"Can I have a hobby? Please? It's not a big bird. Look!" Calvin bobbed his arm up and down, on which was perched what must be the cutest falcon in the world.
It was the first week of our nine-year-old's summer holidays, and we were at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, in an airy room filled with hooded predatory birds and a few other visitors. We'd already listened to a history of the hospital, visited the in-house museum, exclaimed at the tiny falcon passport shown to us (every falcon owner must have one if he wants to travel with his bird), and watched a boisterous raptor slowly pass out under general anaesthesia (he needed a long-overdue manicure). We were now looking forward to the next bit: an Arabic lunch in a traditional majlis.
But Calvin, the only child in the group, couldn't get past the little creature on his arm.
"It's called a hobby. His name is Baby," said one of the attendants, and everyone chuckled.
Small, dark-feathered and extremely good tempered, the hobby sat quietly on Calvin's bare hand, his head cocked to one side.
Meanwhile, the people in the queue behind Calvin were beginning to get tetchy - everyone wanted a few moments with Baby. But Calvin wasn't ready to share yet.
"They're about to adopt each other," my husband remarked, as both boy and bird gazed up at us with large, mournful eyes, looking uncannily alike. Behind us, a woman began to mutter under her breath.
"What about a Gyrfalcon?" said the attendant quickly to Calvin. It's the largest of the falcon species. Want to hold one?"
The attendant handed Baby (who squawked in protest) to an eager woman, then shuffled off to an enormous white, hooded bird and deftly transferred it from its perch to his gloved hand. He came up to Calvin, whose eyes were still glued to the hobby, and helped him put a child-sized glove on.
"Here, take her," said the attendant suddenly, and in a gust of beating wings - more than a metre wide and spread like an immense fan - the falcon alighted on Calvin's small hand. Everyone gasped. The trainer slowly took the hood off, and, as the bird glared fiercely around, a couple of people stepped back hurriedly. A few clapped, presumably to applaud my son's bravery.
Calvin turned to the falcon at the end of his arm. "Hello," he said, then politely handed it back to the trainer, and began to feel about in his jeans pocket. "How much for the hobby?"
A comprehensive guided tour with lunch (three hours) costs Dh220 per adult and Dh80 for children between five and nine years. The regular package costs Dh170 for adults and Dh60 for children (two hours, lunch not included). To book, visit www.falconhospital.com.