Sunday, June 17, 2012

Gyrfalcon--The "Rolls-Royce" of Falconry

Lithograph of a Gyrfalcon dressed for the hunt, by O. v. Riesenthal, printed in 1894

In the medieval era, the Gyrfalcon was considered a royal bird. The geographer and historian Ibn Said al-Maghribi (d. 1286) described certain northern Atlantic islands west of Ireland where these falcons would be brought from, and how the Egyptian Sultan paid 1,000 dinars for each Gyrfalcon (or, if it arrived dead, 500 dinars).   Due to its rarity and the difficulties involved in obtaining it, in European falconry the Gyrfalcon was reserved for kings and nobles; very rarely was a man of lesser rank (that would be Jim Stockley and myself) seen with a Gyrfalcon on his fist.  Exception being last week, when I was an Emperor:

Social rank and appropriate bird as delineated in "The Boke Of St. Albans"  written in 1486,  a compilation of matters relating to the interests of the time of a gentleman.

  • Emperor: Golden Eagle, Vulture, & Merlin
  • King: Gyrfalcon (male & female)
  • Prince: Female Peregrine
  • Duke: Rock Falcon (subspecies of the Peregrine)
  • Earl: Peregrine
  • Baron: Male peregrine
  • Knight: Saker or sacre
  • Squire: Lanner Falcon
  • Lady: Female Merlin
  • Yeoman: Goshawk or Hobby
  • Priest: Female Sparrowhawk
  • Holywater clerk: Male Sparrowhawk
  • Knaves, Servants, Children: Old World Kestrel

Falcons are known to be very susceptible to avian influenza.  Therefore an experiment was done with hybrid gyr-saker falcons(Jesus, link below, had one of these hybrids in training.  Very impressive bird) which found that 5 falcons vaccinated with a commercial H5N2 influenza vaccine survived infection with a highly pathogenic H5N1 strain, whereas 5 unvaccinated falcons died. Since both wild and captive gyrfalcons are valuable (for wildlife conservation and falconry, respectively), this means they can be protected from bird flu by vaccination.

Lithograph of the attributes needed for Falconry by O. v. Riesenthal, printed in 1894

No comments: