Throughout the Middle East, falcons have been flown for hunting and sport for thousands of years. But devotees of this ancient tradition in the United Arab Emirates have brought falconry into the technological age. As Gizmodo reports, falconers in Abu Dhabi are using drones in the form quadcopters to train their birds how to hunt and kill.
The birds’ owners try to maximize the falcon’s hunting area by training them to fly higher. When hunting, birds of prey have a restricted ‘cone’ of vision in which they can scan for food – the higher they fly, the wider the cone. In the past, kites (and later, balloons) were used to carry lures hanging on line as far as possible above the ground. When the bird successfully snatched the lure and flew it back to the trainer it would be rewarded with food. This technique accustomed the falcons to fly higher when on the hunt and so gave them a much wider effective range.
Using these multi-rotored drones is therefore just a modern adaptation of an ancient tradition.
The use of quadcopters for training falcons is proving attractive outside the UAE as falconers in the United States begin to use a parachutes with lures attached to a drone. The kit consists of an 18 inch diameter parachute folded into a lightweight plastic tube. The tube is attached to a 25 ft. lead fixed to the bottom of the quadcopter or kite line. The parachute in the tube has a six foot line attached to a swiveling padded lure. When a falcon or hawk grabs the lure and tries to fly away, it pulls off the tube followed by the parachute which acts as a kind of drag as the bird descends.
Though the history of falconry can be traced right back to its use in Mesopotamia around 2000BC, the sport as we know it today is and always will be controversial. Wildlife protection measures have seen the practice of using falcons for hunting banned in many countries, including some Middle Eastern nations and Abu Dhabi itself. The falconers of Abu Dhabi can train and fly their birds legally, but have to travel to other countries such as Syria and Iraq if they want to hunt.
You can see the drone technique in action in this video.