New & Now
Meet the bird man of Blue Grotto
Lawrence Formosa invites visitors to come and enjoy birds of prey in the most natural environment, with a background of the sea and the medieval tower at Blue Grotto.

Lisa Borain

Lisa Borain

Lawrence Formosa has been tending to birds of prey for 38 years, and flying them for the last 17. He dresses in Medieval falconry attire and encourages visitors to see these magical birds amidst an equally extraordinary backdrop of sheer cliffs and expansive sea.

For the uninitiated, falconry is the hunting of wild animals in its natural state and habitat by means of a trained bird of prey. This has been going on for a long time - evidence suggests probably from approximately 2,000 BC in Mesopotamia.

When Malta was under Muslim rule, the island became important to Arab princes for its falcons who bred here. Later, falconry became a popular sport and status symbol among the nobles all over medieval Europe and the Middle East, with Malta being no exception. The sport was largely restricted to the noble classes due to the time, money, and space which it required.

In 2010, UNESCO nominated falconry as part of the human heritage of humanity, with the idea that falconry represents the unity between hunting and the environment.

Falcons were said to be so valuable that they were worth more than their weight in gold. When the son of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy was captured by Ottoman Sultan Beyazid in the late 14th century, Beyazid rejected Philip’s offer of 200,000 gold ducats for ransom and instead insisted on 12 white gyrfalcons.

By 1530, the importance of falcon breeding and hunting in Malta increased, and Charles V gave Malta to the Knights of St John for the annual token payment of a falcon. Once a new kingdom was created, the falcon was presented to the King of the Two Sicilies instead, annually on November 1st.

"I grew up in a hunting household and was something of a dishonour to the family, as I would far rather tend to the birds than kill them. I was only four years old when I became enthralled by the golden eagle in Valletta."

Zurrieq was always a popular spot for falcon hunting, which is one of the reasons Lawrence Formosa chooses here to offer visitors the sight of his magnificent birds. Although Malta is no longer a breeding area for birds of prey and there aren't many left on the island, Lawrence does some breeding of his own, with 14 birds currently in his possession at his personal home.

"Some people say that these birds don't drink water, but that's not true at all. It's very necessary, especially in Malta's hot weather. 

"I grew up in a hunting household and was something of a dishonour to the family, as I would far rather tend to the birds than kill them. I was only four years old when I became enthralled by the golden eagle in Valletta. It was at a very young age when I saw a television programme about resuscitating birds from the wild and then releasing them once they were better. I wanted to do that so badly. I tried to train a small bird when I was 11, but I didn't have enough knowledge apart from tying him up without hurting him. You need to study and learn. Experience and talking to people in the know is important."

Lisa Borain

It was difficult for me to begin the hobby in Malta, as I was alone. I resuscitated a lot of injured birds who would then fly away on me. Although it was heart-breaking, I learned a lot. I'm still the only one in Malta who uses the falconry technique."

This has become a full-time job for Lawrence. "I love doing this. If I couldn't dedicate all my time to the birds, I would have to stop doing it. It takes a lot of time. You couldn't have a full time job and tend to 14 birds properly."

In winter, Lawrence can afford to allow the birds to fly around, showing off their impressive wing spans and strength, but in summer it's too hot and they're not equipped with the right feathers to fly properly. Spring time is the ideal time to experience the grace and beauty of these birds in motion, so if you happen to be in Malta right now and haven't experienced the Blue Grotto yet, make a pit stop to see Lawrence and his birds at the Panoramic Point, right before going down to the grotto.


Lisa Borain
Written by
Lisa Borain
Lisa is a copywriter/editor with an adventurous interest and penchant for all things Malta.

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