Dunrobin Castle Falconry: Feathers and Flair

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There can be no better backdrop for a display of the ancient art of falconry than in the fairytale setting provided by Dunrobin Castle and its gorgeous gardens.

The falconry Dunrobin Castle display tops off the visit to one of Britain’s oldest continuously lived-in houses that dates back to 1275. However, falconry began long before Dunrobin Castle appeared.

We spent a whole day at the Castle on one of our road trips around Inverness, Scotland and were so enthralled by the morning display we stayed to watch the second in the afternoon.

Dunrobin-castle and castle grounds with manicured gardens. Castle has conical spires overlooks the garden
Dunrobin Castle and Gardens

🦅 Dunrobin Castle Falconry in a Nutshell

  • Setting: It is set against the historic Dunrobin Castle, one of Scotland’s oldest continuously inhabited houses, dating back to 1275.
  • Falconry Displays: Experience the majestic flight of birds of prey like Harris hawks and peregrine falcons in a breathtaking display of ancient falconry techniques.
  • Frequency and Timing: Displays occur twice daily, providing ample opportunity to witness these spectacular birds in action.
  • Location: The falconry takes place on the castle lawns, with manicured gardens and impressive architecture providing a stunning backdrop.
  • Historical Insight: The display showcases falconry and delves into its history.
  • Visitor Tips: Arrive early for the best viewing spots; the morning display is often less crowded. The castle and gardens are closed from November to the end of March.
  • Photography Opportunities: Ideal for photography enthusiasts, the event offers dynamic scenes of flying raptors against the scenic castle setting.
  • Best Time to Visit: The falconry display is most enjoyable in the spring and summer when the castle and gardens are in full splendour.
  • What to Bring: Binoculars, a camera, and a picnic to enjoy in the gardens after the display.
Launch-of-a-Harris-hawk at Dunrobin Castle falconry
Harris Hawk launching for the Falconry display

What’s Included in this Dunrobin Castle Falconry Post?

Dunrobin Castle Falconry – Some History

Evidence suggests that falconry, the art of training birds of prey to hunt and kill wild prey for humans, began as far back as 6000 to 4000 BC on the plains of Mongolia.

It wasn’t until the 6th century that falconry became popular throughout Europe and was the prevailing sport of royalty. By the 1600s, rules dictated who could own and fly certain birds of prey, with falcons reserved for the aristocracy; the lowly servant was able to own a kestrel.

The Dunrobin Castle falconry display, performed by Manor Falconry, explained the history of this specialised art and its connection to the castle.

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Dunrobin Falcon fully focused on the food ©Lifejourney4two

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The Falconry Display at Dunrobin Castle

The Dunrobin Castle falconry display was a fascinating mix of aerobatics and information. The incredible skill of both the bird and the trainer was astounding. The presenter and falconer, Andy, was engaging and kept the audience enthralled throughout as he led the birds through their display.

We watched the Harris hawk and the peregrine falcon show off their unbelievable skills and learnt how man and bird worked together before guns and modern-day hunting practices dominated.

To be honest, we knew very little about falconry, and I was unaware of their use in hunting.

I had thought it was all just for the show.

How wrong I was.

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Harris Hawk in the Dunrobin Castle Falconry Display ©Lifejourney4two
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Peregrine falcon at Dunrobin Castle ©Lifejourney4two
Harris-hawk-at-Dunrobin-Castle
Be prepared to feel the swoosh of air or a feather brushing your skin as the birds swoop around the Falconry arena ©Lifejourney4two

Most Popular Tours, including Dunrobin Castle Falconry

About the Dunrobin Falconry Birds

Falconry involves an incredible amount of care and hours of training. The best way I can describe this relationship is to think of it as an owner and his dog. A similar relationship exists between the owner and the bird of prey.

All of the birds on display have been born and raised domestically because taking a bird from the wild in the UK is illegal. Indeed, life in the wild isn’t easy for birds of prey, and many falcons do not live past 12 months.

The average age of a hawk is seven years in the wild, but can live for up to 30 years when owned. It is hardly surprising that those born into falconry outlive their wild counterparts because falconer birds receive the correct food, exercise and healthcare.

Tethered-falcon on a brown stand and stood with its feathers spread wide
A fabulous falconry display Dunrobin Castle ©Lifejourney4two

The precision at which the birds weaved their way through the crowd and the incredible speed at which they could swoop was astonishing.

Peregrine-Falcon-low-flyby between crowd
Falcon swooping in above the crowd from the left, great challenge for taking Dunrobin Castle photos
©Lifejourney4two

You may be surprised and even feel sorry for the falcon or hawk wearing a hood when brought into the display arena, but this is to keep the bird calm.

If it can’t see anything, it thinks that nothing can see it, so remains relaxed and chilled when blindfolded. I wish that worked for me!

hooded-falcon on the gloved hand of its trainer
The hood on the falcon keeps the bird calm ©Lifejourney4two

At the opposite end of the lawn are other birds of prey, including more falcons and owls. They are tied to their tethers beside a tray of water.

Again, this may be perceived by some as cruel, but birds of prey naturally sit quietly for long periods to preserve their energy for hunting.

It is like keeping a dog on a lead — it stops them from getting into mischief. Normally, the Dunrobin Castle falconry birds are kept untethered in their aviary and exercised daily.

Harris-Hawk-reflection in water tray
Flying can be thirsty work ©Lifejourney4two
Falcon at Dunrobin close up of top half
Dunrobin Castle birds of prey ©Lifejourney4two
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Barn Owl — great for killing small rodents on farms ©Lifejourney4two

Photographing the Falconry at Dunrobin Castle

If you are a keen photographer, then Dunrobin Castle offers plenty of opportunities to practice your skills.

With the diversity of scenery: inside the castle, the gardens and the falconry with birds moving at such speed, the camera will be working hard. To guarantee a sharp image I set my Sony a9 to a fast shooting speed (20fps), set the ISO AUTO MIN Shutter Speed to 1/4000s.

I mated the Sony 200-600mm lens with my Sony a9 – a superb combination for fast-action photography.

The birds were flying into the shadows, causing my shutter speed to drop, but this was offset by the ISO Auto, set to 100 – 6400. With the camera configured, it was down to me to be predictive in pointing the camera where I thought the bird would be.

Although I tried ‘tracking’ mode, the birds were too small and the background too confusing for the camera to lock on and track them successfully. I had better results using the Wide AF area and relying on the camera to pick up the subject.

The peregrine falcon can reach speeds of 242 miles per hour, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t nail a crisp photo in flight.

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Peregrine falcon is coming in for a piece of meat being thrown up in the air ©Lifejourney4two
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Peregrine falcon trying to capture the lure ©Lifejourney4two
Peregrine-Falcon-just-off-the-ground
Zeroing in on the lure ©Lifejourney4two
Peregrine-falcon-taking-to-flight at Dunrobin Castle
It’s easier to capture a photo of the birds in flight just as they take off from their perch ©Lifejourney4two
Falconer with bird of prey at Dunrobin Castle
Falconer with his Peregrine Falcon, Falconry Scotland
©Lifejourney4two

Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle sits pretty, overlooking its exquisite gardens and the Moray Firth. Through the centuries, it has been home to the dukes and earls of Sutherland.

The Sutherland clan was one of the seven ancient earldoms of Scotland, acting as protectors of the realm and the main lay advisers to the king.

Dunrobin-Castle-and-roses growing on wall
Dunrobin Castle viewed from the garden ©Lifejourney4two

Dunrobin Castle’s conical spires are reflective of many French chateaux and give it a fairytale quality and romantic ambience.

Once inside, you are guided through the castle, stepping back through time, from the newest to the oldest parts of the castle. It is a self-guided tour with plenty of information boards and members of staff dotted around to answer any questions you may have.

Dunrobin-library with wooden bookshelf floor to ceiling with books
Dunrobin Castle Library ©Lifejourney4two
Dining-room-Dunrobin-castle - a clock with angels either side a a refective ball above in which you can see the dining room reflection
The sitting room — see the reflection in the clock’s globe ©Lifejourney4two

Dunrobin Castle Gardens

Dunrobin Castle gardens were designed by the architect Sir Charles Barry in 1850 with inspiration taken from the gardens of the Palace of Versailles in Paris.

These formal Victorian-styled gardens are a delight with a collection of topiaries, box hedges and flowers filling the air with heavenly scents. You’ll also unlikely miss the giant rhubarb plant, a native of South America, with a leaf span of an enormous eight feet.

The falconry display takes place on the lawn at the bottom of the garden.

Dunrobin-garden-and-falconry-lawn with purple flowers in the foreground and the sea in the background
Dunrobin Castle Gardens with falconry area at the back lawn with seating ©Lifejourney4two
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So many angles from which to capture the beauty of Dunrobin Castle — notice the giant rhubarb at the end of the avenue ©Lifejourney4two
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Getting up close and personal with a large red poppy ©Lifejourney4two
White turreted castle with foreground green gardens
The expansive tendered gardens of Dunrobin Castle ©Lifejourney4two

Dunrobin Victorian Museum

Hidden behind an old stone wall rests the Castle’s museum. Not to everyone’s taste, with animal heads and stuffed animals adorning the walls and cabinets. But is representative of the sport of hunting, a predominant pastime of the upper class in Victorian times.

The museum contains a large private collection of taxidermy dating from the early 1900s, with many of the animals shot by the family both in Scotland and on safari in Africa.

There are also Pictish stones and other archaeological relics in the museum.

Open 11am – 4pm daily

Dunrobin-Castle-Museum with animal heads on the walls and stuffed animals in glass cabinets
Dunrobin Castle Museum ©Lifejourney4two

Dunrobin Castle Falconry Extra Info

Where is Dunrobin Castle?

Dunrobin Castle is about 50 miles north of Inverness.

Address: Dunrobin Castle, Golspie, Sutherland, Scotland, KW10 6SF

Helpful Info for Your Visit to Dunrobin Castle

  • Dunrobin Castle Opening times: 1st April – 31st October (For daily opening times and current prices, check the Dunrobin castle website here)
  • The car park at Dunrobin Castle is free
  • You can’t buy tickets to Dunrobin online, you buy tickets at the entrance.
  • Dunrobin Castle Tickets give you access to the castle, the gardens and the falconry display
  • You can only buy an all-in-one ticket (ie. not only for the garden)
  • If you have a backpack or large bag, you will need to leave that at reception while you tour the inside of the castle, but collect it again to tour the gardens
  • There is a gift shop and tearoom in the castle on the ground floor
  • The tearoom also serves hot food at reasonable prices (eg I had a chicken coronation stuffed jacket potato with salad for £8.50)
  • Dogs are not allowed in the Castle gardens
  • Photos can be taken throughout the castle, but no flash photography
  • Drones are forbidden

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View of the ocean from Dunrobin Castle Gardens ©Lifejourney4two
White castle overlooking its green gardens
Dunrobin Castle photos are the stuff of fairytales ©Lifejourney4two

Handy Notes for Dunrobin Falconry Display

  • Dunrobin Castle Falconry Display Times: 11.30 am and 2.30 pm daily (from 1st April to 30th September)
  • The falconry display is popular so we recommend arriving 20-30 minutes before the start if you want front-row seats (especially if you notice the tour buses have arrived)
  • If you are spending the day at the castle you can watch both displays (the falconry display often uses different birds and the performance is slightly different)
Harris-hawk-fly-by
That’s what I call a fly-by ©Lifejourney4two

FAQ’s

Does Anyone Live in Dunrobin Castle?

Yes, the 25th Earl of Sutherland lives in Dunrobin Castle.

What Birds Are At Dunrobin Castle?

Falcons, owls and hawks feature in the Falconry at Dunrobin Castle.

Can You Take Dogs To Dunrobin Castle?

Only assistance dogs are allowed inside Dunrobin Castle and the gardens.

Dunrobin Castle Falconry Display … That’s a Wrap

We spent most of the day at Dunrobin Castle and had such a great time, we watched the morning and afternoon Falconry displays.

The visit to the castle itself is interesting and the gardens are a delight to wander through, but the addition of the Dunrobin falconry display and learning about this ancient art made the trip extra special.

The display melded together with the history of Dunrobin Castle, brought to life the way our Scottish ancestors … of which I have many…. but I’ll leave that tale for another day.

Have you visited Dunrobin Castle? What did you think of Falconry? Drop us a comment below.

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Shelley

Shelley, a former primary school teacher with a law degree, and her husband Lars co-own Lifejourney4two. Their adventure began in Perth, Australia, and has since taken them through Europe and Africa in motorhomes and bush campers. Shelley's travel guides combine practical advice with engaging stories, mirroring their shift from 'One Day' to 'Day One'. Together, they aim to inspire others to embark on their own travel dreams.

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