About 100 falconers — people who train birds of prey to hunt wild quarry such as quail and rabbits — are expected to attend a falconry meet in Tucson later this week.

Sponsored by the Arizona Falconers Association, the Desert Hawking Classic is open to people who train and hunt with hawks, falcons, eagles or owls.

It will be held at the Radisson Suites Tucson from Thursday, Jan. 24, to Sunday, Jan. 27. Falconers plan to bring their birds to the meet.

“We are expecting somewhere in the area of 100 people including (association) members and others interested in the sport of falconry,” said Charlie Kaiser, president of Arizona Falconers. “There will be people from Louisiana, Minnesota, Texas, Washington, Oregon and California.”

Kaiser said people become passionate about falconry for many reasons.

“To call a wild hawk out of the sky, convince it to be your hunting partner, and be able to let it fly off and know it will return to you — well, what could be finer?” he said. “Falconry also gives us an up-close and personal connection to the world of nature, to the age-old predator-prey relationship.

“Falconry is an advanced form of bird-watching. We see parts of their lives no one else ever sees.”

Most events at the Desert Hawking Classic are open only to people registered for the event and not the general public. Kaiser provided an email address —

meetinfo@arizonafalconers.com — for members of the public interested in attending an apprentice workshop.

BECOMING A FALCONER

Falconry, according to the association and other sources, dates back some 4,000 years with origins in Asia and Europe.

It is, Kaiser emphasized, a pursuit that requires an extended period of training, an apprenticeship, and licensing by a state wildlife agency. There are an estimated 4,000 licensed falconers in the United States.

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The association listed these requirements for becoming a licensed falconer in Arizona:

  • Be at least 14 years of age.
  • Find a general or master falconer who will sponsor you.
  • Complete a minimum of a two-year apprenticeship.
  • Successfully pass an exam administered by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
  • Have the space and funds to build the proper enclosure — called a mew— for a bird of prey.
  • Pass the Arizona Game and Fish inspection of your mew.
  • Purchase the necessary equipment to train, house, and hunt with a bird of prey.
  • Ensure that you can provide the proper food for a bird of prey.
  • Purchase an Arizona small-game hunting license.
  • Apply for and purchase an Arizona falconry license.

Once licensed, a falconer can be coached by others as to how to trap a bird and train it.

“It’s all about the right training and convincing the bird that it’s better to stick with you than going off on its own” when it’s released to hunt, said Kaiser, who has been a licensed falconer for 22 years.

“The techniques include positive reinforcement and providing food for the bird,” he said. “Think along the lines of training a new dog. It’s the same basic thought process. The bird develops a bond with you.”

Kaiser and others emphasize that falconry is not “pet keeping.”

“The physical and mental health of the bird is always first and foremost,” according to Falconers Association documents.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@tucson.com or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz