Emma Ford,
Fledgling Days:
Memoir of a Falconer

(Overlook Press, 1999)

Emma Ford, co-founder with her husband Steve of the British School of Falconry, has written an account of her early years in learning falconry which reads like a well-paced novel. Her writing is fresh, straightforward and appealing, injected with frank humor.

Readers expecting a lot of technical information on falconry should look elsewhere. Ford begins with her childhood from about age 8, when she and her mother come to live in a cottage on a castle estate in Kent. Fond of all animals, she has several animals in her life, including a tawny owl rescued from a felled tree. Then a wonderful thing happens: the new falconer for the estate moves in next door with his family. Best of all, he invites young Emma to help with his birds and allows her to train a Wahlsburgs Eagle. With the eagle, a chocolate-colored bird named Wally, she embarks on a lifelong path.

From working with Wally, she goes on to learn more about falconry, both from the estate falconer and through studying with others. The summer she is 13, she acquires her first bird, a kestrel named Pogle, and she learns the joy and heartbreak inherent with training a wild bird. A couple of years later, when the estate becomes the site of a jousting exhibition, she falls in love with one of the riders, also a falconer: her future husband, Steve Ford.

The two establish a center for raptors, taking in injured birds and either returning them to the wild or breeding those too injured to survive. By the time she is 16, Ford has become an expert in the field of falconry, with her renown reaching as far as Abu Dahbi. Remarkably, the book only spans her youth up to about age 20; it is boggling to see how much she has accomplished in only twelve years -- her fledgling years.

Birds of prey are not the only animals in Ford's life. She also tells about other animal encounters: waiting up all night to trap some wild kittens after their mother is killed; exercising the pony from hell; and a brief interlude with a feisty ferret. She also deals with recalcitrant goats, a flatulent Alsatian, and a wild boar charge. Certainly, life on the estate is never dull.

The book reads like a novel; this is no technical treatise on falconry. Ford writes with elegant economy while at the same time conveying the beauty of the Kent countryside. This is an inspiring and fascinating book with wide appeal, from young adults up, all the more remarkable for it being real life.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]



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