Hammad desert is the most sought-after location for falcon hunters in the Kingdom and Gulf countries. The hunters make a beeline for the desert located 100 km west of Arar city in the Northern Border province during the month of September every year when the hunting season opens. The month is marked with the arrival of large numbers of falcons including highly-priced varieties.
Falcons have been a passion for the people of the Arabian Peninsula since time immemorial. It is during the month of September that falcon lovers make their trips to the virgin desert looking for the rare varieties of the bird that make a stop over in the deep desert in the middle of their annual migratory journey. The Hammad desert is close to Hazm Al-Galameed town in the northern part of the Kingdom.
The price of a single bird of the rare varieties which are called by names such as Safi (Pure), Ashaal (Fiery), Fatih (light), Abyad (White), Farisi (Persian), and Sinjari have a starting price of SR315,000, according to the Saudi Press Agency. The falcon hunters strike up their tents deep in the desert where it is extremely cold during the night. They carry water and other rations to to sustain them in the desert for several days. They also have with them the latest positioning devices so as not to lose their way.
They sit around a fire close to the tents in the biting cold and narrate their past exploits in falcon hunting while sipping the simmering coffee. Arab passion for falcons is so deep-seated that some poets compose elegies to commemorate their lost bird. Poet Muhammad Al-Lamee recited a sad poem about the grief and anguish he has been suffering since he lost his bird Arqat on a nocturnal gathering of falconers in the desert. Falconers take special care to only go to locations where hunting is permitted.
They never resort to the indiscriminate killing of wild fauna or enter wild life sanctuaries to hunt down the animals for fear of the extinction of any kind of animal or bird. A veteran falconer in the Northern Border Province, Daham Al-Anazi, said the hunting season of the migratory bird starts on Sept. 1 and lasts until the beginning of the winter. He added that falconers come to Hammad to hunt several varieties of the bird including the Harr, a breed that is in high demand because of its beautiful feathers that can grow up to a span of 17 inches. Falconers require intense training before they can hunt. A hunting team has been known to have hunted six falcons in a single day.
Regarding the hunting techniques adopted by the hunters, falconer Tayyeb Hamoud said a traditional method is to fit a net to the back of a pigeon as bait and keep it ready for the falcons passing by early in the morning. Quails with similar nets and tied to some heavy objects are also used to catch the prized birds, he said.
Another method used to catch falcons that refuse to fall into the traps of pigeons or quails is to offer pigeons directly to the falcon without any net. Then the hunter follows the bird until it is tired and catches it while it rests in the shadows of a shrub. Some people hunt them at night using a metal net in the form of a cylinder-shaped basket after blinding the bird by aiming a strong beam into its eyes.
Another experienced hunter said most of the falcons pass out shortly after being hunted but a little sprinkle of water revives them.
The price of a falcon is determined by its speed, ability to hunt bustards, shortness of shanks, symmetry of the beaks, and fast flutter of wings. Even falcons with a lifespan of 20 years can become weak after a period of only 12 years, according to an expert.