Saturday, March 19, 2005


BLAKEMAN ON NOMENCLATURE, HENS, ETC. [With a question for John from MW at the end]


The questions about the origin of “eyass” (or “eyas”) are useful.

I've used the modern spelling, eyass, one that I believe is most often used in modern falconry literature. Both spellings are acceptable.

A question was raised about why the little hawks shouldn't just be called hawk babies. They could be, and they are. But equestrians seldom refer to horse babies (colts), and dairy farmers don't call calves cow babies. These antiquated but useful distinctions of animal age and sex are utilitarian, not just complicating contrivances of arcane nomenclature.

Here are some more, as they refer to hawks. “Hawk” refers to a broad variety of diurnal (day active) raptors in the order Falconiformes, including both specific hawks and falcons. A peregrine falcon is a specific kind of hawk. All falcons are hawks, not all hawks are falcons.

The use of hawks, falcons, and eagles for the pursuit of prey is “falconry,” stemming surely from the original use of falcons in the sport. The techniques of training falcons to hunt in the presence of humans were subsequently used for a variety of hawks, goshawks in particular. Falconry involves all diurnal raptors used in the sport, not just falcons in particular.

Falconers divide themselves by the hawks they use. Those flying real falcons, such as the peregrine, are said to be “longwingers.” Falcons are said to be longwinged hawks. Falconers flying goshawks are properly called “austringers.” Austringers are falconers who fly goshawks in particular, and other accipiters such as the Cooper’s or sharp-shinned hawks in general. Those of us who fly red-tails are known as “broadwingers,” flying the broadwinged hawks generally in the genus Buteo. Also generally included are the social Harris’ hawks of the desert Southwest.

A female falcon is properly called the “falcon.” Falcon means the female of a member of the genus Falco. The male is called the “tiercel” (sometimes, “tercel”). All male hawks and falcons may be called tiercels. Only female falcons can be called, in reference to her sex, the “falcon.”

Therefore, Pale Male is a very fine tiercel, the term that runs in my mind when I think of him. Sadly, modern falconry has no elevating term for the females of non-falcon hawks. Lola is merely the “hen.” Personally, I find this a pejorative diminutive referring to a female chicken. For a chicken, “hen” is most appropriate. For a noble hawk, I find the term somewhat deprecating. But I fear we are stuck with it. Lola, sadly, is a “hen.” (Falconers need to convene a convention of literary types and come up with a much more romantic term for female hawks. English is a great language, but it has some holes. This one, in my mind, is a gaping one. Lola, a mere “hen?” I think not!)

I don't mean this to be any treatise on the terminology of falconry. But it would be well for Central Park hawk watchers to be at least familiar with some of these terms, as they succinctly connote important characteristics, the exact purpose of arcane terminology.

For example, my present red-tailed hawk Savanna, is a twice-intermewed passager. Falconers instantly know all of what that means. And since passagers are frequently seen in Central Park, hawk watchers there should know at least the term “passager.” There may be as many of five passagers in the park right now. A passage hawk is one that has fledged and is now out on its own, primarily in migration, in “passage” as the ancient falconers would say. I trapped Savanna in September, during the early migration season. Consequently, she shall remain a “passager” for the rest of her life, a reference to when she came into human care and protection. A hawk or falcon taken from the nest (just before fledging) remains an “eyass” for it’s entire life, again referring to its age when taken from the wild.

A hawk is “intermewed” when it completes a molt in captivity. My bird has done this twice, so she is twice-intermewed. I've had hawks that intermewed as many as 16 times -- fine old ladies these were.

Pale Male and Lola are “haggards,” adult birds in the wild. Falconers are not permitted to capture haggards for use in the sport, and this is most appropriate. No falconer would ever want to attempt to train these stubborn birds. As a part of my raptor research, I trapped two haggards and kept them in captivity for several years. These animals never, ever lost their sneering resentment of my removing them from the wild. Had I ever flown them free, in the manner of my trained falconry birds, these haggards would have instantly flown off and never returned. Once a falcon or hawk reaches its second year, after molting a new set of feathers, her mental processes become hardened to life in the wild. Life in the care of even the most caring falconer would be forever a severe imposition upon her developed sense of what’s right. Sitting on a falconer’s fist is not among what’s right for these hard-wired birds. No falconer wants a haggard. They are best left in the wild where they do their wild things so well,

John: I felt a pang when you told of the two "haggards" you captured and kept for several years as part of your raptor research. Would you be able to tell us what you gained for science, or were trying to gain, by keeping these wild birds captive for this period of time? Marie