Bird

They saw on the other side a lady with a sperhawk on her hand

Bird

CreaturesBackground Essay Author: Kara L. McShane
The bestiary tradition distinguishes among many varieties of birds, but it attributes some similarities to all of them.  They protect their young with their wings and do not fly in direct routes (165-66).  One particular type of bird discussed in the bestiary and common in medieval Arthuriana is the hawk, which the bestiary describes as courageous.  They are also effective parents who force their young to hunt for prey early; the hawk "takes care that they [baby hawks] not become lazy in their youth" (181). 
 
This courageousness may explain why hawks are so commonly used in hunting in medieval Arthurian works.  Several characters, most notably Tristan, are associated with hunting and thus with hawking; examples of this association include both the French Prose Tristan and Malory's Morte d'Arthur.  In Chretién's Cliges, the title character's nobility is clear through his knowledge of hawks and hunting dogs (121); he is explicitly compared to Tristan on these matters.  The association with hawking in particular serves as a marker of a knight's courtliness.
 
Birds of various kinds are also offered as prizes.  In Sir Tristrem, Tristrem and Rohand, his foster father, play chess for hawks; Tristrem wins six hawks in their games (164-5).  The challenges one must face to win a bird are sometimes more serious than a game of chess, however.  In Malory's Morte d'Arthur, Lancelot, hiding his identity with the name Le Chavaler Mal Fet, offers a fair maid and a gerfalcon to any knight who can defeat him in...

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