Celebrations in King’s Lynn on the 13th/14th June to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta included a visit by three impressive birds of prey and two owls.
The birds were present on Sunday morning in a shelter which was part of a mock-up of a mediaeval market. It was brilliant to have such a close-up view of two Harris Hawks, a Gyr Falcon, a Eurasian Eagle Owl and a Barn Owl called Horace. I was able to see their features, the colouring of their feathers, and the awesome power of their bills and talons.
They were to have taken part in flying demonstrations over both days of the week-end, but this was brought to an end on Saturday, because local gulls did not like the idea, particularly as it was during the nesting season. (King’s Lynn, being next to the River Great Ouse, and having a port, has good numbers of gulls.)
The owner of the birds of prey explained that when he tried to fly a bird on Saturday, loads of gulls took to the air and began mobbing it. These tactics involved the gulls launching themselves towards the crowds watching in the historic Tuesday Market Place, occasionally jettisoning bombs of poo.
Indeed, while I was in the Market Place on Sunday chatting to him, I had a taste of the excitement this must have caused. One of the Harris Hawks was photographed with her owner in the open and then returned to her perch, and a gull then immediately made two or three swooping warning flights from a roof down towards the shelter.
I could see three or four gulls were keeping a cautious eye on proceedings from the rooftops. I must admit I like the gulls as well, they are adaptable and clever and have an audacious swagger, and you can’t blame any bird for wanting to defend itself and its young. I didn’t feel threatened in any way, and it was good to experience really wild behaviour from wild creatures.
Gulls keep watch from the rooftops.
In mediaeval times, falconry, or hawking as it was sometimes known, was a favourite pastime for royalty and the nobility, and grand hunting parties were organised. Falcons, hawks and sometimes eagles, were taken from their nests when young and trained to hunt small wild game or birds.
Using birds of prey in this manner was usually restricted to the wealthy as it was expensive – the birds required special housing and equipment. “The Boke of St Albans”, a book printed in St Albans in 1486, sets out the “Laws of Ownership” of hunting birds. For example, a Gyr Falcon was reserved for a king, a Peregrine Falcon for a prince, a Saker Falcon for a knight, a Merlin for a Lady, and a Kestrel for a knave, servant or child.
The birds visiting King’s Lynn this week-end came from nearby Wisbech, in Cambridgeshire, and travel all over the country assisting with “pest control”.
An entry in “Wikiepedia” points out that the last 30 years have seen a resurgence in the popularity of falconry with a host of innovations. Also, flying displays at country houses and game fairs have boosted its popularity to a level perhaps not seen for the last 300 years, the article adds.