The editor in chief of Living Bird magazine writes about his favorite feathered friends.
Noted for tracking down the famously elusive ivory-billed woodpecker (The Grail Bird, 2005), ornithologist Gallagher is also an ardent falconer. His boundary-stretching memoir chronicles coming of age with birds of prey. Reared in a bleakly dysfunctional family, the author discovered in adolescence a lifelong idol: Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, author of the classic text on keeping and training raptors. Gallagher’s admiration for Frederick gave rise in later years to an Italian tour in homage to his hero. He offers a report on what he did on that vacation, the interesting spots he missed and the crafty locals who took his luggage. It was depressing, but the author discovered good cheer as well during soulful trips to famous grouse moors, meetings and group hunts with colorful, world-class falconers. Indeed, most of his book concerns adventures and fellowship with the artists who train and run these darting and diving feathered hunters. Falconry is an art, Gallagher declares, proffering a rapturous vision of the sport that has spanned continents and millennia, in addition to his recollections of all the old fowlers and birds he will never meet again. Tiercel prairie falcons, Cooper’s hawks, Gyrfalcons and buteos throng his pages, as do the tools of the trade: hoods, creances, swivels, jesses and, recently, telemetry devices. Pigeons, ducks, mice and rabbits are clobbered, albeit with grace and intelligence, in a narrative quite red in beak and claw. Gallagher’s favorite bird is named Macduff, but it’s readers not totally enraptured with hunting birds perched on gauntleted fists who are likely to be the first to cry “Hold, enough!”
Enthusiasts will love it; others may grow bored.