Wales Falconry: The art of keeping and training a Bird of Prey to take wild quarry in its natural surroundings. Any other form of description ensures that the word falconer has been misrepresented.
Hello! My name is Paul Melton and I have been a practicing falconer for 17 years. Although I had always been interested in all forms of wildlife in my early years it was only when I had reached my mid twenties that I decided to focus my attention on Birds of Prey.
Way back in those days the thought of picking up a telephone and calling one of the numerous Bird of Prey centers around the country to see whether they ran apprenticeship schemes was unheard of. No! Back then all budding falconers wanting to learn their craft did it all by themselves through the use of books and trial and error.
My first bird was a Barn Owl. I named him “Oscar” and after many weeks and months of perseverance I managed to get him to fly to my fist. Soon after this success I acquired another two Barn Owls and started to fly them as a tri-cast in the back of my garden.
Some twelve months later and still flying my Barn Owls, I foolishly thought of acquiring something a little bigger. Of course with no one to advise you in those days the obvious errors of choosing the wrong birds to start off with were inevitable. My second type of bird was a female Snowy Owl, that I named “Amber”.
Even though I enjoyed flying this bird and did so for a couple of seasons, it became apparent that they do not make particularly good birds to work closely with especially in a display environment.
After my honeymoon period of flying owls, I decided to focus on birds that I could work for my own pleasure.
My first hunting hawk was a male Red tail, his name was “Willow” and we had two excellent seasons, hunting both rabbit and pheasant. Unfortunately into his third season he was lost for a short spell one afternoon, and after recovering him hadn’t realized he had ate something whilst out flying. It was some three to four days later that I realized something was wrong with him, and after a trip to the vets, confirmation was made that he had been poisoned. He died very soon after.
I was to say the least gutted, however after a short period of greiving I immediately picked up another Red tail. Unfortunately, right from the word go there was something not quiet right with this bird, and after an initial period of training I complained to the breeder I bought it from.
Thankfully and after seeing the bird for himself he agreed to refund my money. I decided at this stage to focus on a different type of hawk.
In those days the Harris’ hawk was still a bird reasonably new to falconry, however as the years passed its popularity rocketed. The lovely thing with the Harris hawk is that it is a bird you can pick up and train fairly quickly. It works well with other Harris hawks and is excellent at working over ferrets and dogs.
I acquired a male Harris hawk and called him “Merlin”. This bird is still with me and at the start of the 2008/2009 season will be into his eleventh year. After two or three seasons flying “Merlin” over ferrets and from a following on position, I decided to introduce another hawk, this time a female. During the next couple of seasons I flew both these hawks singularly as well as in a cast. It was whilst into the third season that I got the chance of flying my first imprint Sparrow hawk Unfortunately, the falconer who’s sparrow hawk it was, wanted to fly my female Harris hawk, so in the end we came to an amicable agreement and we swapped hawks.
Even though I regretted selling my female Harris at the time, I knew it was going to a good home so I settled down to concentrate on my female Spar. Her name was Margo, named after the feisty housewife from the BBC television series “The Good Life”. She was a super little hawk and I enjoyed walking out with her to fly the hedgerows I had an abundance of where I lived. She was an intermewed imprinted hawk and was into her second season before I picked her up. For the exception of a little mew come feeding time I never heard any noise out of her whatsoever. I flew her for a third season before passing her onto a good falconer friend who wanted to experience the same as I had done.
After flying my first accipiter the bug was well and truly embedded. It would only be a matter of time before another of the true hawks would be picked up and flown again.
By the start of the next flying season I had decided to replace my original female Harris hawk with a young eyass. My intention was to get back to flying my Harris’ hawks both in a cast as well as over a flushing dog. I had already purchased a young Springer spaniel bitch the year before and although she had a good bloodline didn’t come up to the high standards that I expect from a Springer. That same year I breed from her and she produced 4 pups. Three out of the four pups were sold and I retained the one dog I felt would do me justice. Her name is “Holly” and has turned out to be an absolutely cracking dog.
At about this time I decided that in order for me to gain more experience with different types of hawks and falcons in particular then additional and alternate employment maybe necessary.
Some four to five months of searching the appropriate avenues used for falconry jobs, I managed to secure a job as a pest controller/falconer on a local landfill site. This gave me the chance of both flying the hawks I already had as well as purchasing other birds for the job itself.
During the course of the four years that I worked at this site I flew and gained invaluable knowledge with a variety of differing falcons. Lanners, Sakers, and Peregrines were all part of my team keeping the corvids and gulls to an acceptable level required by certain environmental authorities.
During the latter part of the fourth year this job was terminated due to the landfill closing down and I was once again searching for that next job that would take me further along in my career as a self employed falconer.
It was in November of that same year when I again found myself at a loose end. I had decided the two falcons that were part of my team for the pest control job were to be put up for rest in order for me to concentrate on flying my Harris’ hawks. Literally as I had decided this a good falconer friend of mine asked me whether I would like to fly his 2 year old male imprint Goshawk for him. I thought Christmas had come early. This was indeed not only a pleasure but also a privilege. I had considered some years before whether or not to fly a Goshawk, however the only thing that put me off was the price of the actual hawk itself. Goshawks to this day still demand a high price and need to be carefully considered before purchase. They are the ultimate true hawk and demand 110% effort from the falconer 24/7.
I successfully flew this hawk right throughout the season only handing it back rather reluctantly in order for the bird to be placed up for a well earned rest.
As the season came to a close, I got a telephone call from a company that had placed my name on their books for a pest control/falconer. The job was a 12 week stretch in the middle of a city center dispersing pigeons from ½ dozen listed buildings. I initially felt reluctant to take the job on however money was tight and at least I could utilize the hawks that had gone up for rest during the winter period.
I went ahead with the job which over the period of the twelve weeks I was there was a complete success. The company offered me another position clearing certain railway stations up and down the country, however this only lasted weeks rather than months that I’d come to expect. Months went by when from out of the blue I received a phone call from an interested party that I had met some 3-4 years earlier whilst I was out looking for that first start as a professional falconer.
I had attended an interview prior to me being granted the job at the landfill site. This particular job was to run an entire falconry center in the heart of Mid Wales. Unfortunately at the time I couldn’t accept this offer as I had financial commitments back in my home town.
Four years and a lot of additional experience later, I decided to accept this new offer and I find myself now in a position that has took me all of my falconry life to achieve. I will admit the road has been a long and hard one, however the sacrifices are now starting to pay dividends.
Whilst still in my current position as Head Falconer, I have over the last 18 months worked alongside the BBC Springwatch Team of 2009, (see DVD footage), as well as complete an hour’s long documentary for BBC Wales.
With these last two items in mind, here’s to the future and another 17 years of success.
Paul Melton (Falconer) , Wales Falconry