Soaring with Falcons in Malta

 

P1020136

Helena, a Peregrine falcon, or also known as a Maltese falcon.

 

Growing up on mysteries and detective stories, I’d always thought that the Maltese Falcon was a mythical if not totally Hollywood-fictional bird. Welcome to the Malta Falconry Centre in Siggiewi, on the island of Malta, where you meet a variety of birds of prey, including the Maltese or Peregrine falcon.

Here’s how the story began: In 1530 King Charles V of Spain (and an assortment of areas in Europe) granted the crucially situated Mediterranean island of Malta to the medieval Christian order of the Knights of St. John’s Hospitallers. His annual tithe for granting this prize piece of real estate was the payment of a falcon, a Peregrine falcon, now known as a “Maltese” falcon regardless of the fact that the bird was never native to the island. And so the legend began.

We spent a day at the Falconry Centre, guided by the owner, Doreen, and then with chief falconer Warren Galea, who was a font of information on birds of prey. During that magical day, we learned about multiple species of eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls.

A sampling:

P1020042_American Bald Eagle

An American bald eagle, a familiar sight.

P1020049_White-backed Vulture

A white-backed vulture named Lurch

P1020070_European Eagle Owl

A European eagle owl.

After a couple of hours of fascinating husbandry of birds of prey, Warren introduced us to several birds in their collection:

P1020112_with Harry the Barn Owl

Harry, the congenial barn owl. (He’s a twin set with “Potter” — no joking!

P1020121Dexter, a Harris hawk, whom we came to know very well. Quite a friendly bird.

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Tamara, the Little Owl, about 6 in. long.

And, beautiful, calm, truly affectionate (as difficult as that may seem in an owl):

P1020157

Tinkerbelle, a Tawny Owl. (She was one of several “rescues” of would-be bird owners who found their cute chicks get out of hand.)

And, of course, there was Helena, the Maltese falcon at the top of this post.

And, finally, we were taught how to “fly” a bird — Dexter, the Harris hawk who really seems to think he’s part of the human race (very unlike his sister, Beauty, who is a formidable presence).

P1020178

Dexter, circling around to come land on a gauntlet, and, receiving his reward (below).

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Having worked with animals all my life, from cats to horses to dolphins, I was appreciative of the care (husbandry) and intricate training involved at the Falconry Centre, whether they worked with birds born there or rescued from elsewhere. It was a magical day that was a focal point in our visit to Malta.

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4 thoughts on “Soaring with Falcons in Malta

  1. Beautiful blog Carol. Malta is now on my list of “must see”. Must admit tho that one of the lures is the chance to see a Maltese falcon. I do love falconry, as you fell in love with also!

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