Although biologists now place hawks and falcons in separate families, ancient and medieval people did not distinguish clearly between the two.
Egyptian representations of the god Horus, for example, combined features of several species, though the most important model is probably the peregrine falcon.
In the early 20th Century the Irish poet W. B. Yeats used the image of a circling falcon to represent the social and cosmic order in his famous poem “The Second Coming.” And he got something ‘wrong’ too! Can you spot a factual error in the first stanza?
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Falcons don’t respond to auditory cues from their handlers. Yes, I suppose Yeats is technically correct that a distant falcon won’t actually “hear” the falconer, but my point is that’s not how they communicate to begin with.
A few days ago I mingled in a crowd of perhaps 100 bird watchers clustered around a falconer. The falcon was easily half a mile away, high up out of camera range, circling lazily. The handler, seemingly indistinguishable from the rest of us, simply raised one hand, not even above his head but just about nose level, and wriggled three fingers.
That’s all it took! Immediately the falcon banked and dove down at his trademark 240mph to land lightly on the handler’s arm.
In what is probably the oldest animal fable to have come down to us from the Greeks, Hesiod used a hawk to represent the inexorable power of fate.
A hawk had caught a nightingale in his claws and carried her high into the clouds, at which point she began to weep.
The hawk rebuked her, saying, “Goodness, why are you screaming? . . . He is a fool who seeks to compete against the stronger: he both loses the struggle and suffers injury on top of insult” (Works and Days, p. 43).
🙂 🙂 🙂
[All photos taken Christmas week in Tucson, AZ]