The Italian Almanac
Italian News - February 25
A new generation of Italian falconers are set to fan out across the country, launching their winged charges to protect the nation's monuments. An Ornithological Museum at Marostica near Venice has set up Europe's first professional school in the ancient art, which can be traced back through the medieval nobility to the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs and even Mesopotamia.
The academy will tomorrow issue European Union-recognised diplomas in falconry, enabling 23 graduates from all over Italy to look for work protecting city centres and artistic sites from pesky intruders like pigeons. Already, three falcons are on duty at the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum near Pompeii, where pigeon droppings are eating away at the site's unique fabric.
"Falcons are the only birds of prey which have proved effective in scaring off other birds," said academy chief Salvatore Foglio, and the falcons' main area of activity is driving away unwanted birds including seagulls who infest refuse dumps and a number of species responsible for 'bird strike' at airports - when they get sucked into plane's engines and can even cause crashes.
Other systems such as broadcasting ultrasound waves have been tried - but the trusty old falcon has proved the only reliable deterrent. Foglio said the academy had already selected another 25 candidates for next year's course, after receiving more than 500 applications.
"Given that it is an EU-sanctioned programme we'll also be looking to expand our intake to other countries," Foglio said. That way, he said, Italy would reassert its position of state-of-the-art leader - a status enjoyed since the time of legendary Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, author of a famous treatise on falconry.