Falconers have been working with captive birds of prey for over 2,000 years, and there are currently around 20,000 registered falconers worldwide. While many show the greatest respect and care for their birds, not all do. There is a lot of cruelty in the industry. In particular, practices such as tethering are under scrutiny for their lack of regulation. It’s time to give birds the freedom to fly!
Birds in Zoos
Tethering involves restraining raptors by attaching a short leash to soft anklets on their legs and then to a perch. Wild raptors naturally perch in one spot for long periods of time, often resting after meals or during moulting. But, there is a difference between choosing to remain in one spot and being unable to move. Poor conditions and badly maintained perches also cause foot problems in birds of prey, and tethering can reduce the opportunity to perform other natural behaviours such as free flight or dust bathing.
Regulation of Birds in Captivity
In the UK, there are minimal laws on the sale and ownership of raptors; anyone can own one as long as they have proof that the bird is captive-bred. A suitable aviary should be a minimum of double the wingspan of the species though regulations explicitly state the bigger, the better; small enclosure cause stress. Laws in America are much stricter. They require people to pass training courses (including a written exam and education in responsible hunting practices) and undergo regular inspections. The downside, however, is that you can take raptor chicks from the wild in America, providing they are not an endangered species. While these laws are essential in principle for ensuring the care of captive birds, they can only protect the birds if they are strictly enforced.
Tethering and Training
Tethering of birds of prey is not just prevalent in falconry circles; it also occurs in zoos. Regulations for zoos state captive animals should be able to express normal behaviours (and what could be more normal to a bird than flying?), which they can’t always do when attached to perch. It is also difficult to imagine that birds tethered in open spaces for constant public viewing, including nocturnal species and immature birds with delicate growing bones, are not distressed by this practice.
UK-based charity Freedom For Animals recently produced a report highlighting the conditions under which many captive birds of prey suffer. They are campaigning to give birds the freedom to fly by ceasing tethering in zoos and are encouraging everyone to contact their government. Where birds are captive, they are fighting for stricter regulations and monitoring of conditions. Please see our campaigns page for how to contact the Department for Food and Rural Affairs in the UK.
Bird of prey displays can be exciting to watch but so is seeing them in the wild! Why not visit a local park or area of countryside with your binoculars to watch birds as they should be; wild and flying free? You won’t regret it!
Blog by OneKind Planet writer, Ami Patrick.