Falconry, my gateway to environmental awareness

by Ellen Hagen, museum educator at the Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger

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I have always been fascinated by birds and have both chickens and ducks in the garden. But, there is one type of bird in particular that has made me more interested in nature and aware of the ecosystem: birds of prey. I first became interested in birds of prey as an adult. They are not the type of birds people see every day. When you are not aware of certain things, then they, unfortunately, tend to escape your mind.

In my case, I had never seen a bird of prey up close, and I could not even distinguish a hawk from a falcon. Out of pure curiosity, and a bit of randomness, I ended up in the world of falconry. When I experienced the first falcon fly off my glove, a part of my soul followed, or that is what it felt like. Falconry is forgotten in Norway, and has been stigmatised in the process. Without anyone to learn falconry from in Norway, I travelled abroad for the sole purpose of figuring out what it was and why people pursued it. I was met by welcoming people, people that were environmentally aware; aware of nature, of sustainability, of heritage and of hunting. Because falconry is a hunting method, and is even recognised by UNESCO as an intangible heritage. Falconry means hunting with a trained raptor for its prey in its natural habitat. The person who trains the raptor is called a falconer. The falcons I trained and hunted with changed my way of life and made me deeply aware of nature. The word sustainability echoes throughout falconry; we do not always catch prey, because it may be so fit that it gets away. You can come home with nothing but your experiences from having a day in nature, and just being out there is the most important thing.

Feeding a young falcon chick by hand. (c) Ellen Hagen

I am of course excited about all kinds of raptors. They are not just beautiful, but they have such an essential role in the ecosystem: they are indicators of a healthy environment. I am concerned about everything birds of prey need to survive, and I got interested in birding and nature conservation because of the trained falcons. Falconry touches upon many interdisciplinary areas, including conservation. When the peregrine falcon almost became extinct about fifty years ago, because of persecution of predators, a project in Sweden used methods developed though falconry to save the peregrine population in Norway. Through my enthusiasm for raptors, nesting boxes for peregrine falcons have been set up for urban peregrines in city environments and at the regional airport. Falcons engage people. Their presence creates happiness, an awareness of nature, and might even go as far as to make people care about their natural environment. In the falconry community I spoke to Professor Tom Cade (1928-2019), ornithologist and falconer, who was so supportive when he heard about the existence of a person with proper falconry knowledge in Norway, and in 2019, the Norwegian Falconry Association was created. If you are interested in birds of prey, then you learn about their ecosystem, and for me, that is the first step in caring for nature and the raptors that depend on it.

Did this spark your curiosity? Check out www.norskfalkejaktforbund.no, or contact me at ellen.hagen@uis.no, museum educator at Museum of Archaeology, UiS.

Connecting with and through birds

On April 2, we officially launched the EnviroCitizen project, bringing together researchers from seven European countries. We were supposed to all be in Stavanger, in the university board room overlooking campus. Instead, most of us were sitting at home, looking at each other on a computer screen. Like so many other events in the wake of Covid-19, we met virtually through a Zoom meeting.

Over the next 42 months, we will study how engagement in birding-related citizen science projects can make the participants into better environmental citizens. Supported by the European Horizon 2020 funding scheme, we bring together scholars from history, literature, anthropology, STS, education, biology, and ecology in order to gain a deeper understanding of the formation of environmental values and action.

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Launching the EnviroCitizen project online

These are certainly interesting times to be launching a citizen science project of this type, where both we and the people we study and work with face new challenges. We all have to seek new forms of togetherness and find new ways to strengthen connections and communities at a distance, often through digital media. We don’t know how soon the situation will return to “normal”, assuming it ever does. These are times that cry out for engagement and citizenship.

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The Jørgensen bird feeder, April 2020.

As people are sheltering in their homes, nature experiences become even more valuable sources of such engagement. We see reports from across the world how backyard birding is becoming ever more popular. Confined to our homes, we observe the nature we can find right outside. Feeders attract birds to our backyards where we can watch them. The possibility for home birding to build and strengthen environmental citizenship has never been more relevant.

Over the next few months, we will be presenting the research teams and share our plans and initial research. Follow our research here on this website, on Facebook, or on Twitter over the next years to get regular updates on our research.

Finn Arne Jørgensen
EnviroCitizen Project Coordinator
Professor of Environmental History, University of Stavanger