The New International Encyclopædia/Falcon

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The New International Encyclopædia
Edition of 1905. See also Falcon on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

FALCON (OF. faucon, falcon, It. falcone, from Lat. falco, falcon, from falx, sickle). Broadly, any hawk of the family Falconidæ, more usually and scientifically one of those species which, in the language of falconry, were styled ‘noble’ birds of prey. The true falcons are characterized by a bill curved from the base, the upper mandible hooked at the point, and the cutting edge of the upper mandible furnished with a prominent projection or ‘tooth.’ The claws are also sharp, curved, and strong; and in accordance with all this powerful armature the whole frame is very robust and muscular. The legs are rather short, and have great power in striking or seizing prey. The breast-bone and shoulder-girdle are large and adapted for the attachment of powerful muscles; the wings are long and pointed. The true falcons are bolder in proportion to their size than any other of the Falconidæ, even the eagles. Their acuteness of vision is wonderful, and they have very great powers of flight. A falcon is recorded as having traversed the distance between Fontainebleau and Malta, not less than 1350 miles, in 24 hours. They soar to a prodigious height in the air, always endeavoring to outsoar any bird of which they may be in pursuit, and to swoop down upon it from above; although it is far more difficult for them to rise vertically in a calm atmosphere than for birds of short and rounded wing, and they either rise obliquely — often making their onward flight in a series of arcs — or avail themselves of the wind, and by flying against it are borne aloft as a boy's kite is.

The species are numerous and widely distributed. Some of them are of very wide range, while others are peculiar to certain countries or climates. The best-known American species are the gyrfalcon (q.v.), formerly confused with the Iceland falcon and the Greenland falcon, and the peregrine falcon, known in the United States as duck-hawk, of which the female is par excellence ‘the falcon’ of falconers, and the male is the ‘tercel,’ ‘tiercel,’ or ‘tercelet.’ The hobby (Falco subbutco); the red-footed or red-legged falcon (Falco rufipes), a small species, much resembling the hobby; the merlin (Falco æsalon); and the kestrel or windhover (Falco tinnuneulus), are common and well-known English species. The gyrfalcon and peregrine are European also. The name falcon is sometimes extended to cover all of the various birds included in the Falconidæ, some 350 species, of which about one-tenth occur in the United States. The birds commonly called buzzards, eagles, kites, hawks, harriers, ospreys, and caracaras (qq.v.) are usually included in that family, but it is obviously confusing to call them all falcons, and the word is better restricted therefore to the genus Falco, in its present restricted sense.

For the use of falcons in sport, see Falconry; for books relating to the family, see Birds, and consult Fisher, Hawks and Owls of the United States (Washington, 1893); and for portraits, see Plates of Eagles and Hawks, and Falcons and Falconry.


NIE 1905 Falcons and Falconry.jpg
1. A FALCONER OF THE 17th CENTURY, CARRYING HAWKS AFIELD. 4. PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus}, on portable perch.
2. GOSHAWK (Astur palumbarius). 5. GYRFALCON (Falco gyrfalco).
3. KESTREL (Tinnunculus alaudarius). 6. A FALCON'S HOOD.