I had a half-day off from work while I was living in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. I didn’t just want to spend it on my company’s compound or in the city having a drink. I was looking for other things to do in the city. I came across a webpage for the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. My favorite birds are falcons and eagles. I checked my watch and picked up my phone. I crossed my fingers and called them hoping they had space on their 2:00 pm hospital tour.
I caught a taxi and made my way to over the hospital. I made the tour by about 2 minutes. While they finished checking everyone in, I took a seat in the nicest hospital waiting room I have ever been in. The hospital waiting room has plush seating and nice tables. The room was unique. It had small stands to set a falcon on while waiting to be called back to the examine area.
The tour starts with an education exhibit on the history of falconry and its importance in the UAE. Falconry is a traditional part of the UAE desert life. Originally done to provide food it is now a national pastime. Traditionally, Peregrine and Saker falcons were used. These birds were captured from the wild and trained to hunt the houbara bustard. The houbara bustard is a large bird found in arid regions. Traing the falcons takes special skill and time. The birds are kept with a leather hood over their eyes and a small restrain is placed on its leg. Over time the bird is trained to make short flights and catch a lure. From there it is taught to catch live pray.
As falconry in the UAE moved from survival to a sport, over hunting destroyed the nation’s population of falcons and houbara bustard. Today wild falcons are protected in the UAE and hunting is banned due to the almost extinction of the houbara bustard. There is currently a captive breeding program in hopes of reestablishing the houbara bustard population in the UAE. This will then help reestablish the breeding population of falcons in the region. Most falcon hunting takes place in the deserts of Pakistan where the population of houbara bustard still exists but is threated. It is not uncommon during the cooler winter months to see a falcon riding in first class on a flight from UAE to Pakistan.
The falconer stops feeding the birds several days before the hunt. The bird will not hunt unless they are hungry. Once it captures its prey, the bird is reward and is fed. The bird is only used once. A hunting party will have upwards of 50 birds for several days of hunting.
Falcons from around the world come to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital for treatment. The hospital is on of the few in the world to specialize in treating falcons. They are world leaders in research as well. On average the hospital treats 6000 birds a year. Treatments range from feather replacement to talon manicures to more serious injuries.
After the education tour, I entered the treatment room. About 24 falcons were in for treatment. Each bird has a leather hood on and silently waits for its turn for treatment. The bird range in size and are a mix of Peregrine falcons, Saker falcons as well as a few other types.
Before treatment, the falcon is put under anesthesia to minimize the stress of the procedure. The hospital made custom mask for this.
The bird is examined and the wings are check for missing or damaged feathers. If it has any missing or damaged feathers they are replaced. The hospital keeps a range of feathers in stock for this procedure.
After that the talons are trimmed and sharpened to keep the bird in hunting sharp.
Once the procdure is done and the bird is awake he returned to his post and awaits pick-up from his owner. The staff brings out the resident falcon. She is a small falcon that was rescued. She is friendly and rather cute. She is the hospitals mascot.
Depending on the birds in for treatment, the hospital might let you hold one of the larger falcons. While I was there they had a Saker there that was available to hold. She was a large falcon and the staff let one of the teenagers on the tour feed her.
The hospital has a air-condition aviary and provides summer boarding for bird owner. We walked through this area and watched some of the bird enjoy their time off. I was surprised that it wasn’t more luxurious given that falcons are easily $20,000 plus birds.
I still love birds of prey but I am not a fan of any sport that requires starving the bird before it can be used. As well as the lax laws on hunting the houbara bustard in Pakistan. I did enjoy getting to hold the falcon and the conservation work done by the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital.
Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post in any way. I visited the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital without informing them of my status as a blogger. This post does contain a affiliate link to Viator.
What do you think of falconry? Would you visit the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital?