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Learn More About Falconry In Iowa And The Iowa Falconer’s Association

As the sun begins to fall on the horizon, an amber glow radiates across the western sky. As its color stretches eastward, it seamlessly flows into a palette of pale purple and blue above, and then into a dark gray. Night would be coming soon, but before it does, a lone figure can be seen on a nearby hill top. Only the silhouette of a man is visible as all details are overpowered by the vibrant background.

Slowly, the man leans to his left a bit, and then begins to raise his arm. On his fist, stands a bird, which hesitantly begins to beat its wings…one,two,three beats…and then stops. The bird shakes or rouses its feathers for a time and then spreads its wings again. With a powerful stroke, it launches into the blazing sky and begins to fly around the man, climbing as it goes. The long, pointed wings that power its flight give away its identity, as a falcon is nearly unmistakable while airborne. A faint sound of a bell can be heard as the bird cuts through the chilling air. In a moment, the falcon appears much smaller than before, having climbed so high, it now only appears as a vague pulsating cross, with all of its features now faded by its ascent.

In what seems like an instant, the man down below begins to run. After a short sprint, two gamebirds blast into the sky, their humming wingbeats can be heard from far away. They climb out steeply, seemingly catapulted from the ground. Within seconds they’ve climbed to one hundred feet and begin flying in a large arch, heading for a patch of cover in a nearby creek bed.

Looking up as the birds are flushed, the falcon is already on its way down, having rolled over on its back just before it began the dive. It picks up speed quickly. Faster and faster it hurtles through the air, its wings tucked in tight to its body. In seconds it’s nearing the two flying birds below, and as it approaches, a sound, a jetlike hissing vibrato, echoes over the landscape. It’s the falcon, now nearing 200 mph, cutting, adjusting, honing in on one of the birds.

With a quick dip of a wing, the falcon makes its final calculation and cuts across the game bird’s path. A strike of the talons, raking across the prey’s body, sends feathers flying in all directions. From a distance all that can be seen are the two birds coming together so rapidly, and then, almost as quickly separating, the game bird plummeting to the ground, and the falcon shooting skyward in a dramatic pull out.

As the falcon glides in to seize its prey, the man begins his slow walk to join the bird. When he arrives at the site of the kill, he kneels and seems to bow his head for a time, perhaps to savor the moment just witnessed, perhaps to give thanks for all things natural. After a minute or so has passed in quiet repose, he reaches down and picks up the falcon…the two are once again joined as they fade into black with the setting sun.

This moment most surely happened someplace in the world today, just as it happened several thousand years ago. It is timeless, it is placeless, it is falconry.

Describing falconry as an ancient art in a modern time would aptly suit this sport once reserved for kings and noblemen, and perhaps surprisingly, much of the methodology and practices remain similar to those used throughout the ages. Techniques have been handed down over the centuries either through the reading of the old books or from tutoring by masters of the sport to their apprentices. Most of the falconry equipment has stayed the same as well, but modern day falconers are constantly inventing new ideas for use in their day to day activities.

As it has always been, falconry today is practiced by very devoted people who enjoy training and flying their birds, whether in hunting or exercising them. It demands a great deal of a person’s time, and for most, it’s a 365-day-a-year regimen of training and caring for the birds.

As for the birds themselves, a variety of raptors are being flown in falconry today. For the midwest, and Iowa specifically, the versatile Redtailed hawk is the most common bird being worked with. An ample supply of rabbits and squirrels prove to be a good test for this type of hawk.

Accipiters also make up part of the fraternity, with Coopers hawks becoming a more frequent nester in the state. Goshawks occasionally migrate through in late fall and a few are actively being flown by falconers.

Falcons also represent a large part of Iowa falconry today. Peregrines, as well as Gyr hybrids and Prairie falcons provide exciting moments in the field while pursuing upland game birds like pheasants, Hungarian partridge and waterfowl. All in all, this wonderful variety of game, coupled with an exciting array of raptors to work with, provides some great opportunities to practice falconry in the heartland of America.

Falconry became recognized as a legal and legitimate field sport in Iowa in the late 70’s. In 1988, falconers from around the state joined up to officially form the Iowa Falconer’s Association. In 1998 the group has about 50 associate and regular members from around the country. As they have always been, our members continue to be active in a number of areas concerning raptors and the environment in the state of Iowa. For more information on the IFA’s involvement in environmental programs, be sure to check out the Conservation and Education section of this website.

Each year, the IFA hosts several field meets or get-togethers, in order for members to socialize and discuss association business. An annual picnic is also scheduled, usually in the fall, to kick off the new season and a newsletter is produced which comes out several times a year. The IFA is affiliated with the North American Falconer’s Association, as well as numerous environmental groups in our region.

As our credo implies, we remain dedicated to the preservation of Iowa’s native birds of prey, and to the time-honored field sport of falconry. Our goal, and our purpose, is to see that future generations may enjoy both, just as we do today.