Kestrel Lands On Camerman’s Head + Medieval Falconry

On August 26, 2013 by Tim Newman

Eagle Owl - Falconry - medieval LARGE

I recently attended a medieval festival in the grounds of Herstmonceux castle. At this auspicious event they had a collection of birds of prey, as you might expect, and they were a joy to behold. Us humans have a long and intimate history with birds of prey, in medieval England the type of bird you kept was a sign of your status. In the table below you can see what types of birds you should have kept dependent on your ranking in society.

This list of appropriate birds was not just a “how to” guide or a rule of best practice, oh no Sir. If you were a lowly knave and were caught carrying a peregrine falcon, for instance, you could find yourself having your hands chopped off! It was seen as a flagrant act of rebellion against the class system and a puke in the eyes of the noble gents that deserved such a magnificent bird.

King: Gyr Falcon (male & female)
Prince: Peregrine Falcon
Duke: Rock Falcon (subspecies of Peregrine)
Earl: Tiercel Peregrine
Baron: Bastarde Hawk
Knight: Saker
Squire: Lanner
Lady: Female Merlin
Yeoman: Goshawk or Hobby
Priest: Female Sparrowhawk
Holy water Clerk: Male Sparrowhawk
Knaves, servants, children: Kestrel

Falconry was massively popular throughout Europe from 500-1600AD and as such brought a few common phrases into the language which are still hanging around to this very day:

A cadger was a chap that used to carry a portable cage around for the falconer, these fellas were generally old, retired falconers themselves and it’s thought the word gave rise to the term ‘old codger.’

When a raptor has a drink it is called bowsing, and when it was very thirsty and drinking loads it was called a boozer.

When you wanted to retrieve prey from the talons of a bird of prey you put a hood over it’s eyes, this action was called hoodwinked. Click here for more falconry terms in English. Although from doing a little more reading, I’m not sure how accurate that information is that I gave you. Sorry about that.

Anyway, what I was going to show you is this video of a guy that saw a juvenile kestrel in his garden so went out to film it. Then the little blighter landed on his head. Pretty cool, but it would have been better if the bird had relieved himself (or herself) on his head. That would have been brilliant. But there you go.


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