RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Taming a temperamental bird of prey

The mention of sparrow hawks on this week’s walk reminds me of the book on hawking to which King Charles 11 was pleased to give his approbation in 1683, thus securing for its author, Richard Blome, a market from subscribers.

‘Hawking, or Faulconry’ gave up-to-date instruction for the falconer on how to handle and tame these temperamental birds of prey to the fist. In this book you find 200 different words nearly every one of which has now vanished from our vocabulary. The same can be said for another 200 that relate to deer, incidentally. Thus we learn that sparrow hawks mew every year from April to June. This is one word that does continue today, with some old buildings still being called The Mews.

The word means that place where hawks and falcons were allowed to moult in peace to grow new feathers. The book tells us that the ‘sparrow-hawk should not be fled (flown) in the morning, unless she be prepared over Night with a short and clean Supper, and you should always have in a Box about you Fresh Butter, mixt with a little Saffron and Sugar Candy to give her now and then with her Meat, which she will eat with great delight; and this will keep her Head always loose, and in good Temper, and it will also prevent the Cray,(disease) and keep her proud and full of Spirit.’

After having caught your sparrow hawk in a silk net held on sticks and baited with a chaffinch, you had to be extremely careful not to over tire the bird after you had trained it to hunt for you. ‘He that is not quick of sight, and nimble of hand, shall soon Spoil her, but with Care and Attendance there are few Hawks of more pleasure, for you may Flee her at such times of the year as you can’t the Goshawk. Her keeping ought to be delicate, and in regard she is so small and weak, be sure to keep her High and Lusty, yet with due regard to the preparation of her Stomack, before you take the Field with her. She will kill according to the several Seasons, Diversity of Game. She generally delights to Flee close to the Ground, and will stoutly attack the Lap-Wing, Ring-Dove, Jay, Mag-pye, Black-bird, and the like Game, and she may be made to hold out all the Summer. You should Flee her from the Hood, (take off the hood at the last second) and not to let her spend her little strength, and disorder herself by unruly Bateing (trying to fly when still attached) which happens when being carried Bare (without hood). If you Flee her in the Morning, prepare her accordingly in her preceeding Supper, with Weathering (taking the air outside) that she may come sharp set’.

A hawks needed a good night’s rest, called jouking, and must not suffer gurgiping, which was when it had eaten too much. Then it would need to enseame, which was the ‘purging of her glut and grease’.

A happy hawk would feak, or wipe its beak after feeding, and then mantle, or stretch one wing after another, having already stretched its legs, getting down then to endue, or digest quietly, a good feed which may also have included some sweets!