Fly high with falconers

Posted by on December 26, 2012 in Featured, Great Big World, Wildlife Watch | 0 comments

An Emirati falconer calls a falcon's name and swings a pigeon to attract a falcon during a training session on the outskirts of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Falconry is big business in the Middle East, with some birds worth $10,000. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

An Emirati falconer calls a falcon’s name and swings a pigeon to attract a falcon during a training session on the outskirts of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Falconry is big business in the Middle East, with some birds worth $10,000. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)


Like his ancestors, Iraqi-born falcon trainer Abu Badr al-Anazi swings the carcass of a pigeon to attract a falcon released a few hundred yards away. The bird of prey arcs over the desert outskirts of Dubai before sinking its talons into the lure.

While the methods to develop top-quality hunting falcons date back to antiquity, its transition into a modern Middle Eastern passion has brought in microchip tagging and price tags that can run well over $10,000 for a prime bird.

The falconry season starts in November in the Persian Gulf states when the weather cools. In late afternoon and early mornings, the falconers—Emiratis, Syrians, Iraqis and others—drive into the desert outside Dubai in SUVs to train the birds for hunting and racing competitions organizing by the country’s sheiks.

Each bird has a microchip inserted beneath its skin and a numbered ring fitted on its leg for identification.

A falcon receives a piece of meat as a reward during a training session. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

A falcon receives a piece of meat as a reward during a training session. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Falconry has been part of the traditional life of the Arabian Peninsula for centuries. Bedouin have practiced it to hunt hare and houbara, a quail-like bird that is among the falcon’s main prey in the wild. After the Gulf’s oil boom, falconry turned into a more casual sport and hobby.

A falcon with a bloody beak screeches after receiving a piece of meat as a reward during a training session. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

A falcon with a bloody beak screeches after receiving a piece of meat as a reward during a training session. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

During the training session, one falconer removes the hood from the bird’s eyes while another, in the distance, swings the lure—a dead pigeon or some meat—while calling the bird’s name. If the bird catches the lure, it’s rewarded with some meat. Later, the falconer uses a live pigeon to carry on the training.

This part is important for Islamic hunters as it teaches the falcon not to kill its prey immediately. In order for the hunters to be able to eat the prey in accordance with Muslim beliefs, it must still be alive when its throat is cut and blood is drained. Once properly trained, a falcon will hold a captured houbara without killing it.

Reported by KAMRAN JEBREILI of the Associated Press from DUBAI, United Arab Emirates.

A falcon receives a pill at a Falcon hospital in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

A falcon receives a pill at a Falcon hospital in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

A falcon catches a pigeon body during a training session. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

A falcon catches a pigeon body during a training session. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

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