Description Gallery Bibliography Manuscripts Jump to Home page Help Jump to Contents page Jump to Beast Index page Search Previous beast Next beast

Source: Kongelige Bibliotek (Bestiarius - Bestiary of Anne Walsh (Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4)) Copyright 2003 Kongelige Bibliotek / Used by permission Manuscript description Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4, Folio 42r



Latin name: Accipiter

Other names: Emouchet, Epervier

The hawk has great courage in a small body


General Attributes

The hawk has great courage in a small body; its determination arms it better than its claws do. It is called a robber bird because it greedily snatches food from other birds. The hawk is known as a harsh parent, refusing to feed its young when they are able to fly, but rather beating them with its wings to drive them out of the nest. This is done to teach them to catch prey while they are still young, so that they will not become lazy when they are adults. There are two kinds of hawks: wild hawks, which catch and eat domestic birds; and tame hawks, which return the wild birds they catch to their master. When its feathers become old, the hawk heats its wings in a warm wind to loosen the feathers and make them fall out; if there is no warm wind, the hawk beats its wings to heat them.


The way the hawk sheds its old feathers signifies how the warm touch of the spirit causes one to cast off his old life.

Sources (chronological order)

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 9-10): There are 16 varieties of hawks. They eat other birds, though not the heart. Some catch only birds that are on the ground, others only those flying around a tree, others only birds perched in a tree, still others only those flying in the open. Doves recognize the type of hawks they see, and land of the ground or fly in the air to be counter to the particular hawk's habits, and so save their lives. Hawks are used to assist men in catching birds; the men and the hawks share what they catch.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:55-56): The hawk (accipiter) takes gets its name from taking (capiendo) and because it robs (accipit) other birds. It has more spirit than claws and has great strength in a small body. Hawks are cruel to their young; when they see that the chicks are able to fly they stop giving them food, hit them with their wings, drive them from the nest and make them hunt while infants. They do this so that their young will not become fat as adults.

Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century] (De proprietatibus rerum, book 12): The goshawk is a royal fowl, and is armed more with boldness than with claws, and as much as kind taketh from her in quantity of body, it rewardeth her with boldness of heart. And two kinds there be of such fowls, for some are tame and some are wild. And she that is tame taketh wild fowls and taketh them to her own lord, and she that is wild taketh tame fowls. And this hawk is of a disdainful kind. For if she fail by any hap of the prey that she reseth to, that day unneth she cometh unto her lord's hand. And she must have ordinate diet, nother too scarce, ne too full. For by too much meat she waxeth ramaious or slow, and disdaineth to come to reclaim. And if the meat be too scarce then she faileth, and is feeble and unmighty to take her prey. Also the eyen of such birds should oft be seled and closed, or hid, that she bate not too oft from his hand that beareth her, when she seeth a bird that she desireth to take; and also her legs must be fastened with gesses, that she shall not fly freely to every bird. And they be borne on the left hand, that they may somewhat take of the right hand, and be fed therewith. And so such tame hawks be kept in mews, that they may be discharged of old feathers and hard, and be so renewed in fairness of youth. Also men give them meat of some manner of flesh, which is some-deal venomous, that they may the sooner change their feathers. And smoke grieveth such hawks and doth them harm. And therefore their mews must be far from smoky places, that their bodies be not grieved with bitterness of smoke, nor their feathers infect with blackness of smoke. They should be fed with fresh flesh and bloody, and men should use to give them to eat the hearts of fowls that they take. All the while they are alive and are strong and mighty to take their prey, they are beloved of their lords, and borne on hands, and set on perches, and stroked on the breast and on the tail, and made plain and smooth, and are nourished with great business and diligence. But when they are dead, all men hold them unprofitable and nothing worth, and be not eaten, but rather thrown out on dunghills. (Mediaeval Lore from Bartholomew Anglicus (London, 1893/1905) Steele edition of 1905)


The hawk is commonly shown in hunting scenes, both as part of a full illustration and in marginal drawings. When shown on its own, it is generally as a bird with a hooked beak.

Description Gallery Bibliography Manuscripts Jump to Home page Help Jump to Contents page Jump to Beast Index page Search Previous beast Next beast