The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is the world’s first and largest hospital dedicated to the falcon, the UAE’s national bird. Since opening its doors in 1999, under the direction of a prominent German veterinary surgeon, the unique hospital sees about 6,000 birds passing through its doors each year, occupying 200 air-conditioned treatment rooms.
Falcons are a cultural symbol of the UAE capital, thanks in part to their skill and characterful personalities. In fact, falcons and falconry have been connected to Emirati culture for centuries, with this bird of prey playing a vital part in Bedouins’ (nomadic Arab people) lives, with falcons hunting bustards, curlews and other animals for food. Today, the sport of falconry is incredibly popular, with these valuable birds being issued passports and getting access to high-quality check-ups, treatments, and feather substitutions.
Falconry requires patience and co-operation between the falconer and his bird. By treating his bird gently and with empathy, the falconer gains its trust and obedience. Emirati falconers have developed special breeding and rearing methods over the years, and a falconry experience allows you to discover this ancient tradition in person.
In his book, Falconry as a Sport – Our Arab Heritage, the late UAE founder, also known as the Father of the Nation, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, describes the essential techniques of catching these majestic birds. In one method, the hunter drills a hole in the ground and hides between trees, using a pigeon as a lure to catch the falcon. He takes the pigeon out of the hole and stays in control of its movements using a thread tied to its leg. As soon as the falcon jumps on its prey, the hunter pulls the thread gently towards him until the falcon is in his possession. Use of a net is another method of capturing falcons, where a pigeon is once again the prey. The falcon is netted as soon as it captures the small bird. The hunter grabs the falcon, takes it out of the net and hands it to the falconer to start training it.
Most desert safari experiences offer a chance to discover falconry, although guided tours of this award-winning specialist hospital are available and highly recommended. You can visit the luxurious wards where the birds are kept, explore the museum that gives insights into the noble desert sport of falconry, and even try your hand at it in the hospital’s lush gardens. You’ll also be able to see falcons swoop through a free-flight aviary, witness a falcon pedicure and make friends with one or two birds as they perch on your arm.