x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

In-flight entertainment

q&a The German-born falconer Sandra Stuckenbruck moved to the UAE last year. Her upcoming show will feature over a dozen different birds of prey in flight.

Sandra Stuckenbruck poses with a four-year-old female hybrid falcon at her farm in Dubai.
Sandra Stuckenbruck poses with a four-year-old female hybrid falcon at her farm in Dubai.

The German-born falconer Sandra Stuckenbruck moved to the UAE with her husband last year. Their upcoming show in Dubai will give visitors a chance to see over a dozen different birds of prey in flight. Starting on Friday and running until April, they will hold two shows daily, at 11am and 4pm.

People come along and enjoy seeing the birds flying and coming up close. We talk about the individual species and where they are from. We fly some of the different types or birds at the same time, for example the vultures and buzzards. It looks really special. There's lots of action. There are also opportunities for the children to feel the feathers of the owls.

No, but vultures or eagles flying up close could be scary for someone new to it. Most people find the birds huge and powerful, but once you get over that it's a feeling of "Wow, look at these majestic creatures". I have twins who are now 15 months old; they're still alive, nothing has tried to eat them!

We have 24 individual birds, it's difficult to say how many species because some of them are hybrids. We have bald eagles, golden eagles, great spotted eagles - the bald eagle is called John. There is also a hybrid between a golden eagle and a Steppe eagle. There are white-backed vultures and griffon vultures, eagle owls, barn owls and Harris hawks. The most local bird we have is the long-legged buzzard; it's quite common here. The great spotted eagle also flies up from Oman sometimes.

I love the part when the bald eagle catches the food in the air, he moves so quickly. He can also catch food out of the water. We have a small pond, so you can see how he does it; it's really beautiful. We don't use live food; we just have something floating on the surface.

My husband was here five years ago breeding falcons. He noticed that people in the Emirates love birds of prey, but that there were not many places where they could go to see a show. We didn't do it immediately because it was not the right time, but we came back again and decided we would start it. Traditionally, people used the Saker falcon for their hunting. We have one that we use for the show, as well as the peregrine falcon and the kestrel, which looks very similar.

All the birds should know to avoid snakes and things that could be harmful by instinct, so there are no dangers to them. We are also not worried about the birds killing any of the natural wildlife. They are not interested in that. The main problem is the heat. We will have to end the shows at some point in April because it gets too hot. The vultures will be OK, but the others won't.

The training is very important; you have to work with food to make the birds obey you. It's the same as working with any wild animal. It is important that they know the land quite well. They need to know their way around so they can get back to you. They also need to get to know the falconers and the other birds. Stopping them from flying away is just about conditioning - you have to call them and offer them food. That's why they come back, just like any other pet. You don't need protective clothing, just a leather glove. Some of the birds are quite heavy, the female golden eagle is around 6kg. The vultures are also heavy. You can't carry them for very long because they are so huge.
The Birds of Prey Show, Lahbab Road No 77, Dubai. Friday to Feb 28. Daily 11.00am-4.00pm. Tickets Dh25-50. For location, see @email:www.birds ofprey-show-dubai.jimdo.com

ogood@thenational.ae