So you want to train a falcon? It’s easy to understand the attraction o  falconry, the ancient sport of hunting wild prey with a trained hawk. It is, however, a pastime that requires immense reserves of dedication, not to mention time and money. No wonder it’s a sport that’s traditionally been the preserve of royalty and the nobility.

One of the first things you’ll need to look into is your legal situation – check local laws governing the ownership and upkeep of birds of prey, as well as legislation concerning hunting and game. You may well have to pass formal exams and will almost certainly need to apply for specific licences. Do your research, read as many books as you can, undertake practical courses and ask the advice of experienced falconers – hawks are not household pets.

In the USA, novice falconry is limited to red-tailed hawks or American kestrels. Meanwhile, the British Falconers’ Club recommends that beginners start with either a red-tailed or a Harris hawk. Beginners’ birds are almost always captive-bred. You’ll have to provide suitable accommodation (a ‘mews’), and need a range of equipment that includes jesses (leather straps for the legs), a swivel and leash to secure the bird, bells, a hood to keep the bird calm (especially during early training), an identity tag and a perch, and most importantly from your own point of view, heavy gloves.

Your first job is to ‘man’ the bird, getting it used to humans. Encourage it to fly to your (gloved) fist with a tasty morsel of meat. Make a distinctive sound with the lips or tongue, or whistle as the bird eats, so it associates that particular noise with food. Once a bond of trust is formed, you can introduce it to the disturbances of the wider world, such as dogs, traffic and other people.

Once the bird will eat happily from the glove, you can introduce the creance, a longer line, and train your bird to return to hand immediately from perches up to 30 metres (100 ft) away. The next stage is to train with a lure – a leather weight on a rope to which food can be attached. As you get more adept at swinging the lure, you will be able to experience the bird making dramatic approaches from long distances, swooping past at high speeds.

Finally, you are ready for free flight. This is when the bird is completely untethered and could fly away to freedom. At this point, many falconers fit their birds with radio-tracking transmitters just in case!