A falconer trains and flies birds of prey for sport, entertainment and pest control
Falconry is an art that has been around for thousands of years. It involves training birds of prey to respond to hand gestures, targets and food in order to fly them for entertainment, sport or pest control.
Being a falconer is not a career in itself as no income is gained from training a bird of prey. Becoming a falconer opens doors for employment in such areas as bird shows, either with wildlife centres or freelance; pest control, using the bird to catch mice, rats and small birds; and training others to become falconers.
A falconer will work outside for the majority of their time as birds need to be flown all year round, despite weather conditions. Falconers are also responsible for the upkeep of their birds, meaning a falconer does not work office hours as they can be needed at any time to attend to a bird’s requirements.
The salary for a falconer employed by a wildlife centre for bird shows is usually paid on an hourly basis at between £8 and £10 an hour. The position will usually include hours paid for maintenance of the birds owned by the centres or other environments in which they live.
Freelance falconers who use their birds in exhibitions and shows can earn between £50 and £100 a show, which can last around an hour and a half plus the time for set up. Freelancers will do between two and three shows a day but the work is seasonal, focussing mainly on summer holidays and school breaks leaving less work for the winter.
Alternatively, some falconers earn an annual salary by working for pest control corporations. In this line of work, falconers earn a basic salary of around £20,000 per year, increasing to around £26,000 at a more experienced and expert level. Freelancers in this field earn roughly the same amount of money but are employed on a contract by contract basis.
Falconry includes not only the flying of birds of prey but also the maintenance that accompanies caring for a bird. In this sense falconers have both the responsibilities of their job plus the continuous responsibility of animal care. Tasks vary depending on the line of work but underlying duties remain the same. These include:
- Precise and regular weighing of the bird
- Accurate weighing of food and feeding the bird
- Food preparation and storage
- Maintaining the environment the bird lives and sleeps in
- Flying the bird for exercise
- Cleaning and caring for all equipment used in both pest control and bird shows
- Training the bird to a high level and practising with the bird
- Presenting and demonstrating to groups of people (or)
- Flying the bird in pest-infested areas to catch vermin
Falconry does not need any specific qualifications as it is not an academic career. However, a basic level of mathematics is useful when weighing and feeding birds.
To pursue a career in falconry, a licence is not necessary to be a falconer or to own a bird but in terms of pest control, the law states that a ‘game licence’ is a necessity. This licence allows the hunting of other animals which includes the killing of vermin.
In terms of birds of prey used in exhibitions and displays, licensing is not a requirement but it is advisable to carry course certificates in order to prove capability to employers. On the job training is sometimes an option when working for wildlife centres, otherwise many institutions run falconry courses, which include all aspects of owning and caring for a bird of prey. Falconry centres such as The Coniston Falconry Centre run courses that can span 1, 2 or 3 days and will also organise tailor made courses to cover the relevant sections needed for specific career paths.
Falconers not only fly and care for birds; they can also be required to present these birds to crowds or to work at containing vermin. In this respect, they need a wide skill base as regards both the welfare of the bird and the job in hand. These skills include:
- Understanding the care needed for the bird of prey
- Having a keen eye for detail in terms of weighing and feeding the bird
- Being able to keep accurate and up to date records of the bird’s health and weight
- Being an eloquent and confident speaker
- Understanding the ethics and legislation surrounding hunting and caring for birds of prey
- Being flexible with time and being able to care for a bird 24/7
- Being organised
- Having an in depth knowledge of bird behaviours and being able to recognise and predict dangers to the bird, audiences and oneself
- Having the capacity to understand the environment and wildlife around them when hunting for vermin
Falconers who use birds for pest control will work outside in all weathers. The environment is dependent on the contract and specific pest issue; falconers may be asked to work on an industrial site, in a forest or in crop fields. The work is all year round and therefore falconers must be prepared to work in most kinds of weather but also be aware of the types of weather that are unsuitable for the bird.
Falconers who work for wildlife centres exhibiting birds work mainly outside during bird shows but will also work inside centres where the birds are kept in order to maintain the bird houses and cages. Showing birds is a more seasonal job but falconers working for wildlife centres must fly their birds in the winter for exercise, meaning that they must also work in all weather conditions.
Although work is usually during the day time, falconers need to care for their bird at all hours of the day, seven days a week. This requires dedication and a keen eye for issues that may occur such as illness and injury. Out of ‘office hours’, falconers must clean and feed the birds and maintain their habitats, as well as training and flying for exercise purposes. Falconers may have to deal with injury or illness at any time during the day or night.
The job carries little danger although underfed birds or those not fully trained pose the risk of attack. Falconers must be aware of the dangers surrounding the job because of the birds’ instincts and must know how to react in a potentially hazardous situation, whether that be for themselves or their audience. Overfed birds are at risk of flying away, therefore falconers need to ensure that they weigh and record what they feed their birds extremely accurately to avoid this hazard.
In order to be employed, it is imperative that a falconer has enough experience to work with their own bird and potentially other birds. This is not entirely difficult as working with birds of prey and learning to handle, train and fly them is what makes a falconer. In this respect, it is expected that to apply for a job, the candidate has previously worked with birds.
In order to gain experience working with birds, falconer courses are available through bird of prey clubs or at special centres, otherwise work experience placements as a volunteer at bird of prey/wildlife parks are usually available. Here, training will be on the job and can help potential falconers gain hands-on experience in all the necessary skills before progressing on to a course.
- Pest control companies
- Private organisations looking for pest control
- Wildlife centres
- Bird of Prey centres
- Bird of Prey training courses
Falconry is not a job embarked upon with a view to career progression. Candidates choose to become falconers due to their love of the birds of prey themselves. However, within pest control companies, falconers can progress to become team leaders although this means taking on more administrative responsibility and having less hands-on time with birds of prey. Other falconers progress on to manage areas and teams in bird of prey/wildlife centres or to open their own centres for birds of prey.
Some falconers move sideways in their field and opt to teach and train. Falconry trainers provide lessons and courses for school groups, potential falconers and often one to one sessions with special needs children in order to improve confidence, co-ordination skills and communication.
Also known as…
- Bird of Prey Handler
- Raptor Handler
What’s it really like?
Max Foreman is a 21 year old falconer who currently exhibits birds part time in shows at Eagles Heights Wildlife Park in Kent. Here is what he has to say about being a falconer:
Max, why did you decide to become a falconer?
I actually started it as a hobby. I’ve always had a keen interest in animals and it gave me some of the experience I needed to be accepted into university and pursue my dream of becoming a vet. Birds of prey have always fascinated me so when I was given the opportunity of trying it, I couldn’t pass it up. 6 years later and I’m still doing it!
What are the typical responsibilities and tasks of being a falconer?
There’s a lot of responsibility that goes with being a falconer. It’s not just the shows and flying the bird, you also have to care for them. A typical day for me involves cleaning the bird houses, catering to customer needs, making sure I have the right knowledge for each show, feeding the birds, flying them and checking for injuries and illness.
What do you like about the job?
There’s a lot of variety to this job so it never gets boring. I also very much enjoy working outdoors, which is a bonus in this job! I get to meet new people all the time doing shows and of course I get to work with the most glorious birds. It’s a job many people are jealous of!
What do you dislike about the job or find challenging?
Pitching the displays at the right level can be difficult and annoying but not too stressful. The travelling gets you down. Often we’re asked to visit universities and schools and other groups so you have to load everything up and unload at the other end. It can be pretty tiring! Sometimes we lose the birds as well. They all have tracking devices and we take every precaution we can but at the end of the day they have natural instincts and sometimes they just fly away. Mostly no harm is done but sometimes their escapes can have a sad ending.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
People thinking of being falconers need to be in it for the right reason. Your main concern needs to be for the birds and so you need to be prepared to do the hard work that comes with it. Also, you need to be comfortable talking in front of large crowds. You have to be a skilled falconer at the same time as putting on a funny and confident show.
What are the main skills or experience that you need to be a falconer?
The main skills of being a falconer surround dedication and perseverance. To be a falconer you need to have a good knowledge of the birds, be prepared to work long hours and to form a bond with the birds. These all take hard work mostly. In terms of experience, training is ‘on-the-job’, so to speak, so you can gain experience in wildlife centres or you can go on courses.