Falcon Fever

I just got a copy of Falcon Fever by Tim Gallagher from Houghton Mifflin. Some of you may be familiar with Tim as an award winning nature photographer, or from when he was an editor for WildBird Magazine, or as the current editor of Living Bird Magazine, or as one of the guys who rediscovered the ivory-billed woodpecker.

I interviewed Tim a couple of years ago about the ivory-bill search. As he was giving me pretty much the same answers that everyone else was getting, I remembered that someone told me he was a falconer. I asked him what he like to fly as a falconer and the whole interview changed, his face lit up and he became animated as he described flying merlins and peregrines. This is a true passion for him.

If you do not know anything about falconry, this book is a good way to be introduced to it. The first half focuses on his brutal childhood with an alcoholic and abusive father. Falconry became a release for him and a way to connect with nature and wildlife. Anyone who has ever felt the pull to the wild will thrill along with Tim's adventures and his early trainings of hawks. You will also learn some surprising things about Tim--like he did a few drugs and even spent time in jail! I was on the edge of my seat as I read that and wondered how he made it from such a low point in his life to where he is now. The book doesn't really explain that and if I have one thing I would change, it would be to tell that story.

The second half of the book does not focus on that journey but starts at a point later in his life, after the ivory-bill rediscovery and he feels the need to reconnect with falconry and retrace one of his boyhood idols Frederick II, the thirteenth century Holy Roman Emperor who wrote one of the earliest falconry manuals. Tim spends a year going to falconry meets, hunting with some of the worlds best falconers, and taking roads much less traveled in Italy and trace the steps and history of Frederick II.

If you know someone who is a falconer, they will love this book as a gift and probably recognize many of the names mentioned. If you are curious as to what this falconry thing is all about--this explains the magic and thrill these obsessed hunters find in the fields with their birds. Falconry is not about a person and their pet bird, but a hunting partnership between human and bird--one where the bird can decide to leave the human if the human doesn't keep up. This is a well written book and easy to read, I recommend it.