No love from falcons

As Granada’s Another World looks at falcons, TVTimes speaks to a falconer

The ancient art of falconry is the subject of “The Feathers of Death” in Granada’s Another World series on Tuesday. In the programme Douglas Fisher follows the training programme of a wild young Spanish falcon. Here is the story of a young man who has already faced this several times himself — Mr. Terry Pickford of Blackpool, one of the North’s leading falconers

TVTimes masthead
From the TVTimes for week commencing 26 April 1964

KING HAROLD was an expert with falcons. In medieval times no thane or noble worth his salt would have been seen hunting without them.

But the eminent early aficionados of falcons and falconry couldn’t have seemed more remote as we strode out across the featureless stretch of heathland just outside Blackpool.

The gaudy painted face of the “Golden Mile” was only a few minutes away — as the hawk flies.

And the falconer I was accompanying had already spent the best part of his day at the drawing board in the British Aircraft Corporation works at Warton.

Only the elaborately reinforced glove he was wearing conjured up any of the romantic imagery I have always associated with this most ancient of British sports.

The Goshawk, with eyes like the Angel of Death, poised rigidly on his wrist.

“Some people will tell you that their birds have a genuine love for them,” said Mr. Terry Pickford, 19-year-old junior technician and modern-day falconer.

“I think that’s a lot of poppycock myself. The only thing that binds a bird of prey like this to its owner is the food that he provides for it.

“Love doesn’t enter into the arrangement at all — as far as the bird is concerned.

“Keeping a hawk or a falcon does have its commercial possibilities. Only recently I was invited to use the bird to scare away sparrows, which were proving a bit of a problem to several factories.

“And if you’re well known you get work with your falcon in films or by providing pictures for magazines. But generally the birds cost more than they make.”

Mr. Pickford, who calls his bird Blitz, got interested in falconry five years ago after reading a book about golden eagles.

“But getting a good bird is a lot more difficult than you would think,” he said.

“You can’t go into a pet-shop and buy yourself a hawk or a falcon. You can’t buy any British birds in Britain — it’s against the law.

“You have to send abroad for them, and it can be an expensive business.”

A Goshawk like Blitz costs about £15 [£260 in today’s money, allowing for inflation – Ed]. Falcons can cost £40 [£680] or more.

And when the bird has been bought the problems are still only just beginning.

“It has to be trained to eat from you,” he said. “Trained to sit on your wrist. Trained to return to your wrist. And trained eventually to hunt.”

Food is another expensive item. A bird has to be fed freshly killed meat every day. And the traditional equipment of the falconer, the glove, the jesses, the leash and the perches all add more to the bill.

“My advice to a potential falconer is not to bother — unless he is as wildly enthusiastic as I am,” said Mr. Pickford.

“The more work you do with these birds, the more you realise what you have to learn.”

But with all its problems the sport which was originally the birthright of princes never loses its fascination for the young Blackpool engineer.

“There’s marvellous satisfaction in training a wild creature like this into such a superbly efficient hunting instrument,” he said.

A cruel sport?

“Only to the falconer,” he said. “In the course of a day’s hunting, you are likely to have to run about 10 miles through broken country and over all kinds of obstacles.”

And when I pressed the point:

“It’s much less cruel than a gun. If you shoot a rabbit and only manage to wound it, it may take days to die.

“If a falcon hits, it kills instantaneously. And if it misses, the quarry gets away unharmed.”

Falconry and a general study of ornithology doesn’t leave much time for any other kind of relaxation for Mr. Pickford. Like girl friends.

“Most of the ones I had didn’t really like the falcon,” he grinned.

“I suppose they were jealous.”

A man with a goshawk
Blitz, Terry Pickford’s Goshawk, has a 4ft. wing span and can fly at speeds of up to 40 miles an hour

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