A History of Falconry - part 6
the nature of the early American settlers and their struggles to establish themselves militated against the practice of falconry. Despite their desperate struggle just to survive, we do find at least one record of falconry among the initial settlers; in 1622 an attorney, Thomas Morton arrived in New England and left in his writings accounts hawks and falconry in the New World. Subsequently, in the1650’s a Jan Baptist sent back to Holland for his falcon and flew her at quarry in the Hudson Valley. Even farther south, there is an allusion to the hawk trained by one of Cortez’ captains early in their stay in the Valley of Mexico.
Of all those early Europeans in North America, falconry might most logically have been found among the Spanish in Mexico. Falconry, on the wane in Spain, still represented a legitimate and “noble” pastime for these nouveau elite in Mexico. The first Viceroy of New Spain, Velasco, had a falcon so tame that he rode with her unhooded on his fist. His son, Luis de Velasco II, employed a royal falconer to look after his birds.
American Falconry in the Twentieth Century: Colonel R. L. “Luff” Meredith is recognized as being the “father” of American falconry. Among other notable figures were Dr. Robert M. “Doc” Stabler, Alva Nye, the twin brothers, Frank and John Craighead, and Halter Cunningham.
In the 1940s they formed the Falconers’ Association of North America, which ceased due to the Second World War. These men possessed the traditional bird of falconry, the peregrine. The peregrines were taken from local eyries, but falconry for them in those early years was mere possession of hawks, because they did not advance to the stage of hunting game until much later for some of them. Their countryside was not suitable for longwing falconry.
Though Meredith had visited British and European falconers and the Craigheads spent several months hawking and hunting with an Indian prince, actual hawking for the most part escaped these men as the logical step after training a bird. In the 1960s, after the founding of the North American Falconers Association (NAFA), true game hawking exploded across the continent and the ubiquitous red-tailed hawk became a mainstay and a decade later the Harris hawk was “discovered”.
In Mexico, Guillermo José Tapia was the president of the Asociación Mexicana de Cetrería, formed in the 1940s. Later in 1964 Robeto Behar became involved in falconry and had the opportunity to travel and contact international falconers - Renz Waller, Kinya Nakajima and Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente.
Falconry’s most recent expansion has been to South Africa where it went with colonists. Of the 59 diurnal raptors, 31 species have been flown for falconry purposes with variable success and game birds include guinea fowl, francolin, quail, sand grouse and duck. Furred quarry includes scrub hares and spring hares.
There is evidence of an ancient culture, with an economy based on agriculture and trade in gold and ivory. There was pre-Islamic Arabic influence on the earlier ruins and trade existed with outsiders, including India, China and Persia. The largest of the stone complexes is The Great Zimbabwe in the centre of Zimbabwe, near the town of Masvingo. In the site museum is a metal object identified as an “Arab Falconry Bell” and several soapstone birds found within the ruins.
In modern times falconry was imported to Southern Africa by a widely dispersed group of individuals who came from different origins and settled in different areas. W. Eustace Poles is the earliest, settling in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in the early 1950s. Heinie Von Michaelis was an immigrant to the Western Cape from Germany, at much the same time and his contemporary, David Reid Henry, the well-known bird artist, settled in Southern Rhodesia (Now Zimbabwe) in the 1960s.
Rudi De Wet was one of the first falconers in the Transvaal region of South Africa. He was a Methodist minister and learned about falconry while studying Chinese in an effort to become a missionary to China. He put theory into practice and became a focus for youngsters in the area who wanted to take up falconry.
Falconry became more formalized and experience was gained with indigenous birds like Black Sparrowhawks, Redbreasted Sparrowhawks, Passage Lanner falcons and African Hawk Eagles. The first African Peregrines were obtained and efforts were started to breed these. The lack of structure was recognized and the Zimbabwean (Rhodesian), Transvaal and Natal Falconry Clubs were formed.
The South African Falconry Association was formed in 1990. Falconers in Southern Africa have striven to develop good relations with raptor biologists, conservationists, rehabilitators and amateur bird watchers. This has laid a good foundation for falconry today. Ron Hartley was a powerhouse in the development of falconry in Zimbabwe and is largely responsible for the good standing of falconry in the sub-region. Today there are 186 South African Falconers and the 35 Zimbabwean Falconers.