Falcons– is there anything more classically Arabic than a falcon?
These status symbols have been domesticated and held by the royal and the wealthy throughout the Middle East for centuries. These days, there are even falcon beauty pageants where the owners of winning birds take home thousands of dollars in cash and prizes.
I find falcons mesmerizing: how these carnivorous birds can be domesticated still amazes me, as does the strength in their small bodies, and the distances they can cross on the hunt for food.
So when I heard about the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, I knew I had to stop by for a visit, hoping for the chance to hold one of these magnificent creatures.
The hospital is the world’s largest falcon hospital, and does pretty much what you’d expect: operations on sick falcons, check-ups on healthy falcons, and any surgeries the birds may require. There’s even a falcon ICU, for particularly sick birds.
After check-in, the hooded falcons are taken to a waiting room, where they sit perched on benches awaiting their turn to see the doctor.
On the day of my visit, most are in for minor procedures like nail filing and sharpening. Some have broken a feather or two, and wait their turn to have them repaired. In this case, talented veterinarians delicately select a new feather from their reserve pile and carefully glue it back into place.
“For a falcon, every feather is important,” said Hassan Al Sarhan, our tour leader on this particular day. “If one feather breaks, is lost, or falls out, the falcon cannot keep their balance while flying and can no longer fly.”
After learning about different types of falcons and their routines, we were taken to the admitting room where we watched a falcon get a pedicure, and were given the opportunity to hold one of these gorgeous birds. The staff then asked for a volunteer from the crowd, who fed a raw quail to a falcon by hand.
Have you ever heard a falcon snap through bone with its beak? It’s EPIC.
It was a weird, wonderful, awesome day and I’m so glad I went. Do yourself a favor and book a 2-hour tour. Tours begin at 170 AED ($46). Your ticket cost goes towards helping the hospital expand—they’ve also recently added an animal shelter to their property that can accept hundreds of stray dogs and cats.
Other Ways to Hold Falcons
The hospital certainly isn’t the only way you can hold a falcon while on a trip the UAE, there are several tour operators that offer desert tours with falcons. But consider where your money is going before you book. One of the best things about my experience at the Falcon Hospital was knowing that their tours go towards further education and programs that will help to continue and expand the lives of falcons for years to come.