When pesky pigeons began nesting in the carpark of an upmarket residential building, dropping fresh poop over residents’ Lamborghinis and Mercedes G-Classes, the property management office decided to rope in a predator.
Falconry, the ancient sport of training birds of prey to hunt, has found new purpose as a means of pest control in Dubai in recent years. Trained peregrine falcons or harris’s hawks are sent with their trainers to areas with pigeon problems. These birds of prey either fly around or perch on a ledge, and the very presence of a predator is enough to scare off pigeons.
“Our main function is bird abatement, and it’s an environmentally-friendly way to get rid of problem birds in Dubai, such as Indian hooded crows or feral pigeons. Falcons are also the national symbol of the UAE and a big part of the country’s cultural heritage, so our work fits in very nicely here,” said Johannes Kruger, General Manager at Wild Flight, a falconry services provider which also trains birds of prey for desert shows or special media productions.
Kruger explained that poisoning or killing public birds is illegal in the UAE. A further check with the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment revealed that these birds were indeed protected under a 2006 federal law. Hunting, killing or catching pigeons could result in a prison term of up to three months, and a fine of more than 10,000 dirhams (US$2,722). For crows, the penalty is imprisonment of up to a month and a fine over 5,000 dirhams (US$1,361).
Dubai’s gleaming steel and glass skyscrapers with its ledges, nooks and crannies offer pigeons a wide array of choices to roost. A breeding pair of feral pigeons can produce up to 12 hatchlings in a year.
“The problem with pigeons is their faeces, which is mildly acidic and can damage the paintwork of cars and building facades. It’s also very unhygienic as pigeons can carry a host of diseases and parasites,” explained Kruger.
Falconry is an integral part of desert life, and has been practised in the UAE as a centuries-old tradition passed down from generation to generation in Emirati families. The falcon is the UAE’s national symbol, and the country even hosts international falconry festivals, gathering hundreds of falconers from around the world to celebrate the art and practice of falconry.
Training a falcon or hawk takes specialised knowledge and is a dynamic relationship between falconer and bird revolved mainly around food.
“A falconer starts by feeding his bird on the glove. Later, he will call the bird to the glove to feed. After some time he gets to the point where he can trust the bird to fly free. There is no step one to 10 to get a falcon to fly to the glove, you just learn with time and experience,” said Kruger, who has more than 15 years of professional falconry experience.
The idea of using birds of prey for bird abatement is not unique to the UAE. Kruger shared that the most famous bird abatement story is probably Trafalgar Square in London, where hawks were engaged to clear the burgeoning pigeon population. There are also countries that have adopted falconry as methods to keep landfills clean of pests and airport runways clear.