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How to Become a Falconer in Ontario

How to Become a Falconer in Ontario
The first thing you will need in order to begin the process of becoming a falconer is a burning passion for wildlife and the outdoors. If you are the type of person who finds it difficult to find motivation to get up and go outside, I'll stop you right here. First and foremost, falconry is a hunting sport. Without the desire to hunt, you will not make much of a falconer and your bird won't find much use for you. Keeping raptors as pets is unethical and they MUST be hunted and allowed to exhibit all of their natural behaviors.

The relationship between a falconer and their 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.

The relationship between falconer and bird is an unrequited love; we love our birds, and they love to eat. Failure to provide our birds with opportunity 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 small game hunting license and depending on your quarry, a migratory bird license.

You can register for your hunter's safety course HERE

You can get an outdoors card HERE

Your small game license can be purchased at HERE

Once you have obtained your hunting licenses you will be ready to observe a falconer in the field to see what the sport is really about. This is where many budding new falconers lose interest or become impatient. 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 thick cover, vines, thorns, burrs, and poison ivy. Once the ragweed breaks after the first frost it's not long until you are 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.

In the split second after a rabbit breaks cover and the falconer yells "HOHOHO!" (it's a falconer thing, you'll see), it doesn't take long to see why it is all worth it. The adrenaline rush is only matched by the sense of satisfaction provided by seeing your bird's success. Experiencing this will have you hooked!

You will need to find a sponsor in order to begin your apprenticeship. The falconry apprenticeship program is governed by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and is either 15 months or October to October (whichever comes first). This is the tricky part and your first of many lessons on patience in falconry. How do you convince a perfect stranger to take you on as an apprentice? This is someone who will essentially spend almost every day for the next 1-2 years teaching you, letting you shadow them, and answering questions.

The key to this is networking, and patience. Show initiative and GET OUT with other falconers. A potential sponsor will want to see a certain level of commitment and understanding. They want to know that you are in it for the right reasons and that you know what you are getting yourself into prior to agreeing to sponsor you. If you join the Ontario Hawking Club you can meet DOZENS of potential sponsors. You MUST be a self starter in order to be successful as a falconer. Ask to go on hunts with others and go out as often as possible- as a falconer you will be expected to hunt your bird 3-6 days a week.

Don't ask for someone to sponsor you right after meeting them because that is a sure fire way to scare off a potential mentor. You wouldn't propose marriage to someone on the first date, would you? Also remember that not all sponsors are equal and the only requirement to become a mentor is that they must have held a falconry license for 5 years or longer. Longevity is not a measure of skill. Get to know different falconers, 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? (which is highly recommended) Or is your falconry hunting a captive bred Harris' hawk on starlings or crows?

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 that only experience can teach.

We do offer a course and although it isn't an apprenticeship program it does offer a lot of in depth information. Some of the things it covers includes 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 to your apprenticeship. Consider it a 'pre-apprenticeship'

You can learn more or sign up for our Falconry Course HERE.

How to Become a Falconer in Ontario

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 hunting season. After you start shadowing other falconers you can begin the next steps of acquiring equipment, designing and building your mews, finding a sponsor, applying for your permit, and finally obtaining your bird. Your sponsor should not sign off on your apprenticeship until they are satisfied that you have learned the basics.

Your apprenticeship is only the beginning of your education as a falconer and once you dive in you will see how much there really is to learn. Falconry has been practiced for over 3500 years in almost every corner of the world and it would take more than 100 lifetimes to learn everything there is to learn about falconry- and that is one of the things that keeps falconry enthralling.

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 to handle these magnificent raptors. 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.

Register at https://royalcanadianfalconry.com/experiences-workshops/

Summary of steps:

-Hunter's Safety Course (PAL not required)

-Outdoors Card

-Small Game License

-Migratory Bird License +/-

-1-2 years shadowing

-Acquire a Sponsor and become Apprentice

-Build mews and acquire equipment

-Acquire and train bird

-15 Month Apprenticeship or Oct-Oct (whichever comes first)

-Advance to General Falconer

***UPDATE- 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.

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