Kester Freriks

The Falcon

On falconry and wild birds

At seventeen Kester Freriks, a passionate birdwatcher, found a peregrine falcon, Falco peregrinus, in the peatland of the eastern Netherlands. The bird of prey had missed its quarry in the air and incurred minor injuries as a result. Freriks took it home and put it in a cardboard box. Then he bought everything the secondhand bookseller in his village could come up with on the subject. He wanted to know what to feed his peregrine.

So began Freriks’ fascination with falconry, born out of the close affinity he already had for wild birds. Thirty-six years later he has united his two passions in a unique book, which combines every facet of the cultural history of falconry with observations on how falcons live in the wild. His account is gripping, indeed magnetic, with a poignant ending.

For anyone interested in falconry, The Falcon is a gift from heaven, just as that original bird had been for the author. Freriks expertly considers the emergence, rise and decline of falconry in Europe, especially Italy, Britain, Germany, France, Iceland, Sweden and the Netherlands. He writes warmly of Frederik II of Hohenstaufen of southern Italy, a thirteenth-century hands-on falconer and the author of De Arte Venandi cum Avibus (The Art of Hunting with Birds), ‘unsurpassed as a manual and study of the training of hunting falcons’, in which he recommends weighing the bird every morning. If she is too light (they are always females, being larger than the male) she will not be powerful enough to hunt. Too heavy and her appetite for hunting will weaken and she may fly away.

The falcon, the fastest bird in the world, capable of reaching speeds of three hundred kilometres an hour, is an unparalleled hunter. Falconers have a deep bond with their raptors, which they repeatedly allow to fly free. A bird returning from high in the sky to its master’s hand is a unique spectacle, described lovingly here by Freriks. Clearly he felt liberated at being able to express his lifelong passion for this ‘beauty on the fist’ so infectiously, and with such verve and wisdom.

  • Brings together the world of tame falcons with that of wild birds of prey
  • Describes different methods of catching falcons: the Scots take young birds from the nest, while the Dutch catch adult birds
  • First ever account of the hazardous and thrilling seventeenth-century ‘falcon trips’ to Iceland by Dutch ships

A magnificent book, a standard work in the field.

NRC Handelsblad

I really like the opening scene of discovery and enchantment, the cut-away to White, by which Freriks manages his own transformation from owner or healer, to obsessive.

Robert Macfarlane, author of <em>The Wild Places</em>

What makes The Falcon such a remarkable book is that it so smoothly unites different elements. It is both a novel and non-fiction, encompassing three thousand years of cultural history in prose fragments, poetry and illustrations. It touches upon all manner of things: the falconry tradition, court customs, the ecology of the wild bird, and all in chiselled prose.

Jan Siebelink, author of <em>Kneeling on a bed of violets</em>

Kester Freriks

Kester Freriks is the author of NRC Handelsblad’s much-praised feature ‘Birdwatching’ and its series ‘Scenes from Nature’, as well as fiction, poems and essays. His novel Hölderlin’s Tower (1981) was awarded the Van der Hoogt Prize, and his other books include the biography Secret East

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De valk. Over valkerij en wilde vogels (2008). Non-fiction, 223 pages.
Words: 77,000
Copies sold: 4,000

With illustrations in colour and references


Athenaeum-Polak & Van Gennep

Weteringschans 259
NL - 1017 XJ Amsterdam
Tel: +31 20 760 72 10

[email protected]

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