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Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital Internships

By Melanie Barsony

Since its inception in 1999 the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital has emerged as the leading institution for falcon medicine and research and the largest falcon hospital in the world. Committed to the highest standards and quality of treatment of falcons and other raptors, the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital’s dedication is reflected in its internship programs.  The hospital conducts extensive training for veterinarians, veterinary students and veterinary nurses/assistants and raptor rehabilitators from all around the world including France, Japan, India, USA, UK, Italy, Germany and Australia.

The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital’s knowledge and latest advances in avian medicine and surgery are invaluable for wild bird rehabilitation. Their veterinary care and treatments, housing and feeding regimes can be directly related to the treatment of our wild raptors. Of particular importance is wound and fracture surgery and care, disease treatments, feather repair, length of time in hospital care and of course the all important pre-release fitness of birds.

While the hospital has large wild bird case load, many of the birds that are treated are owned by Emirates. These birds are cared for with the upmost respect and are even considered family members. This human interaction between bird and handler enables close monitoring of the birds long term progress and abilities after an injury, especially during free flying expeditions. This close monitoring is impossible with wild birds after their release, so the ongoing knowledge acquired by the Falcon Hospital and their successful treatments cannot be underestimated or indeed undervalued.


This year, two raptor rehabbers from NSW Australia, who together have over 30 years experience, returned to ADFH to continue their studies. Peggy McDonald from the Southern Highlands first attended the hospital in 2012 and was so impressed with the level of training and the knowledge she gained that she has since returned another two times. Last year she studied with Melanie Barsony from Northern Rivers where they successfully completed the specialised internship for Raptor Rehabilitators. Once again, the knowledge and experience gained at the Falcon Hospital encouraged them to return in 2014 for further study, Peggy completing her 8 week for Avian Husbandry and Medicine, and Melanie the 4 week Avian Husbandry and Medicine.

The ADFH training program incorporates intensive hands on experience at the hospital working in all areas of avian care and treatment including diagnosis, anaesthesia, clinical sampling, administering IV and subcutaneous fluids, parasitological, diseases, imping, wound and fracture treatment and care, feeding and housing. As well as long days working in the hospital alongside avian veterinarians and vet technicians, the trainees attend lectures and must complete assignments after hours. An extensive examination is held at the end of each internship program in order for the trainee to gain the documentation recognised in universities around the world.

Melanie and Peggy at ADFH

treating and injured falcon.


The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital utilise large circular flight aviaries, instead of the more traditional rectangular aviaries. These circular aviaries are built with a central pavilion to encourage prolonged flight as the raptors cannot see an end point and continue to fly in laps. In this way, the birds full physical fitness is achieved after an injury.


Circular flight aviary

During Peggy’s first trip to the hospital she was so impressed with this innovative idea that she changed her plans for building a large standard rectangular flight aviary. Thus put in place many months of planning, with Peggy working closely with her architect friend, Ross, to design a circular flight aviary that would survive the harsh winters in the Southern Highlands. Peggy has worked tirelessly for many years fundraising and investing her own money with the plan of building a larger flight aviary: conducting community awareness talks on the plight of our raptors, meeting with local councils, holding raffles and film nights to name but a few. Gradually enough money was raised to embark on this ambitious project. Now, in 2014, Peggy has her flight aviary operational. It is 100 meters in radius and already she has successfully rehabilitated many raptors back to full health and fitness, including Peregrine Falcons, Wedge-tailed Eagles and Sea Eagles. Peggy’s circular flight aviary is the only one of its kind in Australia and hopefully more raptor rehabilitators will be encouraged to adopt this superior design so raptors can be released back into the wild in peak condition.

While at the hospital this year, Peggy and Melanie had the privilege of working with the Sheik Zayed Falcon Release program, established in 1995 to increase wild falcon populations. One hundred and fifty pure bred Peregrine and Saker falcons were cared for rehabilitated at the hospital over the past 12 month period. Some of these were injured wild birds and some were confiscated after being trapped overseas and illegally brought into the UAE where this practice is outlawed.


Melanie on the left recording falcon weight

The Falcon Release Program is representative of Abu Dhabi’s holistic approach to conservation. Working in conjunction with Kazakhstan and with local populations is a vital element in the international efforts needed to conserve species which migrate across many countries.  University students from Kazakhstan are part of the training program supported by Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital.
Mr Al Bowardi, Managing Director of AD Executive Council and Environment Agency said, “Falconers visit universities and school students appear on Kazahk TV stations. By spreading the conservation message and getting local people to help the local government we have a better chance of protecting these falcons.”

When a wild bird is first presented to the hospital, full health checks are conducted including blood and DNA analysis, xray, endoscope, micro chipping and banding. The birds are treated where necessary and brought back to full health and fitness.


Wild falcons waiting at ADFH for their health check.


Before the next stage of their journey back to the wild, further health checks are done along with imping and coping; weights and measurements of wings, flight feathers, tail, tarsus and toes are carefully recorded along with micro chip and leg band details. These health checks are vitally important so the birds do not introduce any diseases into the wild. The birds are transported to an intensive exercise facility for a period of four weeks to ensure their fitness and general health, and then flown to their original habitat of Kazakhstan for further preparation and subsequent release in time for their migration. Kazakhstan is part of their natural range which extends through Russia, China and Mongolia. A number of falcons are fitted with satellite transmitters to monitor their flight paths and provide data about survival rates.

Falcon being released back to the wild after rehabilitation at ADFH


Thanks to two dedicated carers, the advanced treatments and care practices learned at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital will now directly help the survival rate of Australian native birds and raptors. These trips have been totally self-funded at great expense by Peggy and Melanie, but the knowledge they have gained and are able to pass on to other carers and veterinarians is invaluable.

(sources: ADFH website, Abu Dhabi Environment Agency)




Updated January 1 2020  

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