Gleneagles Townhouse
Falconry at Gleneagles

The Sky’s The Limit

28 June 2023

Fall in love with Gleneagles beautiful birds of prey on a life-affirming falconry experience.

One of the undisputed joys of any holiday is the break it offers from the routine. At Gleneagles, surrounded by the beauty of the Scottish wilderness, visitors are invited to step away from their daily life and immerse themselves in the great outdoors, with a life-affirming range of activities, spanning shooting and fishing, off-road driving and forays into the mountains to choose from, as well as the opportunity for a close encounter with Gleneagles’ impressive collection of birds of prey.

“Falconry is your best chance of getting up close and personal with magnificent birds of prey that you’d normally only see from a distance,” says Richard Scott, who fell in love with falconry at a young age and – having originally joined as a volunteer – now heads up Gleneagles’ falconry school. One of the foremost locations for falconry in Scotland, the school’s expert team of instructors offer group and individual bird of prey experiences tailored to suit novices and experienced handlers alike. “There aren’t many places where you’re able to enjoy a hands-on experience. Here, guests have the chance to handle and fly them, learn their traits and habits in the wild and witness what they do best when we go hunting.”

A tradition dating back four thousand years, falconry – the ancient art of catching wild quarry with a trained bird of prey – has a vivid history with global origins. While accounts vary as to whether it first originated in Asia or the Middle East, there are scores of stories detailing fishermen using cormorants to dive for fish, Iranian royalty hunting with falcons and Mongolians on the steppe using eagles to catch foxes and wolves.

According to Richard, falconry arrived in the UK after the Crusades and swiftly became known as a noble pursuit. “Here it was called the sport of kings and what title you held would determine the bird you’d fly,” he says, explaining how kings Fall in love with Gleneagles beautiful birds of prey on a life-affirming falconry experience 12 would fly eagles and big falcons; queens and princesses dainty birds such as merlins and hobbies, while the low-ranking knave would get the kestrel. One of the most prolific birds, the goshawk, was known as the cook’s bird, who flew them to provide food for the big house. “The definition of falconry has changed over the years though,” says Richard. “Nowadays we’re focused on taking people out to enjoy the experience of flying these incredible birds.”

As well as Harris’s hawks – an American cousin of the buzzard found in the UK – the Gleneagles falconry school also counts peregrine falcons, tawny eagles and barn owls among its number as well as and golden eagles which are native to Scotland and mark a conservation success story with 1,000 breeding couples in the wild. “They were persecuted quite harshly but there’s now a lot of conservation and tracking and monitoring of the young,” says Richard. “That is the best part of my job: we get families and young children coming here who then fall in love with these birds of prey and that means more people who don’t want these birds to come to harm in the wild.”

Richard’s team offers a range of memorable experiences, including family flying lessons on the lawn and a ‘Walk with Hawk’ excursion, which enables newcomers to build confidence with the bird on the glove. Guests can expect to learn how to handle the birds using equipment such as jesses – leather straps attached to the birds’ legs – as well as their body language and movement. More experienced falconers might fly Harris hawks at rabbits and game birds in season on local sporting estates, fuelled by optional gamekeepers’ picnics. “Our main goal is to share with our guests the same incredible feeling that we had when a bird of prey first flew back to us,” says Richard. “We tailor lessons to suit all of our guests – not everyone wants to go hunting so sometimes we walk into the woods instead, which gives a very different type of experience. The settings that we’re flying these birds of prey in is spectacular.”

Falconry is a lifelong passion for Richard and his team, whose training of each bird includes manning – basic handling of the bird – through to the establishment of trust as they learn to take food from the glove. “Our role is essentially doing what their mother would do and helping them learn to chase down prey using their natural instincts,” says Richard, before sharing one of his career highlights. “Training my first bird from start to finish and catching something with her – that’s when all the hard work and dedication pays off and you become a falconer.”