An exciting element of the thrice daily flying displays here is the demonstration of lure swinging provided by the falconers and their birds.
A lure is a small prey dummy that is attached to a long line,or creance, allowing it to be swung and, thus, animated by the falconer. To a falcon, the lure represents food and in order to win the food, he must interact with and compete with the falconer.
For visitors to the sanctuary, this interplay between man and bird offers an opportunity to observe the incredible speed and agility of the falcons and to appreciate their effectiveness as predators at the top of the food chain. For the falconers, it offers a perfect means of exercising the falcons and hawks and ensures that the birds’ fitness levels are maintained.
The basic premise of the activity is to channel the innate hunting instincts of the birds into working effectively with their handlers. Historically, the lure would be designed to imitate prey, as it would be specifically used to train birds to hunt. Although birds are not trained to hunt at the sanctuary, they must still be attracted to the lure to the exclusion of surrounding activity, so the art of swinging the lure is a skill which all the falconry staff must master.
As with many “hands on” skills, lure swingingowes as much to the intuition and sensitivity of the falconer as it does to rigid rules of procedure and although the basics can be learnt relatively quickly, it takes many years for an individual to perfect his own technique. Rhythm, speed, anticipation and control are all essential skills.
Many falconers will relate that months of practice in handling the lure, familiarising yourself with its weight and reading the swing of the line are essential before even attempting to work with a bird. Once that's achieved, the falconer swings the lure above his head in a circular motion, luring the bird in to try to catch the “prey” (known as “binding on”) in a series of breathtaking dives, swerves and flicks. As the bird approaches, the falconer whisks the lure away at the last moment and the bird “passes” and rises again.
A skilled falconer can lure a bird just an inch over his head, then pass it down by his feet and even to within inches of his face. (Whilst training, the latter manoeuvre is the cause of many a falconers' bruised face…..and pride!)
After a sensational aerial display of stoops andturns, the falconer eventually allows the bird to bind onto the lure and rewards it with food.
The sanctuary’s youngest member of the falconry team, Harry, has recently been introduced to the discipline of lure swinging and his initial session was with April, the Lanner falcon. April was chosen as she was not yet back to full fitness after recuperating from a grazed wing - as Harry acknowledged, a fitter, faster bird “would have taken advantage of me and stolen a quick meal”!
As a novice lure swinger, he was well suited to working with April with whom he felt familiar and confident - as with most creatures, birds can intuitively tell if a handler is nervous and will see an opportunity to gain the upper hand.
During his latest practice session, Harry received helpful advice from more experienced falconers and is well on the way to sharing their responsibilities for conditioning work with the falcons and hawks.
Lure work demonstrated in such close proximity allows visitors an appreciation of the strength, agility, efficiency and highly tuned senses of these magnificent birds of prey and a greater understanding of the essential role they play in the ecological cycle.