The relationship between falconer and bird is one built on a mutual respect and a shared goal of catching prey. The falconer's job is not to command the bird, but simply to do it's bidding and provide it with ample opportunity to hunt and catch game. We are allowed into the equation through slow desensitization and positive reinforcement.
The relationship between falconer and bird is an unrequited love; we love our birds, and they love to kill. Failure to provide our birds with opportunity for them to hunt results in a bird that may become frustrated, or worse, a bird that begs you for food incessantly. The first thing you will need to have if you wish to go on a hunt is your hunter's safety and small game license. A migratory bird license wouldn't hurt either.
You can register for your hunter's safety course at https://www.ohep.net/
Once you have obtained the required paperwork you can get an outdoors card at https://www.ontario.ca/page/get-outdoors-card
Your small game license can be purchased at https://www.huntandfishontario.com/
Once you have obtained all of that, you are now ready to observe a falconer and bird in the field to see what the sport is really like. This is where many budding new falconers lose interest or become impatient. This is when the reality sinks in and people realize the hard work that goes into providing ample game for your hawk.
Hawking in Ontario is a special kind of pain that consists of long grass, vines, thorns, burrs, and poison ivy. Once the ragweed breaks from the first frost, it's not long until it's hiking in knee deep snow in minus temperatures. There is a certain degree of masochism you must have to find pleasure in Ontario dirt hawking.
It doesn't take long to see it's all worth it in the split second after a hawk breaks after a rabbit to a "HOHOHO" (it's a falconer thing, you'll see). Well now you've done it- you're hooked!
The falconry apprenticeship program in Ontario is 15 months, or October to October to encompass a whole hunting season. You will need to find a sponsor in order to begin your apprenticeship through the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. This is the tricky part, and this is your first of many lessons on patience in falconry. How do you convince a perfect stranger to take you on as an apprentice? They will essentially spend every day for the next 1-2 years teaching you, letting you shadow them, and answering questions daily. Not to mention the ongoing support after the apprenticeship ends. It really is a lot to ask of someone.
The key to this is networking, and patience.
Show initiative and GET OUT.
Join the Ontario Hawking Club where you can network and meet DOZENS of potential sponsors.
You MUST be a self starter.
Ask to go on hunts, and go out as often as possible.
Don't ask for anyone to sponsor you right away, because that's a sure fire way to scare off a potential sponsor. You wouldn't propose marriage to someone on the first date, would you? Also remember, not all sponsors are equal. You do not necessarily have to accept the first sponsorship offer you get. Get to know different falconers and observe different styles of hunting and decide what you want your falconry to look like.
Is your falconry hunting a wild captured red-tailed on squirrels? (highly recommended by the way!) Or is your falconry hunting a captive bred Harris' hawk on starlings or crows? These are the things your sponsor will help you to decide.
Although some falconry schools and courses might offer valuable information, there is no piece of the puzzle more important than the sponsor/apprentice relationship. There are so many things that cannot be learned in a classroom and only experience can teach. The ongoing support is invaluable.
We do offer an 8 week course that runs through the first few months of hunting season. This isn't an apprenticeship program, but it does offer a lot of in depth information on the sorts of things you should know such as common illness and disease, field craft, how to use tracking equipment like telemetry and more. We've done our best to make it as practical and as comprehensive as possible, making it a good head start. Consider it a 'pre-apprenticeship' where you can get a good idea to know whether or not falconry is for you.
You can learn more or sign up at https://royalcanadianfalconry.com/8-week-course/ and of course as always, we will forever and always offer support to anyone who phones us looking for it. Whether it be advice on products, or help with a sick or injured bird, I am always willing to help.
The actual falconry apprenticeship forms can be obtained from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Aurora Office. It costs a little less than $20. Your apprenticeship will be only the beginning of your education as a falconer. Once you delve in you will see how much there really is to learn. That is one of the things that keeps falconry enthralling for me.
Falconry has been practiced for over 3500 years in all corners of the world and one hundred lifetimes would not give someone enough time to learn everything there is to know about the art of falconry. The only time better to start than 'today,' is yesterday, so I'd recommend you get your hunting license and join the Ontario Hawking Club before next small game season.
After that, you can begin the next steps of acquiring equipment, designing and building your mews, applying for a wild-capture permit (more on that another day), and finally obtain you bird. After a successful season (or two) your sponsor should find you qualified and will sign off on your apprenticeship to become a licensed general falconer.
You can learn more about apprenticeship requirements at https://ontariohawkingclub.org/apprenticeship/
If this all sounds like too much work for you, don't worry, we've got good news. We offer Falconry Experiences which let you get a sample to see what it is like in the day of a falconer. You can get hands on with birds of prey, whenever you feel like, sans commitment. We understand that not everyone has the ability to get into this lifestyle, as most sports are not as entirely immersive as falconry is. So for anyone who wants the serenity of being around these beautiful birds without the marathon of a process, come on out, we'd love to have you!
Register at https://royalcanadianfalconry.com/experiences-workshops/
-Small Game License
-Migratory Bird License
-1-2 years shadowing
-Acquire a Sponsor signature
-15 Month Apprenticeship or Oct-Oct
-Build mews/Make equipment
-Acquire Bird (Apply for wild take in March- trap in Oct)
-Advance to General Falconer
-Think you know everything about falconry
-Realize you know nothing about falconry
all while maintaining your Logbook as well as Annual Report of all Raptors in Possession.
***UPDATE- since this article was written, there has been a change in legislation in regard to capturing wild birds of prey. As of 2021, every falconer in Ontario is now permitted to trap one wild bird of prey (off of an approved list of species) per calendar year. This is extremely exciting news, as this experience offers the greatest opportunity for education for a new falconer. There is no better first bird to learn with in Ontario than a wild captured passage red-tailed hawk. This has many positive implications for both falconers and for wildlife, and directly aids in wildlife conservation.