For centuries, raptors, or birds of prey, were invaluable hunting aides, trained by nobles in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe to hunt and return on command.
Today, these birds, which include the peregrine falcon, Red Tail hawk, Harris Hawk, and the cooshawk, have evolved aerodynamic bodies that allow them to swoop down on their prey at astonishing speeds; the peregrine, for example, can reach a descending speed of 200 miles per hour.
But with the introduction of firearms, hunters began to see raptors as nuisances, and increasingly the birds were subject to being shot on sight. Many became endangered species, surviving mainly through the efforts of conservationists and organizations such as the Falconry and Raptor Education Foundation of West Virginia, which trains raptors to reclaim the hunting traits of their ancestors.
The training is highly regulated by state and federal governments, and the knowledge it requires to teach the birds is hard earned -- something that is passed down from one generation of trainers to the next.
Learn more about the Falconry and Raptor Education Foundation.