As long ago as 2000 BC, the Chinese learned to harness the falcon's fearful energy in a sport known as falconry. This popular hunting game flourished throughout the ancient kingdoms of Persia, India, Japan, and Arabia, and it is till practiced today. Falconry was the rage in Western Europe from the Middle Ages through the seventeenth century; it was enjoyed by kings, nobles, and even ladies. Even Juliet wished to lure Romeo by imitating the gentle sound of the falconer's voice. Many an aristocrat posed for a portrait with a falcon perched peacefully on the wrist.
While the nobility amused themselves with falcons in sport, artists turned the bird into symbols of victory. Pictures abounded showing the falcon with its talons ripping into a wild hare, the falcon representing the triumph over flesh and the hare standing for defeated lust. Printers and bookmakers adopted the image of a hooded falcon as their emblem, using it to symbolize hope.
The image of the falcon as a visitor goes even farther - to the ancient Egyptians who associated the falcon with many of their deities. Both the sky god Horus and the sun god Ra appear in the form of a falcon or as a falcon-headed man. Often sculptures of falcons with human heads were placed in the pharaoh's tomb because it was believed that the king's soul might visit his mummified body in the shape of a falcon.
Members of the hawk family, falcons range in size from the falconet, that is no longer that a man's hand, to the large gyrfalcon. The birds are found in all parts of the world except Antarctica. Because the female is larger than the male, she is sometimes preferred for falconry. Unlike other hawks, falcons do not build their own nests, but lay eggs on the ground, cliffs or ledges, or take over the abandoned nests of crows and hawks.
The number of falcons is rapidly declining the world over. The effects of the insecticide DDT has made the falcon's egg shells so brittle that they often break before hatching. With painstaking care conservationists and ornithologists are slowly attempting to reverse this trend. Hopefully, someday this regal bird will once more reign in the wilderness.