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How am I spending my days? and Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital

I have been having a very interesting time here...

For the most part, I am getting up around 6a.m. with Doug and seeing him off to work. Then I have a couple of hours to myself and am usually out of the apt by 9 or 10 in the morning.

I have met some new friends and we are exploring the city together. Most of the time we are hopping on the bus (which is free and fabulous). I will have to post about the various area I am seeing and my experiences. Right now though, here is an update on one of my latest activities. I will post pictures soon also.

The other day I went on the most amazing tour. I went to the Abu Dhabi falcon Hospital. The hospital is located out near the airport. It is also an award winning hospital.

I am not sure what I initially expected. I guess I was thinking more of US version of an animal hospital. Instead I found something very unique.

We were given an education about the birds, the history of them, their needs, the problems and struggles they face, the maintenance and care of the birds, and a glimpse into the lives of those who have Falcons.

I guess at this point I should also mention one small thing. I am absolutely terrified of birds flying around me. I can't go into aviaries at all, It totally freaks me out having something flying around my head. I guess I was a bit nervous about this experience at the beginning.

Falcon owners can have as few as one bird, to as many as 80 or as in the case of the President and Crown Prince, 200 plus birds. The falcons take place in hunting, racing and beauty contests.

The history of the Falcon in the UAE is not a long one, remembering the fact that the nation is not that old. It was only about 100 to 120 years ago that falcons began to assist in the catching of food and started being trapped and trained. The primary purpose was to find food. Now the falcons have become a national symbol, heritage and a sport. The Falcon is a migratory birds with the migratory season being in September.

Ninety percent of the birds that are used in sporting are bread in captivity. Traditionally these have been Peregrine Falcons, Saker falcons and the rest is made up of hybrid birds. There are many markets in Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, and the United States. The cost of the falcons can really vary in price. Some go for as low as 30K and up as high as 80K USD. Depending on the lineage of the bird and the owner and breeder they can go for as high as 100K (usd). Sharjah has a market as does Dubai. It is estimated that there are around 20 thousand Falcons in the UAE.

Before purchasing a falcon it is important to have a complete health check done. Ninety percent of the birds examined will have an endoscope done to look at the internal organs and check for diseases. They all have blood tests and are completely examined by a veterinarian. The falcon hospital can see 40 to 60 birds per day.

The hunting season is September through December. If you are caught hunting out of season, your bird will be confiscated and you will face 6 months jail time as well as a hefty fine. Eighty percent of the birds in the UAE are hunters. The primary hunting grounds are Afghanistan, Morocco, Sudan, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Each of the birds is outfitted with a tiny clip on the top of the tail. It is about the size of a pencil eraser and very light weight. It then holds a transmitter that is tracked through GPS. The birds are also “chipped” (the same procedure that is used in the US for finding lost pets) so that they can be tracked and monitored. One interesting note here is that in order to travel, every falcon must have a passport. So if you wanted to take your falcon to Morocco to hunt, you take them with their passport, or you do not go.

After the hunting season is through then comes the breeding season and moulting season. The moulting season takes 3 to 6 months to complete. The average life span in captivity is 15 to 17 years where in the wild the average is around 25 years. The falcons breed early in moulting season. The gestational period is 36 days. They lay 3 to 5 eggs. In the wild 3 out of the 5 will generally hatch. Hatching time to flying time is 3 weeks. Both sexes of birds take turns sitting on the eggs. Falcons are carnivores, eating only fresh meat.

I found it interesting that eighty percent of the birds are female. The reason being that they are bigger and prettier.

There is a lot of personal pride in owning a falcon. There is also a lot of maintenance and care in owning one. I asked how much it costs annually for the care and upkeep of one bird and they vet did not know how much the cost was. Just a check up costs 800-900 AED.

Personal pride is huge when it comes to falcons. Much time is spent taking care of them, and feeding them. It is that relationship that brings them back to the owner when they hunt. They know their owners voice. Many people have special rooms set up for the birds care. They also have a staff that takes care of the basic needs. When the owner is with his birds, he first talks to it and strokes it so that his touch is known. Then the bird is fed by the owner. There is bond between them and this makes successful for hunting.

Pre-hunting and post-hunting check ups are very important to the health of the bird. During the visit for the check ups the birds also have an endoscopy procedure done to make sure the internal organs are fine and they have not ingested something that is bad for their system. After the check up they may be quarantined for a period of time if it is needed. The birds also have their blood drawn and a full blood work up is done on them. If a bird needs antibiotics for some reason, they are given the same kind as humans but in minute amounts. The blood tests allow the vets to check the progress of the bird and to see if they antibiotics are working.

The falcon hospital can see between 40 and 60 birds per day. They may need to be seen for infections, a routine check up, surgery or feather replacement.

We were privileged to be able to watch a feather replacement on one of the falcons there. I have a 20 minute video that I took that I am going to try to put on u-tube or somewhere, so those of you interested can watch it. I was absolutely fascinated by the procedure.

First the bird is sedated, kind of like when we are sedated by gas in the dental chair. The bird totally relaxes allowing the vet to open the wing spans and check each feather for defects and or flaws that need to be fixed. I found it fascinating that each feather has it's own unique purpose. It is either a flying feather, turning feather or something so each one needs to be fixed/replaces with the same kind of feather. You can't, for instance, take a tail feather and put it on the wing, because it won't work right.

After the bird is asleep and the feathers are checked, the vet matches up the feather with ones that have been harvested from moulting birds and ones that have died. The color needs to be matched to as close to the color of the feathers being replaced, I think that is mainly for aesthetic reasons. At the hospital they have a large collection of every kind and color of feather imaginable.

Once the process of selecting the correct feather is finished it is time to remove the damaged feather from the bird. They use a clipper that is sort of like a pliers type toenail clipper. They make a clean cut, and match the length of the feathers. The next process is to glue small pieces of doweling into the end of the feather. Feathers are hollow at the ends. A test match is made and then they mix a 2 part epoxy and insert the dowel into the repair feather, then into the feather end that is still attached to the bird. Sometimes they will use a super glue to glue the feathers, it just depends on the kind of feather and the function.

Sometimes a feather is not broken, but just damaged by being slightly bent. They take a crimper and crimp the feather into the right shape, then apply a splint made from a tiny portion of a feather shaving with super glue. When it hardens, the feather is as good as new.

After all of the feathers are checked and repaired, they then pull the bird back out of the air chamber and let it start to breathe a bit of normal air. At that point they take a towel and wrap it around the bird and take it to a perch on the floor. They place the birds hood on and let it come out of the anesthesia completely. The they take the bird to its perch and tie it down so it is comfortable and secure. It is amazing how fast this all happens. If I remember correctly the whole procedure took about 20 – 25 minutes.

The falcons are quite expensive depending on the blood line and the owner of the bird.

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