Technology and tradition flying high
Drones used to train birds of prey in the Dubai desert
Deep in the Dubai desert an expert falconer has found a way to train birds using drones.
Always looking for novel ways to train and tempt the raptors with bait, Falconry specialists Royal Shaheen have put a high-tech spin on this age-old sport.
“This is a new way of getting a new level of fitness from a captive bird,” said Royal Shaheen’s expert falconer Hendrik Du Toit, who invited 7DAYS to join him at the crack of dawn in the Dubai desert, when he showed us the intricate detail that goes into training birds of prey, including desert eagle owls, kestrels, peregrine falcons, saker falcons and male spotted eagles.
The traditional way is using a lure, a long piece of line with bait attached that is swung in an open space by the trainer as the falcon swoops and dives, Du Toit said before attaching a plastic tube to the base of a drone, along with a small parachute with raw quail flesh.
The drone then whirs and buzzes through the air, as the falcon tries to catch the meat in its claws. This exercise strengthens the bird’s leg and back muscles, Hendrik explains.
“Using modern technology you can make stronger, fitter, faster birds,” says Peter Bergh, the Director and Founder of Royal Shaheen.
“By using these different devices we’re able to fine tune different parts of the flying - climbing, turning and pursuit,” he said during the training session in the Dubai desert on Saturday.
“We don’t want the falcon hunting the drone because it’s got rotating blades, which is dangerous.
“It can cut the falcon up and can really cause some damage ,” added Bergh, who rears and trains some of the country’s fastest and most prized falcons.
Bergh owns more than 90 raptors that have been bred in captivity on a farm in Lahbab on the Al Ain road. His collection is used for racing and aerial shows. If you fancy trying it yourself, tourists can learn to train and feed falcons with fresh quail meat at a Bedouin camp in the desert as part of Royal Shaheen’s signature falcon experience.
Du Toit said: “The whole idea is to bring the guests a hands-on, up close and personal encounter so they can get to know how special falcons actually are.”
FULL FLIGHT: The desert owl in flight is an impressive sight