I’m not sure which surprised me more, reading this article in today’s Wall Street Journal – to learn that 21st century airports employ falconers to keep gulls and geese out of the way of jets, or that due to budget constraints, JFK airport is replacing falcons with shotguns.
No doubt there’s some reason, dating back to when air travel was less common, that a major airport is located so close to a national bird sanctuary. If people want to protect birds enough to maintain a sanctuary, you’d think it would also make sense to find a way to keep the birds and the jets apart. You can hardly expect the birds to stay in their own airspace – they’re birds, and to a bird, the sky belongs to them, unless it already belongs to a predator.
Falconry seems like an ideal solution. For fifteen years, apparently the people in charge of the airport thought so too. But guns are cheaper than falcons. They don’t eat or require training, and the people using them don’t require nearly as much training either.
Apparently it takes a lot of dedication to become a falconer. I’m not surprised to learn that; I’m surprised that enough people have the interest – and opportunity (money, time, access to land) – that the North American Falconers Association has almost two thousand members. I don’t know how many of those members are active falconers (as opposed to just supporting the sport’s goals), but if you had asked me a few hours ago, I would have guessed there were perhaps only a few dozen – if that many – falconers in the country.
I like reading both historical fiction, especially that set in medieval times, and fantasy novels, many of which have a setting much like medieval times, even if on another planet or in an alternate universe. So the idea of falconry is a familiar one to me – but one that belonged strictly to medieval times.
It’s popular these days, at least in certain quarters, to re-create the arts and skills of medieval life. My husband used to be a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and we used to go to Renaissance fairs when we got the chance. I don’t remember meeting any falconers, but it seems the sort of thing that would interest people in the SCA. Falconry is in fact listed in the SCA’s Newcomer’s Guide – though on just the next page it mentions living on a shoestring budget (many of my husband’s SCA friends were fellow college students), which would tend to preclude falconry.
Falconry is apparently more popular in other parts of the world, and got a relatively recent start in North America. Like hunters with non-living weapons, falconers take a strong interest in good wildlife management. They played a major role in helping the Peregrine falcon population develop to the point it could be taken off the endangered species list.
Too bad falcons have also been taken off the payroll at JFK.