The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founding Father of the United Arab Emirates, practised falconry from a young age and was a supporter of the sport. He embodied the values associated with falconry and practised the sport often. He launched many initiatives to safeguard the sport, including a falcon release programme and the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, which has become the largest falcon hospital in the world.
Training involves teaching the falcon to swoop down and attack a feathered training decoy which is tied to a string and controlled by the trainer. As the bird swoops to catch the decoy, the trainer pulls it away. Done time and again, the bird learns to make repeated attempts until it catches its target.
Both the training process and the sport of hunting require patience and an understanding of the individual bird. This builds a unique bond and special language between falcon and falconer and helps to teach the important values associated with the sport.
Falconers use special handmade equipment, including a leather hood to cover the head and eyes of the falcon when it is not flying. A wooden stand used as a perch for the bird consists of a wide flat top attached to a stick that can easily be stuck into sand. The falconer wears a leather forearm guard so the bird can use his arm as a perch between hunting and training flights.
Celebrating the sport
The sport of falconry is celebrated across the United Arab Emirates, with falconry demonstrations having a major role in National Day celebrations and other occasions. Falconry is also reflected in literature and music, with the sport and the bird celebrated in poetry, song and stories.