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.
After a couple of hours of fascinating husbandry of birds of prey, Warren introduced us to several birds in their collection:
Harry is a twin set with “Potter” — no joking!
Dexter, a Harris hawk, whom we came to know very well. Quite a friendly bird.
Tamara, the Little Owl, about 6 in. long.
And, beautiful, calm, truly affectionate (as difficult as that may seem in an owl):
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).
Dexter, circling around to come land on a gauntlet and receive his reward.
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.