Wildlife rehabilitator and master falconer Cowan chronicles 30 years immersed in the sport of falconry, conveying the challenges, triumphs, and occasional heartbreaks of an activity requiring hard-won skill and a willingness to see nature from a different perspective.
The author certainly educates, providing minute detail that will be fascinating to fellow falconers. Others may be less enthused, however: for all their nuances, Cowan's accounts of her relationships with various hawks and falcons begin to get repetitious after a time. Raptors in the wild are beautiful and inspiring. In captivity, these creatures are more, and less. Rescuing abandoned raptors and rehabilitating injured ones is admirable and may, as Cowan asserts, benefit wild populations. Helping others appreciate the behaviors and ecological niches of these predators also may help ensure their survival. But the sport of falconry is primarily a sport for human diversion. This does not make it wrong, but it does cast some of the author's “romantic” notions, anthropomorphisms, and questionable assertions in a more realistic light. Still, Cowan does explode myths about the benign existence of the wild and shows how the reintroduction of rehabbed raptors to freedom may do more to imperil than save them. The author and her falconer husband's dedication to the varying species and to training and teaching is undeniably impressive. Yet the narrative is filled with eye-rolling passages—e.g., “we often function in complete unity; my mind is her mind, her body is my body. The bond between us is mystical.” Working with raptors may make a wider world visible to humans, yet the author so inundates us with terms (a glossary would have been useful) that the text sometimes feels more confusing than clear.
Falconry sets Cowan's heart free to fly, but many readers may feel moored to the perch.