As a boy, Josef Hiebeler once opened a drawer and discovered images from the Middle Ages inside. Why rulers and noble women had their portraits painted with birds was something he did not understand. His grandfather, a veterinarian, explained to him that these were gyrfalcons, and told him about falconry - although thousands of years of ancient knowledge were no longer available. What started with a simple question in the 1950s became a passion and a life's mission. Josef Hiebeler spent years in the wide steppes of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and learned the noble art of falconry from the nomadic tribes there - an art that also includes training other birds of prey, such as hawks and sparrowhawks. More particularly, he learned about hunting with eagles, which are even capable of killing larger prey and can therefore provide an entire family with meat.
Today, Hiebeler is acknowledged as one of the world's leading experts in falconry. The Austrian's expertise is every bit as much in demand in the Arab states as it is in Asia. And he can also answer the question from his childhood. Medieval rulers saw in falconry an exclusive access to the secrets of nature and a challenging character training. The success of this free and easy partnership between man and bird depends entirely on persistence, common sense and responsible care. Falconry is an artistic form of hunting, and as such can be widely admired in tapestries, paintings and decorative glass in museums and castles.
Two seats of aristocratic families in Lower Austria are the ideal sites to experience falconry.
At Rosenburg Castle, eagles, buzzards, falcons and even vultures demonstrate their flying skills, and the castle museum features an exhibition on the history of falconry.
Waldreichs Castle is home to the Lower Austrian Falconry and Bird of Prey Centre, along with its hunting falcon yard which features flight demonstrations, a falconry museum, and an owl park. Under the guidance of master falconer Josef Hiebeler, a European model institution for breeding birds of prey and for scientific issues has been established. The Golden Eagle Centre is particularly fascinating. Waldreichs is also a falconer training centre.
Hohenwerfen Fortress in Salzburg is home to the Austrian Falconry Museum and a falconry adventure experience. Flight demonstrations are staged daily.
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