Hunting with Falcons

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Hunting with Falcons

Bedouin used falcons to catch prey to supplement their basic diet of rice and dates. Typical prey would be rabbit, hare and the houbara bustard.

The hunting season in the UAE and the Arabian Peninsula starts in October, after the 'Suhail' star has risen and it continues until about February. This coincided with the migration of the bustards in to the area from Russia. Nowadays, the houbara bustards are raised in captivity and then released for the hunting. This protects the houbara population and is a similar approach to that used in the UK where pheasants are raised for shooting on grand estates.

In the days before the UAE, when the areas was a network of tribes, hunting trips were used by the Sheikhs to keep in touch with their people. They would hunt during the day and then in the evening would talk with the locals around the camp fire. These hunting trips could last weeks as they travelled across the desert.

Today, hunting trips are more constrained by modern life styles and may be only a few hours, although most hunters try to spend a few days away... 



Groups of hunters would set up a main compound called 'Al Ennah'. This is where all the preparations, movements and operations are controlled from.

The hunters use their falcons to catch prey and the falcon that has brought down the prize catch is considered the best falcon. Trained falcons will hold and wound a bustard without killing provided they can be enticed off the prey in time. It was essential to cut the bustard’s throat and draw blood while it was still alive in order to make it lawful to eat its flesh.

The relationship between falcon and hunter is close – like that between a dog and master in the UK. During the hunt, the falcon sits on a the hunter's arm in a leather glove or sleeve that is called a mangal. The hunter will use a lure - for example a few feathers on a chain; to attract the bird back to him. It is also used in training, where the bird attacks the lure whilst it is swung around.

To keep them calm when not hunting, the birds where a hood called a burka. This is the same name as the head covering worn by some Emirati women.