The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s announcement to allow for the full spectrum of falconry activities to be practiced in the province is met with utter relief, joy, appreciation, and gratitude. The decision is the result of nearly four decades of collaborative effort by the OFAH and the Ontario Hawking Club (OHC) working with MNRF to see falconry flourish in Ontario. As a falconer and former director of the OHC, chairwoman of the OFAH Small Game Advisory Committee, and someone who has worked on this initiative, the announcement also has deep personal meaning.
Considered an art, falconry is an ancient hunting tradition that involves taking quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of a trained bird of prey, and has changed very little over thousands of years. It is one of the oldest forms of hunting still in practice around the world and transcends culture, religion, politics, age and gender. It is inherently sustainable and gave rise to the study of ornithology, captive breeding of raptors, and many other contributions to conservation.
In Ontario, the art of falconry was initially practiced in the late 1960s and 1970s by a handful of falconers. By the early 1980s, small numbers of falconers and a lack of falconry regulations, in combination with the political and popular opinion that reflected significant opposition to all forms of hunting, put falconry at risk of being lost entirely in Ontario. In response to this significant threat, the OHC was formed in 1984 with 11 members, becoming the first falconry-specific OFAH member club.
The traditional practice of falconry involves the live capture of a suitable raptor and allowing a bond to develop between bird and human through consistent, highly specialized training and hunting (sharing) of quarry captured by the bird of prey. Birds are often released back into the wild at the end of the hunting season. Beginning in the 1980s, and at the continual behest of OFAH and OHC, regulations in Ontario were implemented and improved in ways that have allowed for most of the traditional practice of falconry to occur.
OFAH support for falconry has remained steadfast over the years, leading to a long-term collaboration with the OHC. While falconers and the OHC had unique expertise and experience, the OFAH, as the largest hunting and conservation organization in the country, was able to assist with lobbying efforts through communication platforms like Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine, providing support in negotiations with politicians, engaging with staff at the MNRF, hosting and participating in the provincial Falconry Advisory Committee, and voting on numerous falconry issues at OFAH Advisory Committee and Board of Directors levels. The collaborative relationship between the OFAH and OHC has endured through successive provincial governments, as well as multiple leadership changes in both organizations.
The ability to engage in live-capture and release of falconry birds is the most recent and final step to allowing for full participation in falconry. A concerted joint effort was undertaken by the OFAH and OHC beginning in 2006 in order to achieve this final and significant missing step. In 2011, MNRF approved a permit system to allow for licensed falconers to capture and train raptors in Ontario. However, the process was considerably limited because only 25 permits were available each year, the lottery system for permits lacked transparency, and goshawks were excluded for no biological reason. In 2020, with nearly 10 years of data that demonstrates success in implementation, and no concerns for biological sustainability, the OFAH and OHC jointly requested a review and expansion of live-capture of raptors for falconry. We are collectively pleased and welcome the MNRF’s decision.
On a personal note, falconry has and continues to be my greatest gift and inspiration. When I began to learn falconry in 2004, only captive-bred raptors were allowed. Although my first bird was a Harris’ hawk, it’s an experience I will never regret. The depth of the bond I shared with my bird is the reason I became a hunter, a devotee of falconry, and an ardent supporter of the OFAH. The MNRF’s decision goes far beyond a legal or administrative action about licensing. It’s a demonstration that the ancient art of falconry is both valid and valued in Ontario. For that, I am eternally grateful.
This post was written by Maya Basdeo — a member of the OFAH Board of Directors and Chair of the OFAH Small Game, Migratory Bird & Wetlands Advisory Committee