As the managing director of Al Hurr Falconry Services, David Stead spends his day working with 20 peregrine falcons, which are like family to him. The 41-year-old Briton grew up in Central Africa, went to boarding school in the UK, and set up Al Hurr Falconry Centre 11 years ago. The company's main role is bird control. It also provides birds of prey for corporate events and video shoots, and organises desert trips.
This is the time I get up in the summer to allow the birds to perform at their optimum before it gets too hot around 8.30am. I don't eat breakfast, but I drink a lot of coffee and smoke a few cigarettes. Then I meet my colleagues - I usually have three falconers working with me, but we have a team of eight in total. We put the birds on metal stands called cadges and place them in cars to transport them. I adore falcons - and indeed most birds of prey - and learnt the art of falconry in the UK. My parents wanted me to go to college but I took a year out beforehand and was offered a job at a birds of prey centre. I never went to university.
At this time we head to a facility in Dubai where we fly the birds. We have a contract, for example, with the Jumeirah Group, and our aim is to frighten the pigeons into flying away from their hotels. This is accomplished by releasing one falcon into the sky at a time. We're typically on site for 20 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the building. Then we take the falcons down, talk to the management and move on to the next location.
We arrive back at the office and we clean the living area for the birds and the equipment used; give the falcons medication if required; and check the batteries are working on their radio transmitters, which they wear when flying. Afterwards I have a four-hour break. I crash out during this time and have a small bite to eat. I don't have the greatest of appetites in the summer and it's hard to eat when you've been in the searing heat for hours.
I reconvene with my team and we do the same thing again. We don't necessarily go to the same places, but there are some facilities where we fly the falcons twice a day. From time to time, we take people into the desert. I fly the falcons and explain the history of falconry in the Emirates. The show is generally well received. Falconry is very much a part of the Emirati culture and I take great pleasure in explaining that.
I return to the veterinary centre and feed the falcons. They eat quail and nothing else. We treat the birds like athletes, so they need downtime to rest. Every now and then they take a month off, so out of a team of 20 birds not every one flies all the time. Each falcon is a character and they react to you differently. But in general they're quite disdainful of people. It makes sense when you consider that they're on top of the food chain and live solitary lives. Peregrine falcons are the fastest living creatures on Earth and very intelligent. They simply tolerate us as if we were lowly servants. In fact the training of the falcon is known as "serving".
I head home to my house in Al Warqa'a. I'm not married but I have a family of three dogs, a cat and two fish. I live like a hermit, doing very little in the evenings besides eating and sleeping. We have a rota system so we can take a couple of days off from time to time. But generally falconry consumes my life and it has done so since I discovered it at the age of 11 when my mother bought me a half-day's experience at a falconry centre in the UK.
I tend to go to bed early and rarely have trouble nodding off. I'm usually exhausted from working with the birds. But I love what I do. In fact it was a blessing that I didn't go to university.