If you get the opportunity to see Falconry in action, you should definitely take it.
It is a traditional sport with a long history in Saudi Arabia. Originally falcons and saluki dogs were hunted together to supplement the poor diet of the desert people. Because much of the falcon’s traditional prey is now endangered, falconry has been limited and is carefully regulated.
Wild falcons are caught during autumn migration and are trained for the hunting season that begins in early November and lasts until March or April. The training period may take a month. The falconer swings a bundle of feathers (tilwah) around his head, which he trains the bird to come to. When the falcon lands on it she is rewarded with a piece of meat. Eventually the falcon learns to return to the lure each time she is released. The falconer wears a glove, or dass, over his wrist to prevent the bird’s sharp claws from hurting him.
When soaring high in the sky, a falcon can spot any movement of the prey more than a mile away. Its sharp prehensile claws and dagger-like beak make it almost impossible for the prey to escape. Well cared for falcons can live for 15 years or more.
Saker and Shaheen (peregrine) are the two main species used for hunting. The Saker is more popular because it is well suited to desert hawking and has more endurance.
Some hotels organise falcon parties for visitors but if you go out into the desert you may also come across people flying their birds.
There is a falcon centre on Imam Saud bin Abdul Aziz Road, close to junction 9, but this is not for visitors – unlike other falcon centres in the Middle East.
Instead, it is one of the largest medical centres for falcons in the world. Not only do they ‘chip’ birds so they can be traced, but they also repair broken wings and cure them of virus and fungal infections.
At the time of writing an even bigger facility is being built at Salbukh. Does anyone have any further information on this?