Saker falcon hunting season begins in Idlib; Modest equipment to get “lifetime dream”
Idlib – Shams al-Din Matoun
Workers and amateurs in the field of hunting saker falcons in the northwestern Idlib region set off for the hunting season and the journey to search for the Saker falcon, as they call it, which begins in September and extends until December of each year.
Using modest equipment that they make themselves and traditional and ancestral mechanisms, hunters begin the hunting season by trapping in their nets different types of birds, locally known as the free bird, that are sold to local traders and poachers who use them as bait to attract the saker falcon.
This species breeds from central Europe eastwards across the Palearctic to Manchuria are characterized by limiting their food to what they hunt and do not eat carrion.
Saker falcons are sold in northern Syria with the Turkish lira circulating in the region, and they constitute a source of income for many families.
Al-Nouja, Hunting yard
Hunters search for quiet places away from the noise of cars and people, and they stay in a place called “al-Nnouja.” They are prepared by constructing a small hole covered with a cloth dyed with dirt to look like the color of the ground, and through it, they leave holes that give them a view to follow the movement of the birds.
“Al-Nouja” is the popular name given to the hunting arena in which birds are pursued. Hunting equipment consists of bait to lure the Saker birds, a net, and binoculars to monitor them, in addition to some food and drink for the hunter in order to provide himself with energy during the long and arduous hours of hunting.
Calmness is required, as birds are frightened by colors and sounds, and hunters try to remain calm in their places, observing the type of saker falcon that approaches their nets and then bringing out the appropriate bait to catch it.
Simple trick and tools
Ali Hilal, 20, who was displaced from the village of al-Talhiya and resides in the town of Taftanaz in the eastern countryside of Idlib, has been active in the hunting season for four years, and every year he tries to hunt the Saker falcon using his humble tools. He set up his own hideout, “al-Nouja,” at the beginning of the hunting season.
Regarding the hunting mechanism, Hilal told Enab Baladi that the dove must be shown as bait for the Saker falcon while showing the quail is sufficient to attract the sparrowhawk and its likes, which is a species of Saker falcon.
Ropes from the net the hunter sets extend a few meters away from the “al–Nouja,” and he covers it with dirt so that the Saker birds cannot see it. On the other hand, he places the sparrowhawk on a stone, hangs a black bag to attract the attention of other Saker birds, thinking that it carries food, and ties a rope to its foot so that it does not fly away.
The hunter places a quail in one cage and a dove in another cage so that they are well hidden from the eyes of the birds, and each of the two cages has a rope to open them from a distance to use them as bait.
The hunting process takes place, as Hilal explained when one of the saker falcons approaches to see what is stuck on the sparrowhawk’s foot, and as soon as he approaches, he pulls the first rope so that the sparrowhawk approaches the place of the net and the bird follows it, and the hunter pulls the other rope to bring out the appropriate bait and attract it to the place of the net, and when the sparrowhawk approaches he tightens the ropes of the net to close it, and the hunter comes out of his place and catches the stuck falcon.
The young man explained that he does not harm birds used as bait, as he wraps them with a net on their back to protect them from the claws of the saker falcon he wants to catch.
Prices determined by supply and demand
The types of falcons that are hunted vary during the season, including the sparrowhawk and the hawk, and they are used to hunt the saker falcon. The type of peregrine falcon is determined according to its shape and the regular birds, which are quail, black-bellied sandgrouse, and wild pigeons, in addition to other species that hunters recognize after capturing them.
Thamer al-Ahmad, an IDP who lives in the Idlib countryside and works as an intermediary in the saker-falcon trade, told Enab Baladi that prices are not fixed and vary according to supply and demand, and there are birds whose price is determined when they are seen.
Al-Ahmad added that ordinary birds that are sold as a meal for the hunter or his sparrowhawks are consumed in the local market, the most famous of which are quails, and the price of a female and male pair ranges from 30 to 40 Turkish liras, and the price of a pair of wild pigeons ranges between 50 and 100 Turkish liras.
As for birds of prey, the sparrowhawk, which is the most famous of them, is used by the hunter in his ambushes. The bird is sold at the beginning of the season for 150 liras, and with the entry of the season, its price decreases to only 50 liras. As for the peregrine falcon, or the saker falcon, it is the hunter’s long-awaited spoil, and it may be the “dream of a lifetime,” according to al-Ahmad.
He added that the saker falcon has a specific standard and measurements that determine its value, and it is measured in inches and centimeters. In order for its price to be high, its length must exceed 40 centimeters, and it is called “al-Wafi.” If its length is 30 centimeters, it is called the “Mathlouth” and has a good price.
The shorter the length of the saker falcon, the lower its value. The length and beauty of its tail also constitute a major factor in its price. It is sold for export to the Gulf countries, and the price of these birds starts from $1,000 (27,000 Turkish liras) to $30,000 (810,000 TL).
It takes years to catch a saker falcon until it falls into the nets of hunters in Idlib, while other birds constitute a good source of income, as a hunter can sell birds he has caught every day for a value ranging between 100 and 300 Turkish liras in the area where the worker’s wage does not exceed 70 liras at best.
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