Thursday, May 22, 2008


Today I take a break from the controversy brewing here in London and turn my attention to a very pleasant subject indeed, falconry. This is the sport, or some might say the art, of keeping a bird of prey and hunting with it. Part of this art is maintaining the environment - most falconers are also environmentalists, such as the ones who researched DDT in the '60s and made it illegal to use in many countries. Were it not for them, we might not have the Peregrine Falcon or the Bald Eagle in the US.

Birds of prey are of course carnivores, their niche in the system is keeping down rodents and avian pests, but hemp ties in to all this as well. Specifically, hemp has been used in raptor medicine for centuries, by both Mughal and Anglo-Indian practicioners - the former being Raja Rudradeva, of the latter, Col Phillott and Maj Ewing. A book published by the Eryr Press, which uses hemp paper in its titles, mentions all of these (pp. 44,121,128,130 of One Thousand Years of Falconry). Another book by the same press, Musings of an Afghan Falconer, makes further note on p. 210.

Perhaps more indirectly, hemp figures into their diet in that hemp is a favourite food of many prey species, such as pigeons, quail, partridge, finches, crows, etc. One finch is named after hemp - the Linnet, whose Latin name is Carduelis cannabinis. Hemp is rich in protein and GLAs, so not surprising that birds love it. In 1970, James Vance lameted the depletion of feral hemp from the landscape in North America because it was a loss to the hunting community. His article was titled "Marijuana is for the Birds" - but that may be misleading, as hemp is not marjuana; both are Cannabis sativa, but marijuana is only C. sativa whose leaves and buds contain a high percentage of THC. Most hemp does not, and it grows tall and thin rather than short and bushy. Any variety however is good for birds, it is not thought that they have cannabireceptors in their brains as do humans.

Another aspect of falconry into which hemp may figure is the ubiquitous hawking bag, most of which are made of cotton. For those browsing this site, they will see that I object to cotton as it is a monocrop which uses lots of pesticides and depletes the water supply. Hemp is a tough fibre and can easily replace cotton for our field gear. One also might mention that falconry can be used for avian pest control, US government literature on the subject estimates that one hawk can patrol 200 acres. For areas where birds pests such as Quelea quelea devestate fields and occasion the use of harmful chemical avicides, this is good news.

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