Falconry in Qatar - A Cultural Heritage

Falcons are majestic creatures that are known for their speed, accuracy and efficient hunting skills. However, falconry is an indulgence and heritage, primarily of the people of Qatar. The National Bird of Qatar, falcons have been a part of the culture and history of the Middle East for centuries. Today the tradition continues to live on in Qatar, which in spite of its modernization and up-to-date infrastructure, cannot let go of the legacy and love for its most revered and significant avian. In fact, UNESCO has recognized falconry as a human heritage and included it as part of the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List for the Middle East.

About Falcons

Falcons in Qatar
Falcons are diurnal birds and one of the best hunters. With an eye vision that is eight times better than humans, falcons spot their prey from far distances and keep their focus still until they have it clutched fiercely in their talons. And when it comes to speed, there is no beating the falcon. The Peregrine falcon is the fastest bird and the fastest animal in the world! With a 300km/hr speed, it dives down to hold its prey in captivity. A falcon can live up to 12-15 years.

There are many other variants and types of falcons. These include the Amur falcon, Lanner falcon, Barbary falcon, Saker falcon, Sooty falcon and more. Most of these varieties migrate and are owned by falconers of Qatar. The Peregrine and Saker falcon are the most prized possessions and can be sold anywhere between 30,000 to one million Qatar riyals.

Besides the fact that falcons are deadly hunters who hunt best in deserts, there are other qualities of the bird that make it the nation’s favourite. Falcons are known for their patience and endurance. And this is why perhaps mothers of Qatar often tell children stories of the bird's resilience, composure and stoicism as a learning lesson.

History and Significance of Falconry in Qatar

Falcon Capture
Falconry has a long and deep history in the region of the Middle East. It is believed that one of the first falconers can be traced back to as early as the 7th century King of Persia, who was mesmerized watching a falcon swoop and catch its prey. He kept the bird and studied it for a long to learn and imbibe from its qualities of hunting and ruthlessness. However, it is said that what he ended up learning from the bird were wisdom and patience.

The Bedouins made falconry an important tradition in the history of Qatar. Around 5000 years back, the tribe used falcons to hunt migratory birds for meat. This practice was much more than mere training of this raptor bird for necessity. It was an art, where the falconer and the falcon shared a special bond. And working in absolute sync and tandem, they achieved their ultimate goal of catching prey.

Doha Falcon Souq

Falcon Souq
The Falcon Souq is the hotspot for falconry in Qatar. Located in Doha, the Falcon Souq is an arcade marketplace for the buying and selling of falcons, accessories, equipment etc., that is required for falconry. The souq itself is testimony to the falconry's sheer scale, love and economic viability. Located adjacent to the popular Souq Waqif, the Falcon Souq has its own separate entrance. The three massive falcon statues at the entrance set the tone for what one can expect once inside. The souq area is fraught with a multitude of shops and narrow alleyways with benches for falconers and tourists to sit, relax or discuss.

There are also open sand pit areas in the Falcon Souq where the falconers leave their falcons when they are shopping or having lunch. It is common to see hooded falcons perched in the open areas waiting diligently for their owners. Besides, new birds for sale are also often seen in these sand pits.

Location: Al Souq Street, Doha, Qatar
Timings: 9:00 AM – 8:00 PM

Attractions at Doha Falcon Souq

The Falcon Souq is one of the most important tourist destinations in Doha. Falconers come to Falcon Souq not only to buy the bird but for a whole lot of other items. The equipment that is required for falconry and is on sale in the souq include leather hoods, gloves and cuffs for falconers, perches and leg restraints for the bird, training equipment, such as feather lures, veterinary necessities, such as medicines etc.  All the equipment used on the falcon or by the falconer is handmade by local artisans and craftsmen. The leather equipment is such that it does not cause any harm to the bird.

Besides the shopping stalls and birds, many tourists visit Falcon Souq for its uniqueness. One can witness the falcon auctions and soak in the Bedouin culture. 

Tips for Visiting Falcon Souq

Falcons At The Falcon Souq
  • Ask the owner of the shop for permission if you want the bird perched on your arm.
  • Falcons can harm humans, so be careful and ensure you have the shop owner's guidance.
  • The falcons usually have a hood covering their face. This is done in order to cover their eyes and stop them from flying away. A hooded falcon doesn’t fly off as it cannot see or know where it is headed. Do not be surprised to find hooded falcons perched in silence at the pits or shops.
  • You might get the whiff of a peculiar smell that is because of the several birds that are housed here.  
  • The falcon auctions are usually held in the first week of September. If you can plan your visit accordingly, it is an experience worth experiencing.
  • The Falcon Souq has underground parking areas for visitors.
  • There are also a few other shops that sell spices, clothing, perfumes etc. One can also find some restaurants for quick snacks and meals.

Falcon Hospital

Falcon Hospital
The Falcon Hospital is a state-of-the-art hospital that specializes in falcon veterinary care and treatment. Located in the Souq Waqif area near the Falcon Souq, the Falcon Hospital is run by the government. Falcons that are hurt in competitions, hunts etc., are treated here. Besides, the feathers of a falcon are extremely important, and if feathers are injured, doctors replace the specific falcon feathers from their bank of feathers. The hospital also administers avian vaccines, treats falcon diseases, provides first aid, surgery etc. and more to the falcons.

For falconers, this hospital is the cornerstone for the safety and health of the falcon. However, for tourists, too, the Falcon Hospital is a must-visit attraction. The distinctive and specialized services, equipment and atmosphere of the hospital is worth checking out.

Location: Al Souq St., Doha, Qatar
Timings: 7:00 AM – 1:00 PM, 5:00 PM- 9:30 PM

Price Of Falcons

The falcons that tourists see at the souq or other marketplaces are worth thousands of dollars. In the Falcon Souq, a falcon can be sold for anywhere between 5000 to 20,0000 dollars or more.

How is the price of the falcon determined? The falcon's size, shape, breed, age, weight, body condition and hunting expertise are often the deciding factors for determining its price. The shaheen falcon is one of the best breeds in Qatar and is often sold for more than 20,000 dollars on average. Besides, the maintenance and training of the birds are highly expensive too. Their food, medicines, equipment, legal fees and permits, as well as travel expenses for competitions etc., all add to the overhead cost.

Facilities And Equipment

At The Falcon Souq
The falcons are taken care of using sometimes elaborate precautions. Falcons in Qatar often have their own passport and are allowed to travel in flight on Middle Eastern airlines. Besides the basic equipment for falcons, such as the hoods, gloves etc., there is also various specialized equipment that is purchased by falconers for increased competitiveness. Trucks, radio monitors, tracking devices, communication devices and more are also used to give the falconers an edge over each other.

Falconry Competitions And Exhibitions

The falcons' facilities and care are aimed at keeping them healthy for competitions and events. The Qatari Society of Al Gannas is one of the most important organizations that help organize various falconry events. Here is a look at some of Qatar's most sought-after falcon competitions and exhibitions.
  • Annual Qatar Falconry Festival
  • Isfiri Qatar Falconry Championship
  • Ras Laffan Falconry Championship
  • Al Gannas Falconry Championship
  • National Day Championship
  • Katara International Hunting and Falcons Exhibition
  • Marmi Festival

Falconer And Falcon Relation

Falconer And Falcon
Training falcons is no easy task. First, it is important to understand the bird's natural instincts. Falcons eat fresh meat, and thus providing them with a healthy diet is an integral part of training as well. The falcons are also taken on regular check-ups to the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital and other clinics. There are x-rays taken, blood samples etc., taken to ensure the best health of the falcon. Through the various tests, falconers can determine if there are untreated injuries or problems in the falcon's bones, feathers etc.

Each trainer has his or her own way of connecting with the animal. Usually, the falcon is hooded and tethered and then placed on the arms of the owner. The initial reaction of the falcon on the removal of the hood varies, and usually, owners offer them meat to calm them down. Also, a thing to remember is to try to avoid direct eye contact with the new falcon. This can scare them off. With intervals of placing the falcon on a perch on the hand, the falcon slowly develops a bond with the owner. There are times when the falconer might need to hold the bird for long periods of time. The falcon slowly needs to get familiarized with hooding and un-hooding, eating off the hand or on a perch. As trust begins to form, the falconer starts training the falcon through different ways for real hunting. Giving the falcon a name and calling it also helps. Essentially, with time the bond that the falconer and falcon share is based on trust, patience and a lot of hard work. As they say in the Arab, falconry is ‘amana’ – to uphold trust.

Adverse Effects

Falcon Killing Prey
Falconry is an integral cultural, social and economic aspect of Qatar. However, it has a few drawbacks too. Firstly, training and breeding a falcon requires a lot of patience, money and time. Those with full-time jobs or commitments may not find it easy to buy or maintain falcons.

Secondly, the Houbara bustard is a large bird that lives in the Middle East. The Houbara bustard is the most commonly hunted bird by the falcons. There are concerns that today this species of the bustard is endangered. In fact, the bustards are the only birds that are allowed to be hunted by the falcons.

Best Time To Visit Qatar for Falconry

The best time to visit Qatar is usually from November to March since the season is perfect for tourist activities. The hunting season for falcons begins in October and continues till February. So planning your visit to Qatar to coincide it with the falcon hunting season is a great idea!

Why Is Falconry Important Today?

Future Of Falconry
Today falconry is no more about hunting for survival. However, it continues to be a proud and significant aspect of Qatar’s culture. The sense of pride and esteem is manifested in the way the falconers take care of and invest in the well-being of the falcons. Similarly, the nation as a whole also takes falconry seriously with Falcon Hospital, Falcon souk and millions of dollars that are transacted in keeping up the tradition.

Falconry is a part of history, as well as the culture of the land. The Arabic language contains more than 1500 words used for falconry and falcons. The most significant raptors can cost millions of dollars, and maintaining a falcon involves expensive care. Besides, the training of the falcon requires dedicated long hours by the owners, who use different methods to train the wild falcons for competitions. All in all, it’s a task that requires much effort and efficiency, thus making falconry, not just a sporting indulgence but a sincere practice of heritage.

This post was published by Tasneem

Share this post on social media

Comments on this post

View Hotels