THE FALCONERS OF THE EASTERN PONTOS

IMG_3823-1000x666Alexander Christie-Miller at The White Review:

Each autumn as the cold spreads across Russia and Eastern Europe it sets in train a vast migration of birds of prey. Passing through the Caucasus and entering Anatolia, eagles, kites, harriers, buzzards and hawks gather in the thousands where they travel through narrow bottlenecks formed by the passes of the Kaçkar Mountains.

A few months before I witnessed this spectacle myself, I had met a Turkish conservationist who described a tradition connected with it. As the migration reaches its peak in September, the men of the region send their children to hunt for an insect, a large burrowing cricket. This is placed alive inside a trap where it acts as bait for a bird, the red-backed shrike. Once the shrike is caught it is tethered to a long pole, which, after two or three days, it becomes accustomed to using as a perch. Equipped with these aerial rods, the men take to the mountains to fish the skies for sparrowhawks. Attracted by the fluttering of the shrike, the hawks plunge into nets. From that moment, the men keep the birds with them almost constantly, and within only a few hours a hawk has forgotten its wildness to the point that it is content to eat from a man’s fist. Within as little as a week, it may trust its new keeper so completely that it will fall asleep on his hand. When the birds are thoroughly tame, usually within ten days, they are taken out to the cornfields to hunt quail, which pass through the region on a parallel migration. The hawk is held in the palm of the hand and cast like a winged javelin at its quarry. If properly trained, the bird will remain with its kill until its captor comes to retrieve it. After about a month and a half of hunting in this way, when the quail season ends, the hawks are released back into the wild to complete their migration, bound for North Africa or the Mediterranean.

more here.

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