I now know why Falconry is considered the sport of Kings. At Ashford Castle the Irish school of Falconry has about 24 Hawks and Falcons in residence. The Hawks are Harris hawks from North America. The female weighs about 2.5 Kilos and the male weighs about 1.7 kilos.
At our arrival at Ashford Castle we were taken by Land Rover to the school which is on the estate but at some distance of the Castle in the great park.
Falcons and Hawks are birds of prey, they cannot become pets and cannot be trained to be pets, that has to be understood from the beginning. The instructor told us that we should under no condition try to pet them or cuddle them, the bird will think you want to harm them. They are majestic and dignified, not cute. Their claws are sharp and huge, the wing span when they fly off is impressive at 120cm or 47 inches.
Their eyesight is far stronger than any human eye, they can see things at a very great distance we would be unable to see. The instructor told us that from 4000 feet in the air they can see a little field mouse. They see in colour and differentiate various hue. They are also silent in flight meaning that you do not hear them coming or going. When they come down on a prey, the animal in their sight will never know what hit them. They are like a silent missile.
At the school they are kept in large enclosure, but each has its own territory inside the aviary and a distance of at least 2 meters between birds must be kept. Otherwise they would attack each other and fight to the death. We took them out in pairs but I did notice that when they fly off they do so separately and will perch on different branches of different trees always at a distance of each other.
Since about 1980, Harris’s hawks have been increasingly used in falconry and are now the most popular hawks in the West (outside of Asia) for that purpose, as they are one of the easiest to train.
Their desire and ability to work closely with their falconer allows them to take a larger and more varied score of game than any other falcon or hawk species. They are effective on both bird and mammalian prey, and are willing to tackle game larger than themselves. Though not quite as athletic as falcons, the close and cunning ways they learn to work as part of a falconry team more than makes up for their somewhat lesser speed and endurance. Trained Harris’s hawks have been used to remove an unwanted pigeon population from London’s Trafalgar Square.
Will is holding on his arm the male Hawk of the group. Females are usually the dominant partner of any Hawk group. They do not migrate like other birds and stay in the region where they live.
They come back to us because they know that in our gloved hand we have a piece of raw meat. However do not make the mistake of trying to fool them by not having that treat of raw meat, they will not return to you afterwards, you will be seen as untrustworthy by the Hawk. Here I am walking back with my female Hawk, Maya. What a wonderful afternoon that was, quite unlike anything I have done before.