Are you visiting the Falcon Souq in Doha? The souq is one of the must-visit attractions in Qatar and the perfect place to understand the ancient Bedouin tradition of falconry. Read our essential list of things to know before you go to make the most of your experience. You might also like our
Falcon Souq, Doha is an intriguing place. It ranks at the top of Doha’s tourist attractions and visiting it is a unique experience. Falconry has a compelling place in Qatari society. Falconers revere falcons and take excellent care of their cherished birds. The falcon souq and its amenities like the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital might seem frivolous and extravagant to an outsider but for Qataris, it’s perfectly normal. Here are essential things to know before visiting the Falcon Souq and understanding the practice of falconry
Dotted Globe contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my full Disclosure here. Thank you!
“ No man-made machine can, or ever will, synthesize that perfect coordination of eye, muscle, and
All in all, falconry is the perfect hobby.”
– Aldo Leopold, the American ecologist
Falconry is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Falconry is the ancient tradition of hunting with hawks or falcons. Falconry has been instrumental to Bedouin desert survival in ancient times and is a distinct part of the Arab culture. But falconry goes beyond the Arab world. It was historically important in Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa along with the Middle East. As such, it finds a place on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritages as a combined heritage of 18 different countries. It dates back thousands of years, has been handed down from generation to generation and is an essential part of the identity of indigenous people in these 18 countries. Falconry’s acceptance as an intangible cultural heritage protects it for further generations.
Falconry originated as a Bedouin hunting and survival technique in the desert.
Desert survival for the Bedouins was tough: food was often sparse and the smaller birds and animals like hares were difficult to catch. It was in these circumstances that falconry as a hunting technique came into existence and was adopted by the Arab Bedouins to supplement their desert sustenance. The birds of prey were used to hunt because of their keen eyesight and swift action. Though the nomadic way of life is now almost over falconry is still widely practiced both as a sport and passion by Bedouin men of all ages.
Falcon Souq in Doha is one of the city’s major tourist attractions.
Falcon Souq, Doha is located adjacent to the popular Souq Waqif and visited by hundreds of tourists on any given day. The Souq has its own entrance with an expensive, gilded plaque. Three life-size sculptures of falcons invite visitors to explore the souq shops, falcons, and falconry equipment. The Falcon Souq has narrow alleyways which are lined with benches for falconers and tourist to sit, relax, and enjoy the visit.
To find the Falcon Souq, visit the Al Souq St in Doha, Qatar. Or alternatively, ask anyone in Souq Waqif for directions. Almost anyone will lead you to this fascinating area of Souq Waqif. The falcon souq is open from 9 am to 1 pm and 4 pm to 8 pm on weekdays and only in the evening on Fridays. Once in the Souq, apart from the shops, you will also find open sand pits. Falconers often leave their perched falcons in the sandpit while they have lunch or shop around. In fact, the first falcon we saw in the Souq was not in the shop but resting in the open area. The hooded bird just sat there, waiting for its owner and it was very fascinating. Birds for sale are also often exercised in this open area.
The falcon souq is quite crowded on weekends and in the evenings with falconers buying either birds or supplies. However, if you visit on a weekday in the morning or afternoons, things will be slow and shopkeepers will be willing to answer your questions about falcons and falconry. Visitors can photograph the birds and often shopkeepers also allow tourist to hold the perched bird on their arm under close supervision. Word of advice, do not try to hold a falcon without explicit permission from the owners/shop keepers – the falcons can harm humans.
The Falcon’s eyes are always covered by a hood when it is not hunting.
The shops in the Falcon Souq are filled with falcons of all sizes, skill levels, and prices. The birds are tethered to their perches in a sand pit and can be examined by potential buyers. One arresting feature that visitors to the Falcon Souq in Doha will notice is that all the falcons are hooded, leaving them in complete darkness. Row upon row of the hooded falcons sits eerily still in the shops, afraid of flying sightless. The falcon’s eyes are always covered by a leather hood when it is not hunting to calm the bird. The hood withdraws visual stimuli and suppresses the falcon’s hunting instincts when it is not chasing a prey. The leather hoods are so designed that they do not harm the precious birds.
Apart from falcons, the Falcon Souq also sells falconry accessories.
The shops in the falcon souq have a vast variety of falconry accessories for sale. Falconry equipment includes leather hoods for the bird’s eyes, cuffs and gloves for falconers, feathered lures to exercise and train birds, leg restraints and perches to keep the bird tethered, medicines and veterinary supplies, among other things. Many of these articles including the hoods are painstakingly made by hand by local craftsmen.
Falcons are quite expensive and falconry is a pricey hobby.
What most visitors to the Falcon Souq don’t realize is that the Falcons they are seeing are worth thousands of dollars. The Falcons in the souqs sell for anywhere between 5000 USD to 20000 USD depending on the condition and the skill level of the bird. The cost doesn’t stop at the price for owning the bird; falconry as a whole is an expensive sport. Related expenses include costs to obtain legal permits and fees, food and housing for the bird, falconry equipment, veterinary costs to ensure birds health, and travel expenses when taking the bird to falconry events. Also, the life of a falconer is not easy. The birds need rigorous training before they can be used for hunting. They need to be well-cared for, housed properly, and exercised regularly. Even then, falconry continues to be an indispensable part of the Arab culture and falcons are considered status symbols.
The Falcon souq, Doha also has a falcon hospital. In fact, falconry today is a state of the art game.
The Falcon Souq also has a Souq Waqif Falcon hospital dedicated to the welfare of the birds. The hospital is located in an air-conditioned building and has state-of-art medical equipment including incubators, wards, and surgery units to treat injured falcons. The hospital carries out examinations, diagnosis, x rays, and operations for the falcons just like any other hospital.
Falconers also bring their expensive birds for regular care and maintenance including nail trimming, feather care, and routine checkups. We were visiting Qatar on a quiet day and could walk around the Falcon Hospital. One of the staff members was happy to show us around different rooms and equipment and treated birds. We recommend everyone to look inside the unique falcon hospital.
Falconry has similarly gained from other technological advances as well. Remote controlled lures help falconers better train and exercise the falcons. Falcons are now tagged with GPS to track them if they get lost, breeding farms ensure newer generations are free of diseases, and medical advances have significantly increased the life of existing birds.
Falcons can fly on planes. And they come with their own passports.
Most Middle Eastern Airlines including Qatar Airways, Emirates Airlines, and Etihad have detailed, efficient procedures to take falcons on planes. The birds can fly on their owner’s arms and if a falconer is traveling with more than one bird, then the birds have their own tickets. Recently, a Saudi Arabian prince flying with over 80 falcons made the headlines. The falcons not only have tickets but also passports to fly to international destinations. The passports also help in proving the bird’s origin and act as deterrents to illegal falcon trade.
Even young Qatari boys own falcons.
Falconers come in all ages and genders. While women falconers are not that common in the Middle-East but are in Europe and the US – young falconers can be easily seen in the Falcon Souq. When we visited the Falcon Souq we saw a father purchasing his son his very first falcon. We also saw several young falconers exercising and caring for their falcons. The tradition of falconry is passed down generation to generation and teaching boys about falconry is an essential Qatari bonding experience. Watching the Qatari boys serenely carry falcons on their cuffed hands at a very young age was fascinating; their confidence could only be attributed to generations over generations of bonding between the Arab and his falcon.
You can watch a falcon auction in the Souq and experience falconry in the desert.
The Falcon Souq often holds public falcon auctions. Attending a falcon auction is a great experience. The falconers examine and price the Falcon based on the bird’s size and skill. While watching the falcons for sale in the Falcon Souq is a fascinating experience; the best way to watch falcons is while they are chasing birds of prey in the desert. There are several companies in Qatar that arrange a combined desert safari and falconry experience. These companies are also willing to customize a falconry tour for interested visitors.
There are many falcon souqs in the Middle-East.
While the falcon souq in Doha is quite popular, similar falconry souks exist in many Arab countries. These Falcon Souqs are a living testament to the Arab Bedouin heritage. Other popular souks and buildings in the Middle East where visitors can see falcons for sale and learn more about falconry include the Falcon Heritage and Sports Centre in Muscat Street, Dubai. The souq has a state of the art falcon hospital and a falcon museum which is free to visit. The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is the largest in the world and offers guided tours to visitors. Here you can see falcons undergoing pedicure and birds in flight.
Falconry also exists in Europe. And the Americas. In fact, falconry is still widely practiced today.
Falconry has deep roots. The sport finds mentions in epics and inscriptions found in ancient Mesopotamia and can be found in paintings and ancient literature in Syria and even Mongolia and Korea. The sport was introduced to Europe during the wars with the Arabs and became to be widely practices in Spain, Germany, and several other countries. Falconry found patronage among kings, princes, and nobles. It spread to North America and other countries. Today there are falconers of over 90 nationalities including young children and women falconers. Falconry regulations have been put into place to ensure that birds well-being and legal trade. Falconry clubs and organizations exist to connect falconers with each other and protect the future of the sport.
Falconry festivals are held to celebrate this ancient practice.
There are many festivals in the Middle-East that celebrate falcon hunting and falcon husbandry. UAE has an International Festival of Falconry in Abu Dhabi while Qatar has another one in the desert near Doha. Other countries like Tunisia also hold falconry festivals. Falconers around the world gather at such festivals with their birds and dressed in their national costumes, participate in various events. Most festivals have an indoor component where workshops are held to educate falconers about technology, culture etc while the outdoor desert component has raptor hunting competitions, falcon races, exhibitions about falcon gears etc. Attending a falconry festival and understanding how the sport varies in different cultures is an exceptionally immersive experience.
There are some concerns regarding falconry as an ethical animal practice.
While UNESCO describes falconry as a social and cultural tradition that represents natural relation with the environment; animal rights activists have some concerns over keeping the Falcons in captivity and using them as birds of prey. Falconers maintain that the birds are exceptionally taken care of and looked after but the sight of the hooded birds can be unnerving to some visitors. Most of the Middle-Eastern governments spend lots of money on ensuring the conservation of wild falcons. While C & I looked upon falconry as a cultural tradition and found it enchanting, I would urge visitors to do their own research and consider this side of the issue before they visit the Falcon souq in Doha.
Visiting the Falcon Souq in Doha is essential to understanding Qatar’s heritage.
For most visitors to the Falcon Souq, the world of falconry is enigmatic. Without knowing much, visitors associate it with rich emirs, wealthy elder Arabs and archaic times. While it was recreation for European and Asian wealthy falconers, it was key to the nomadic Bedouin’s desert survival. Today falconry lives on as a symbol of the lost (nomadic) way of life – to be cherished and honored by generations to come. Visiting the Falcon Souq was one of the highlights of our Qatar trip.
Doha is rapidly becoming a modern city. Its skyline is one of the fastest developing ones in the world and the expat population is changing the shopping and culinary scene in the city. It is becoming easy to forget about Qatar’s Bedouin past, that is till you visit the Falcon Souq. In the souq, the ancient tradition of falconry thrives underneath the shadows of Doha’s modern skyline and is protected by young Qataris’ desire to stay connected to their nomadic Bedouin past.