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.
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.