for the birds. Men and women, too, could be experts in caring for their birds, or they could merely fly them for hunting or leisure sport and let the household falconers do the rest.  

Laird of the wind__In my novel, Laird of the Wind, the hero was training a very temperamental goshawk; the struggle and bonding between them had a mythic and mystical sense that was as powerful a relationship in some sense as that between the hero and heroine, and became a story that I very much enjoyed writing. 

Doc00247320160916073243 - CopyWhen I went on a hawk walk at the British School of Falconry in New England (it’s since changed its location), we were given Harris’s Hawks—closer to a buzzard than a true hawk, these large birds are highly trainable, tend to be calmer and not as high-strung as goshawks, infamous for their temperaments as well as intelligence and true challenges to train. When I wrote Laird of the Wind, where training a nearly untameable hawk is Me and bird 2one focus of the story, I immersed myself in T.H. White’s The Goshawk to learn just how recalcitrant and downright bratty these brilliant birds could be—I wanted the bird in my book to be badly behaved, and Gos was a great model for that. And I was fortunate to meet a local falconer with a goshawk kept in a mews in his backyard; I saw up close how a master trainer worked with a high-strung, beautiful, clever and independent bird.

Spending a few hours with a hawk after some basic training is a far cry from Goshawk the work of a falconer, but even then it’s easy to see how your focus must be intent yet relaxed, how lightly and calmly and beautifully the bird sits on your glove, how easily it lifts and flies off as you turn your hand, how quickly it returns when you lift your arm—or how it will sometimes do what it pleases and not what you want (when I raised my gloved hand for my hawk to return to me, the shortest person in the group, the bird sat in a tree ignoring me until I walked away from the others so that my raised hand was the highest thing in that otherwise empty area).

The birds are taken out for sport when they’re not very hungry, else they might hunt for themselves; and not too full, or they can be lazy and replete and disinterested. Falconers measure their birds’ weights carefully, testing the fullness of the crop/breastbone to gauge the hunger range.

Boy with falcon the metGetting a bird to the point of cooperation in training is a long process of stubbornness, persistence, consistent stimulus/reward, and can take a good long while. A common medieval practice was to keep a bird awake, and the falconer with him, for days, on the fist, walking, constantly in touch with the trainer, dependent on the human for food, for a moment even to rest, until the bird realized that the human was the source of food and creature comforts. Birds of prey like life to be easy, and so after a while they imprint and allow what the trainer wants and the bird needs. A form of this, while not so extreme, is still used today by some falconers, as in H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

And some of the books written about falconry are stunning Th white goshawk examples of nature writing, going deeper into the meaning behind the whole experience—White’s Goshawk, which in turn inspired Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk, and also the work of J. Baker, The Peregrine, are so beautifully written that—even if I wasn’t writing another novel that includes falconry—I’d be reading just for the sheer delight in the prose and the story of the struggle and the bond between the raptor and the falconer.

Have you read books about falconry, fiction or nonfiction? Are you a fan of Ladyhawke (who isn't?!)? 

 

40 thoughts on “Peregrinations”

  1. I’m not sure I remember this correctly, but I think that it was in Elizabeth Lowell’s medieval novels that I found a lot of reference to falcons.
    Funny fact: my family name, Uliu, means “hawk” in Romanian. :p

    Reply
  2. I’m not sure I remember this correctly, but I think that it was in Elizabeth Lowell’s medieval novels that I found a lot of reference to falcons.
    Funny fact: my family name, Uliu, means “hawk” in Romanian. :p

    Reply
  3. I’m not sure I remember this correctly, but I think that it was in Elizabeth Lowell’s medieval novels that I found a lot of reference to falcons.
    Funny fact: my family name, Uliu, means “hawk” in Romanian. :p

    Reply
  4. I’m not sure I remember this correctly, but I think that it was in Elizabeth Lowell’s medieval novels that I found a lot of reference to falcons.
    Funny fact: my family name, Uliu, means “hawk” in Romanian. :p

    Reply
  5. I’m not sure I remember this correctly, but I think that it was in Elizabeth Lowell’s medieval novels that I found a lot of reference to falcons.
    Funny fact: my family name, Uliu, means “hawk” in Romanian. :p

    Reply
  6. Oana-Maria, Were you thinking of Lowell’s book UNTAMED, in which the heroine kept falcons, and the hero seduced her in a kind of falcon-training way — giving her jesses to wear and feeding her from his hand and even giving her a hood to wear. Sounds kinky but it was rather lovely I recall. He called her his small falcon.

    Reply
  7. Oana-Maria, Were you thinking of Lowell’s book UNTAMED, in which the heroine kept falcons, and the hero seduced her in a kind of falcon-training way — giving her jesses to wear and feeding her from his hand and even giving her a hood to wear. Sounds kinky but it was rather lovely I recall. He called her his small falcon.

    Reply
  8. Oana-Maria, Were you thinking of Lowell’s book UNTAMED, in which the heroine kept falcons, and the hero seduced her in a kind of falcon-training way — giving her jesses to wear and feeding her from his hand and even giving her a hood to wear. Sounds kinky but it was rather lovely I recall. He called her his small falcon.

    Reply
  9. Oana-Maria, Were you thinking of Lowell’s book UNTAMED, in which the heroine kept falcons, and the hero seduced her in a kind of falcon-training way — giving her jesses to wear and feeding her from his hand and even giving her a hood to wear. Sounds kinky but it was rather lovely I recall. He called her his small falcon.

    Reply
  10. Oana-Maria, Were you thinking of Lowell’s book UNTAMED, in which the heroine kept falcons, and the hero seduced her in a kind of falcon-training way — giving her jesses to wear and feeding her from his hand and even giving her a hood to wear. Sounds kinky but it was rather lovely I recall. He called her his small falcon.

    Reply
  11. UNTAMED was a great medieval, thanks for remembering that, Anne and Oana-Maria. Falcon terms have made their way into the language and symbolism and are great fun to play with. Shakespeare did it in “Taming of the Shrew” as well.
    And how interesting that Uliu means hawk! Lovely.

    Reply
  12. UNTAMED was a great medieval, thanks for remembering that, Anne and Oana-Maria. Falcon terms have made their way into the language and symbolism and are great fun to play with. Shakespeare did it in “Taming of the Shrew” as well.
    And how interesting that Uliu means hawk! Lovely.

    Reply
  13. UNTAMED was a great medieval, thanks for remembering that, Anne and Oana-Maria. Falcon terms have made their way into the language and symbolism and are great fun to play with. Shakespeare did it in “Taming of the Shrew” as well.
    And how interesting that Uliu means hawk! Lovely.

    Reply
  14. UNTAMED was a great medieval, thanks for remembering that, Anne and Oana-Maria. Falcon terms have made their way into the language and symbolism and are great fun to play with. Shakespeare did it in “Taming of the Shrew” as well.
    And how interesting that Uliu means hawk! Lovely.

    Reply
  15. UNTAMED was a great medieval, thanks for remembering that, Anne and Oana-Maria. Falcon terms have made their way into the language and symbolism and are great fun to play with. Shakespeare did it in “Taming of the Shrew” as well.
    And how interesting that Uliu means hawk! Lovely.

    Reply
  16. I recommend the nonfiction book Peregrine Spring by Nancy Cowan. A fascinating view of her individual birds, of various types, it charts her journey from novice falconer to proprietor of and trainer at the New Hampshire School of Falconry. Over the years, I’ve “met” many of the birds in her memoir, and I’ve attended her presentations.
    I did some immersion falconry research for my latest novel about the first Beauclerks–the Duke of St Albans is the hereditary falconer of England. The present duke’s portrait shows him holding a falcon. (His son told me it was a stuffed, not a living one! The family don’t actively follow the pursuit any longer.)

    Reply
  17. I recommend the nonfiction book Peregrine Spring by Nancy Cowan. A fascinating view of her individual birds, of various types, it charts her journey from novice falconer to proprietor of and trainer at the New Hampshire School of Falconry. Over the years, I’ve “met” many of the birds in her memoir, and I’ve attended her presentations.
    I did some immersion falconry research for my latest novel about the first Beauclerks–the Duke of St Albans is the hereditary falconer of England. The present duke’s portrait shows him holding a falcon. (His son told me it was a stuffed, not a living one! The family don’t actively follow the pursuit any longer.)

    Reply
  18. I recommend the nonfiction book Peregrine Spring by Nancy Cowan. A fascinating view of her individual birds, of various types, it charts her journey from novice falconer to proprietor of and trainer at the New Hampshire School of Falconry. Over the years, I’ve “met” many of the birds in her memoir, and I’ve attended her presentations.
    I did some immersion falconry research for my latest novel about the first Beauclerks–the Duke of St Albans is the hereditary falconer of England. The present duke’s portrait shows him holding a falcon. (His son told me it was a stuffed, not a living one! The family don’t actively follow the pursuit any longer.)

    Reply
  19. I recommend the nonfiction book Peregrine Spring by Nancy Cowan. A fascinating view of her individual birds, of various types, it charts her journey from novice falconer to proprietor of and trainer at the New Hampshire School of Falconry. Over the years, I’ve “met” many of the birds in her memoir, and I’ve attended her presentations.
    I did some immersion falconry research for my latest novel about the first Beauclerks–the Duke of St Albans is the hereditary falconer of England. The present duke’s portrait shows him holding a falcon. (His son told me it was a stuffed, not a living one! The family don’t actively follow the pursuit any longer.)

    Reply
  20. I recommend the nonfiction book Peregrine Spring by Nancy Cowan. A fascinating view of her individual birds, of various types, it charts her journey from novice falconer to proprietor of and trainer at the New Hampshire School of Falconry. Over the years, I’ve “met” many of the birds in her memoir, and I’ve attended her presentations.
    I did some immersion falconry research for my latest novel about the first Beauclerks–the Duke of St Albans is the hereditary falconer of England. The present duke’s portrait shows him holding a falcon. (His son told me it was a stuffed, not a living one! The family don’t actively follow the pursuit any longer.)

    Reply
  21. I haven’t done any reading about falcons/falconry per se. However the Peregrine falcon is making a comeback in Georgia so I hear about that from time to time. There is a pair that has nested 2 years in a row at Tallulah Gorge.
    The Peregrine’s I hear about the most are the ones that live and nest in downtown Atlanta. They nest on ledges on several of the high rises -he ones that have gardening spaces on them. If the nest is accessible, they send someone to band the babies once they are big enough.
    The peregrines also go to the 33rd floor of the AT&T building and eat their prey. My husband has been taking pictures of them out the window and of the prey remains. They leave the wings, head, guts and bodies behind only eating the breasts.
    Down in middle Georgia the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has a whole series of nest boxes to provide nesting cavities for kestrels.
    One year I was lucky enough to find a bird cam of a kestrel nest box (it was out in Kansas I think). That was totally fascinating to see what went on inside the nest box.
    You think that once it is dark the birds are totally still. Not so….they are active all night long, only sleeping off and on. It was fun watching the babies grow and then learn to stretch their wings and exercise inside the box.

    Reply
  22. I haven’t done any reading about falcons/falconry per se. However the Peregrine falcon is making a comeback in Georgia so I hear about that from time to time. There is a pair that has nested 2 years in a row at Tallulah Gorge.
    The Peregrine’s I hear about the most are the ones that live and nest in downtown Atlanta. They nest on ledges on several of the high rises -he ones that have gardening spaces on them. If the nest is accessible, they send someone to band the babies once they are big enough.
    The peregrines also go to the 33rd floor of the AT&T building and eat their prey. My husband has been taking pictures of them out the window and of the prey remains. They leave the wings, head, guts and bodies behind only eating the breasts.
    Down in middle Georgia the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has a whole series of nest boxes to provide nesting cavities for kestrels.
    One year I was lucky enough to find a bird cam of a kestrel nest box (it was out in Kansas I think). That was totally fascinating to see what went on inside the nest box.
    You think that once it is dark the birds are totally still. Not so….they are active all night long, only sleeping off and on. It was fun watching the babies grow and then learn to stretch their wings and exercise inside the box.

    Reply
  23. I haven’t done any reading about falcons/falconry per se. However the Peregrine falcon is making a comeback in Georgia so I hear about that from time to time. There is a pair that has nested 2 years in a row at Tallulah Gorge.
    The Peregrine’s I hear about the most are the ones that live and nest in downtown Atlanta. They nest on ledges on several of the high rises -he ones that have gardening spaces on them. If the nest is accessible, they send someone to band the babies once they are big enough.
    The peregrines also go to the 33rd floor of the AT&T building and eat their prey. My husband has been taking pictures of them out the window and of the prey remains. They leave the wings, head, guts and bodies behind only eating the breasts.
    Down in middle Georgia the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has a whole series of nest boxes to provide nesting cavities for kestrels.
    One year I was lucky enough to find a bird cam of a kestrel nest box (it was out in Kansas I think). That was totally fascinating to see what went on inside the nest box.
    You think that once it is dark the birds are totally still. Not so….they are active all night long, only sleeping off and on. It was fun watching the babies grow and then learn to stretch their wings and exercise inside the box.

    Reply
  24. I haven’t done any reading about falcons/falconry per se. However the Peregrine falcon is making a comeback in Georgia so I hear about that from time to time. There is a pair that has nested 2 years in a row at Tallulah Gorge.
    The Peregrine’s I hear about the most are the ones that live and nest in downtown Atlanta. They nest on ledges on several of the high rises -he ones that have gardening spaces on them. If the nest is accessible, they send someone to band the babies once they are big enough.
    The peregrines also go to the 33rd floor of the AT&T building and eat their prey. My husband has been taking pictures of them out the window and of the prey remains. They leave the wings, head, guts and bodies behind only eating the breasts.
    Down in middle Georgia the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has a whole series of nest boxes to provide nesting cavities for kestrels.
    One year I was lucky enough to find a bird cam of a kestrel nest box (it was out in Kansas I think). That was totally fascinating to see what went on inside the nest box.
    You think that once it is dark the birds are totally still. Not so….they are active all night long, only sleeping off and on. It was fun watching the babies grow and then learn to stretch their wings and exercise inside the box.

    Reply
  25. I haven’t done any reading about falcons/falconry per se. However the Peregrine falcon is making a comeback in Georgia so I hear about that from time to time. There is a pair that has nested 2 years in a row at Tallulah Gorge.
    The Peregrine’s I hear about the most are the ones that live and nest in downtown Atlanta. They nest on ledges on several of the high rises -he ones that have gardening spaces on them. If the nest is accessible, they send someone to band the babies once they are big enough.
    The peregrines also go to the 33rd floor of the AT&T building and eat their prey. My husband has been taking pictures of them out the window and of the prey remains. They leave the wings, head, guts and bodies behind only eating the breasts.
    Down in middle Georgia the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has a whole series of nest boxes to provide nesting cavities for kestrels.
    One year I was lucky enough to find a bird cam of a kestrel nest box (it was out in Kansas I think). That was totally fascinating to see what went on inside the nest box.
    You think that once it is dark the birds are totally still. Not so….they are active all night long, only sleeping off and on. It was fun watching the babies grow and then learn to stretch their wings and exercise inside the box.

    Reply
  26. Wonderful blog, Susan! I’ve been fascinated by falconry since reading T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, when the young King Arthur was turned into a hawk by Merlin. I’ve never flown them, but have seen falconers give demonstrations several times in Scotland and England Where I saw a peregrine fly. Quite amazing as they are silent flyers.)
    I recently read H is for Hawk and found it very interesting—-though a bit gloomy. I would really love to fly the birds myself sometime. There is a place in Vermont that offers falconry and I hope to get up there sometime.
    Can’t wait for your new book!

    Reply
  27. Wonderful blog, Susan! I’ve been fascinated by falconry since reading T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, when the young King Arthur was turned into a hawk by Merlin. I’ve never flown them, but have seen falconers give demonstrations several times in Scotland and England Where I saw a peregrine fly. Quite amazing as they are silent flyers.)
    I recently read H is for Hawk and found it very interesting—-though a bit gloomy. I would really love to fly the birds myself sometime. There is a place in Vermont that offers falconry and I hope to get up there sometime.
    Can’t wait for your new book!

    Reply
  28. Wonderful blog, Susan! I’ve been fascinated by falconry since reading T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, when the young King Arthur was turned into a hawk by Merlin. I’ve never flown them, but have seen falconers give demonstrations several times in Scotland and England Where I saw a peregrine fly. Quite amazing as they are silent flyers.)
    I recently read H is for Hawk and found it very interesting—-though a bit gloomy. I would really love to fly the birds myself sometime. There is a place in Vermont that offers falconry and I hope to get up there sometime.
    Can’t wait for your new book!

    Reply
  29. Wonderful blog, Susan! I’ve been fascinated by falconry since reading T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, when the young King Arthur was turned into a hawk by Merlin. I’ve never flown them, but have seen falconers give demonstrations several times in Scotland and England Where I saw a peregrine fly. Quite amazing as they are silent flyers.)
    I recently read H is for Hawk and found it very interesting—-though a bit gloomy. I would really love to fly the birds myself sometime. There is a place in Vermont that offers falconry and I hope to get up there sometime.
    Can’t wait for your new book!

    Reply
  30. Wonderful blog, Susan! I’ve been fascinated by falconry since reading T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, when the young King Arthur was turned into a hawk by Merlin. I’ve never flown them, but have seen falconers give demonstrations several times in Scotland and England Where I saw a peregrine fly. Quite amazing as they are silent flyers.)
    I recently read H is for Hawk and found it very interesting—-though a bit gloomy. I would really love to fly the birds myself sometime. There is a place in Vermont that offers falconry and I hope to get up there sometime.
    Can’t wait for your new book!

    Reply
  31. Fantasy Falconry appears in some of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar stories. The Hawk brothers have bond birds which are enhanced falcons. This isn’t “real life” falconry (Misty makes note of this in all her Hawk brother novels); I find these stores fascinating to read.
    If you don’t know of these try the series “Owlflight,” ” Owlsight,” and “Owlknight.” You will find these in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of bookstores and libraries.

    Reply
  32. Fantasy Falconry appears in some of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar stories. The Hawk brothers have bond birds which are enhanced falcons. This isn’t “real life” falconry (Misty makes note of this in all her Hawk brother novels); I find these stores fascinating to read.
    If you don’t know of these try the series “Owlflight,” ” Owlsight,” and “Owlknight.” You will find these in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of bookstores and libraries.

    Reply
  33. Fantasy Falconry appears in some of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar stories. The Hawk brothers have bond birds which are enhanced falcons. This isn’t “real life” falconry (Misty makes note of this in all her Hawk brother novels); I find these stores fascinating to read.
    If you don’t know of these try the series “Owlflight,” ” Owlsight,” and “Owlknight.” You will find these in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of bookstores and libraries.

    Reply
  34. Fantasy Falconry appears in some of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar stories. The Hawk brothers have bond birds which are enhanced falcons. This isn’t “real life” falconry (Misty makes note of this in all her Hawk brother novels); I find these stores fascinating to read.
    If you don’t know of these try the series “Owlflight,” ” Owlsight,” and “Owlknight.” You will find these in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of bookstores and libraries.

    Reply
  35. Fantasy Falconry appears in some of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar stories. The Hawk brothers have bond birds which are enhanced falcons. This isn’t “real life” falconry (Misty makes note of this in all her Hawk brother novels); I find these stores fascinating to read.
    If you don’t know of these try the series “Owlflight,” ” Owlsight,” and “Owlknight.” You will find these in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of bookstores and libraries.

    Reply

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