Thumbnail image: Annie Kaempfer
[Deja Perkins] Hi, everybody. My name is Deja Perkins. I will be your host for the night– or, I guess, your hostess. And I would like to just welcome you all to hashtag #BirdsEyeView, diving into falconry with Rodney Stotts. Like I said earlier, my name is Deja Perkins, a.k.a. @naturallywild, which is where I can be found on all of the social channels. And I am an urban ecologist, a community engagement specialist, and a member of BlackAFinSTEM, which is the wonderful organization that has been bringing you Black Birders Week. And I will be your host for tonight.
If you have any questions, please be sure to direct them to the Q&A box at the bottom of your screen. If you are in Zoom, and if you are on Facebook, just go ahead and drop those questions into the chat and someone will let us know. I’d just like to let you all know that this event is a part of hashtag #BlackBirdersWeek 2021, which is a week-long virtual celebration of Black birders and the joy that Black people experience in nature. This event is being brought to you in partnership with Cornell Lab of Ornithology and “The Falconer.”
Let’s see. I see so many– OK, I see people here from Brooklyn, Ohio, Cleveland. Wow, we have viewers from Thailand. Welcome. Thank you so much for attending in today. Let’s see. Tuscan, Queens– shout out to Queens. Hello, everybody in Chicago, New York, Grand Rapids. ATL, hello, hello. Welcome. So glad to have you all here today.
I would just like to give you a quick recap of all the events that we have for today. This is technically the second day of #BlackBirdersWeek– or, actually, day three of #BlackBirdersWeek. And the theme for today was hashtag #BirdsEyeView. And the goal for today was to share the variety of ways that we engage with birds and to showcase the many identities of Black people who watch them.
We have had a phenomenal start to the day with IG live sessions featuring NC State PhD student Murry Burgess and her research on how light impacts barn swallows. We learned about the history of falconry and the many career opportunities it provides with master falconer Tiffany White over on the PearlZ in the Wild Facebook page. We had a special appearance from her Harris’s Hawk and her barn owl, Floki. We also saw how PhD candidate Juita Martinez enjoys the birds in her backyard and uses feeders and photography to share her backyard bird with her followers. And so now we are ending the day with this main event, diving into falconry with master falconer Rodney Stotts.
Now I’ll introduce our guests really quickly. Rodney Stotts is a master falconer and licensed raptor specialist from Southeast Washington DC. And under his organization, Rodney’s Raptors, Mr. Stotts creates interactive and educational programming, allowing adults and children of all ages to experience the excitement that comes from holding a live bird of prey. He is also a staff member of Earth Conservation Corps under their Wings Over America division and a youth community leader, creating transformative opportunities that connect youth to the environment and their community. Mr. Stotts’ love for falconry stems from the fact that it helps to keep local raptor population healthy, while crossing all color, socioeconomic, and ethnic areas.
With Mr. Stotts’ work, he makes the powerful connection between endangered species and the local youth who must navigate survival in a stressed community. Mr. Stotts is also the star of the new documentary, “The Falconer.” Now I would like everybody to give a warm welcome to our special guest, Mr. Rodney Stotts. Thank you so much for joining me today.
And I just have to say I think it’s amazing– the work that you do. And I too have a love for birds of prey, for raptors, for falcons. I think they’re awesome. I have on my peregrine falcon shirt– very on brand today for today’s presentation. And so I guess before we play the trailer and talk about the movie itself– or the documentary itself, I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about how you discovered falconry and why you do it.
[Rodney Stotts] Well, thank you guys for having me. I truly appreciate being here. I got into falconry– I used to work with the group the Earth Conservation Corps under the program Wings Over America. Unfortunately, when the pandemic came about, it cut all of that off. And so what I actually started doing was building a sanctuary at some land that I was able to get down in Virginia which is named after my mom, called Dippy’s Dream. So I’m actually building a sanctuary down there.
I got into falconry– I was working with the program and we did raptor education. We only worked with injured birds, though. So I wanted to know why do we only get birds after they got hurt. So I was told, well, the only way you can do that is to become a falconer. And when I told people I wanted to be a falconer, they laughed and said Black, falconer– those two things don’t even go together.
So that was one of the main reasons that really made me want to do it, because someone said I couldn’t. And I knew that the young people– I looked at them the same as I looked at the birds. If you catch a young person before they get injured, they can become productive, healthy citizens. Same if you catch that bird before it gets injured– you never have to have it in a rehab program. So that’s pretty much why I really, really started it, because I wanted to be able to give it to any and everyone. The program was for adjudicated youth. So if you weren’t an adjudicated youth, I couldn’t do anything for you, which seemed a little crazy to me.
[Deja Perkins] For sure. I think the work that you do is amazing. It’s nothing like having that bird of prey sit on your arm for the first time. And seeing the bird up close, it really changes– at least for me, I felt like it really changed my perspective. I used to volunteer with the raptor rehabilitation center, and I worked with education birds. And it was the same thing. It was like we had these birds that had been injured and they couldn’t be released. And so now they were education birds.
And that was probably the moment I was like, oh, these birds are amazing. I have to keep working with birds in any way possible. And so for you to give those experiences to youth, that is amazing. I can only imagine if I had that experience younger, as a middle school student or even a high school student, it probably would have changed my trajectory even quicker. I would been like yes, birds. Birds are everything. So before we continue on with our Q&A, I was wondering if you can tell people a little bit about what exactly falconry is, for those who didn’t tune in to our earlier events today.
[Rodney Stotts] Falconry is the oldest land sport known to man. We used to use falconry– basically, if there was a rabbit, say, 100 yards away, you couldn’t get him. You didn’t have a gun. There was no spear or anything that you would– that straight and the animal was moving. If you had a hawk or falcon or raptor, you can basically feed your family. When you would send a bird out, flush out game, y’all build a partnership. You never let the bird think it works for you. So y’all build a partnership.
And what I’ll do is I’ll flush the game out for you. You make the kill. We both will eat. So back in the royal days, you had to be of nobleness to have a falcon. Any commoner could have a hawk. But you have to be a king, queen, high ranking status, because falcons give a noble death. They kill before they eat. Hawks land on an item and just start eating while it’s still alive.
[Deja Perkins] That’s pretty intense. That is pretty intense. So, I would really like to give people a show of what exactly this documentary is about. So we’ll go ahead and play the trailer really quickly.
– Tragedy strikes everyone. It’s what you do with it that determines where you’re going to end up the rest of your life.
– As a teenager, Rodney Stotts led a life on the streets. Now, Stotts is a master falconer who rescues and trains wild birds of prey.
– The best classroom in the world is nature. This is my passion. This is what saved me.
– “The Falconer” on “America ReFramed.”
[End video playback]
[Deja Perkins] Wonderful. Thank you so much, Lisa, for playing that for us. And, I guess, what were your fee– how did you feel when you were first approached about the film, about the documentary. Have you ever met other Black falconers? Did you feel like you were the only one?
[Rodney Stotts] Oh, no, no. I’ve never thought I was the only one. Actually, there’s another falconer. His name is Shawn Hayes, and he’s in California, I believe. He reached out to me. Just so happened there was another guy named Berto who had just told him about me the day before. I called Berto, and he happened to be with Shawn. So Shawn was the first person that started giving me falconry equipment, donated me telemetry equipment for my birds and stuff like that.
So I never thought I was the first one or the only one or something like that. However, when you get that bird– I don’t care what your color is, the minute you get that bird and that bird sits there, you become somebody else. I mean everything about you, everything– your emotions, your feelings– it’s like now, where I’m going through a few things right now. I had a couple of deaths over the last two days, but I have my animals– my birds, my dogs, my horses, my white mice. And so it’s just something about that animal that takes you somewhere else.
[Deja Perkins] I would have to agree with you 100%. I keep my dog with me everywhere. And I can’t wait to have all of the other animals that I’m going to have when I eventually get my– what I’m calling my ranch, eventually. I’m really curious what were some of the challenges for you for getting into falconry when you first started.
[Rodney Stotts] The biggest challenge was finding a sponsor. Most of the people that I talked to, when I would talk to them and say my name, they knew I was a Black guy. And one of the comments was made to me that Black people don’t fly birds, y’all eat them– are you sure that this is what you wanted to do? And I started laughing.
So a year later, I ended up– I was at a falconry place and I had my bird. And a guy walked up to me, he said, you’re Rodney, right? I said, yeah. He said, I was the guy you talked to that day. You know I was just joking. I said, well, I wasn’t. You see that bird right there? That’s my bird. And I just left it at that.
And so the biggest thing was finding a sponsor because it’s a lot that you have to do when you get into it, and you really have to be committed. And so I kind of understood why, later, I got a little bit of the flack, because you don’t want to spend that much time and have someone working with a bird and then they just quit, because this really is life altering, and it’s something that once you get in it, you never want to get out.
[Deja Perkins] Yeah, I could see once I started training to become a falconer, I would never let it go. So they’d have to– they’d probably have to force me to leave. I do think that– I don’t appreciate the fact that I feel like there’s gatekeeping that happens with a lot of these outdoor-related activities, especially these bird-related activities, whether it’s through falconry or bird banding or other types of hands-on research. I feel like it’s really hard for us to get into those spaces oftentimes because I think the people who already exist in those spaces don’t feel like we belong because
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. Is that
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have to deal with, or was at the
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made that type of statement towards you?
[Rodney Stotts] When I first got into falconry, that’s when I was running into all of the issues, really. After I became a general falconer after the two years of apprenticeship, everything pretty much changed. I guess people knew then that it wasn’t some gimmick or something. It wasn’t something that somebody was just getting into. And see, one of the beautiful parts about it is just like what you guys are doing now, is the exposure. Growing up, every bird was a hawk– I mean was an eagle. So you can see a Kestrel and be like, that’s an eagle, that’s an eagle. So you never knew what the birds actually were.
So once you start getting into it and you’re able to identify and those type of things, and then you go back to the same neighborhoods and they see you, that exposure now gets other people involved, because usually, in our stressed communities, we’re worried about eating before anything else. So that’s the first thing, that you’re trying to make sure that you have food to eat or clothes on your back or at least a roof over your head. Then everything else comes secondary. And usually, by the time this happens, you’ve been arrested for something and/or you’ve had some police interaction.
[Deja Perkins] Yes. I’m curious. I know myself and other research biologists who work in field situations have had those types of interactions with police, where I’ve had a friend who had to collect roadkill off the side of the road and she was approached by police. I, myself, do surveys in residential neighborhoods, and so I’ve had police come up to me. I’ve had people working in rural situations where they’ve had interactions with the police and private landowners as well. So–
[Rodney Stotts] Well, couple of the interactions with the– I’m sorry. The couple of interactions with the police in the beginning was a little crazy because they thought I was either robbing a bank or doing something illegal. But the first police officers that ever pulled up on us– me my son was sitting in the car– they came behind us and the guy said, what are you doing? I said I’m a falconer. I’m trapping hawks. He said, what? I said, I’m a licensed falconer. I trap hawks, owls, falcons. I train birds, and I teach inner city youth raptor education and a little bit of environmental science.
He said, you’re black. I said, so are you. He said, I’m a police officer. I said, OK, and I’m a falconer. And he goes, I’ve never, ever, ever heard of a black falconer. The next thing you know, there was nine, 10 police cars around us. And then everyone– oh, my god, man, you do what? And just after– I’ll say, after the third encounter of being on the side of the road setting a trap out, PG County Police will get a call about a guy sitting on the road with some little box, and they wouldn’t even come anymore. They’ll ride past and just beep the horn and yell birdman, and just keep on driving up the street.
[Deja Perkins] I love that you were able to turn something that could have potentially been a bad situation into a positive situation. It’s all about educating others. I mean, no one can resist the appeal of falconry. I feel like once they know about it, it’s a great learning opportunity, for sure. I guess I’m really curious, do you consider yourself an urban falconer? Do you catch raptors in the city, or–
[Rodney Stotts] No, I just consider myself a falconer.
[Deja Perkins] –or do you go to somewhere else?
[Rodney Stotts] I mean, I just look at myself as just a falconer. It’s not–
[Deja Perkins] So do you have–
[Rodney Stotts] I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.
[Deja Perkins] Do you catch your birds in the city or in rural locations?
[Rodney Stotts] Well, actually you’ll catch them where it’s safest to catch them at. So if you happen to be in the city and you see a bird, and it’s in a tree, and it’s in a safe space for you to be able to trap, and it’s a juvenile, then you’re able to. There’s certain places where you don’t want to do it– any long highways or streets and stuff. You want to be off the roads, where the bird– when it actually lands on your trap– it has no room to get injured.
Because you are trying to catch a juvenile, occasionally, an adult may land on your trap. So you have to release that bird. So when you go over, you want to take them off, you want to make sure he’s OK, and you want to release that bird immediately. You never want to take something out of the wild that can reproduce. 80, 90% of these birds won’t make it through their first winter. So when you’re a falconer and you trap the juvenile, you actually help that bird make it through that first winter, that second, and then release them and then start over again, that way the population won’t decline.
[Deja Perkins] Yes. I have so many questions in my head now. As an urban– I consider myself an urban ecologist because I study birds in cities. And I know that sometimes we can get birds in cities or raptors in cities. And it can be something that we call an ecological trap. So it seems like it’s good for birds, but it’s not really good for their reproduction and being able to have healthy populations. So now I’m curious if we should focus on catching hawks and other raptors in cities and maybe helping those populations out or just– I know it’s all about the bird safety at first but–
[Rodney Stotts] Yes. But what happens is they adapt. Trust me, they adapt to the situations, the circumstances. The only thing is just– it’s us. We are the biggest threat to everything, including ourselves. We want to have dominion over everything. We want to know that this is– we say that this is why this happened, and it’s not always the case. And sometimes, if we just leave things alone and let it be, it’ll work itself out.
The birds and stuff that be in the city– they’re in the city because we built buildings in their backyard. They didn’t come to the city. We built in their yard, and then we say, well, why are there birds here or animals here? Because we encroached on their land. So we have to make those adjustments and understand that they were here first.
[Deja Perkins] That is very true. If anything, we should be thankful that they allow us to live in their backyards. Well, we have so many questions in the chat. But I think everybody would probably want to know what types of birds of prey have you worked with and what are your favorite versus least favorite.
[Rodney Stotts] I’ve worked with Eurasian Eagle-owls, Harris’s Hawks, Red-tails, Red-shoulders, Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinneds , Golden Eagles for a while, Bald Eagles for a little while. My favorite bird, I guess, would be Harris’s Hawks because you can take out a group of people– I have four or five of them myself, so everyone puts on a glove, and we can all walk out and send a bird up. And we stay as a group and the birds fly over and follow you and everything like that. So that’s my most favorite, I would guess.
Cooper’s Hawks are the ones that I would really, really recommend that you know what you’re doing before you get one.
[Deja Perkins] Why is that?
[Rodney Stotts] They’re accipiters. They’re fast flyers and they can be truly unpredictable, especially here, up this way. In late September, most falconers will release a Cooper’s Hawk if they catch one because that bird tends to come at you. It’s not a question of if, it’s when. Yes.
[Deja Perkins] Wow, I had no idea. I knew that Cooper’s Hawks, they were– I knew they were some bad mama jamas, but I didn’t know that they were like that.
[Rodney Stotts] Yes, every falconer that I know that’s had a Cooper’s Hawk that caught it late September– the bird will fly, do everything, go to the lure 100 times in a row. And then at 101, he’s going to come at you. So you just have to be prepared. Every time you let him out that creance–
[Deja Perkins] It only takes one.
[Rodney Stotts] –watch him. Yes, ma’am.
[Deja Perkins] Wow. So would you say that Cooper’s Hawks are your least favorite to work with?
[Rodney Stotts] I love them all, though. I mean, if I had to, I’m going to work with them. Especially if it’s a life or death situation and it’s a juvenile and I know that I have to make sure that he becomes an adult or she becomes an adult so they’re able to reproduce, then I do it.
[Deja Perkins] Yes. I will say when I– the very short period of time where I was allowed to work with birds, I was able to hold a Harris’s Hawk, and that was amazing. I think my favorite owl– my favorite bird to work with was the barred owl. And my least favorite– my least favorite was the turkey vulture, and probably because it bit me. It was the only bird that bit me. And I can’t blame the bird, but he definitely had his favorites. I believe his name was Melvin. He had his favorite people to work with.
So, with your Harris’s Hawks– I know that Harris’s Hawks– they can work, they can hunt in groups. So I’m curious, do the birds that you have, when you take them out all at one time, do they still hunt in groups or do they mainly, kind of, partner with whoever is having– whoever has the glove?
[Rodney Stotts] Now, what you would do is when you go out and you have more than one bird– so you have 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Harris’s Hawks up, you stay as a group. If someone splits off, the birds don’t know who to follow. Did he find food? Did y’all find food? So you may have some that went one way, some that went another.
So if you guys stay as a group, and you’re walking, and you’re beating on the bushes, and you’re tapping trees, and you’re trying to chase out game, the minute any one spots game, they’ll blow their whistle, give the command, and all of the hawks will then go off because they’re trained that– when they hear that whistle and they see something move, they’re going after it. And they’re the only ones that will hunt cooperatively. So they’ll hunt as a group, and all of them will get their feed in that kill. They’ll all share in that. They are the only species that does it.
[Deja Perkins] Amazing. How many Harris’s Hawks have you had out hunting at one time?
[Rodney Stotts] We’ve had seven– I believe seven up at one time. We will put different colored jesses on them so that everyone would know which bird is theirs because they all look the same. And we don’t want to keep spinning the bands around and try to read the numbers, so you would put a different color on your jesses, or your anklets, that you have on your bird so everybody knows whose bird is whose.
So at the end, when you’re calling birds down, my bird will fly to you, your bird may fly to someone else, and then we all give each other our birds back at the end. But the most successful hunt is everyone getting their bird back at the end, whether you caught anything or not. That’s the most successful hunt.
[Deja Perkins] Yes. Well, have you lost any birds? Have any birds escaped?
[Rodney Stotts] Yes. I actually lost the very first Red-tail that I had a week before I was going to release them, and I was crushed. I mean, it it crushed me. But I knew he was OK. I knew he would survive. That was the only thing that pretty much gave me any solace– that he ended up getting loose a week before I was going to release him.
[Deja Perkins] Wow. Well, at least it was so close. I guess that he was ready to spread his wings and fly. You had done your job. He was a little too excited to get out there and start hunting on his own. So, we have so many great questions here in the chat. I figure we can go ahead and answer some of those. Ashton Turner would like to know is
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[Rodney Stotts] I’m sorry. It froze up one sec.
[Deja Perkins] We want to know is falconry costly. Is it a costly sport to get into?
[Rodney Stotts] It can be when you’re building your aviaries, if you’re building them from wood, with the price of lumber now. If you use the, like, a 8 by 8 by 8 outside dog fence, dog kennel, and you put the roof on the top of it, you can actually use those as aviaries. Your leather for your anklets and jesses are not really expensive.
Telemetry– you always want telemetry on your bird if it’s a bird that you’re not going to release, if it’s your own personal bird. Like my Harris’s Hawks, you would not release them here. So you want telemetry on birds that are not native where you are if you’re flying. So it can be a little costly, but once you get everything out of the way– it usually run you about $1,000, I would say, to really get all of your gloves and swivels and everything and your aviary. So you can– anywhere from $1,000 to $1,200.
[Deja Perkins] So high start-up costs, and then as you continue, costs of feeding– well, I guess they’re hunting. So do you have supplement food?
[Rodney Stotts] They’re not hunting year-round. They’re not hunting year-round. You only will hunt them in the fall-winter time when there are no leaves on the trees. If there are leaves on the trees and your hunting and your bird, you can’t see your bird, and your bird can’t see you. So you may lose your bird.
NIH actually donates all the mice and rats and stuff for your birds so that while you’re feeding your animals that during the summer and spring, you don’t have to worry about any poisons or contaminants or anything like that. So it’s not costly, as far as food is concerned. You can get your food for free– the mice and rats.
[Deja Perkins] Well, there you go, everybody. You have to be comfortable with touching mice and rats if you want to be a falconer. And you have to come out of pocket with a little bit of the start-up costs, as with anything. Oh, I see a really good question that just popped into the chat. What is your favorite place to hunt or to take your birds out in the DMV?
[Rodney Stotts] Well, to hunt, is anywhere– the bird just loves to go out and do what they do. But the DMV– southeast, just walking southeast. I grew up in Southeast DC, so when I go back and I take the birds or the horses and stuff, and I go through there and I see people who I grew up with and their kids, they all running in the house– mom, dad, there’s a guy outside with a bird. And they’ll come out– that’s Rodney, oh my goodness. So I try to go there, mostly, because that’s where I came from. So I want them to see that if you decide to do something, you’re the only one that can stop you.
[Deja Perkins] That is some very great words of
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. I see we
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wants to understand the sport.
[Rodney Stotts] Well, working with birds of prey for as long as I have been working with them– falconry– the difference with them is actually bringing their weight down to hunt these birds. So you have to be careful that you don’t drop their weight too fast or too much. And you have to get them at the right weight so that they’ll fly for you, come to you, and then you’ll drop it a little more so they’ll actually follow you and do the hunting.
But you always remember to make it a partnership. And every single bird has its own personality. So what you do with this bird, it may have learned it in two days. This bird might take you two months to train. So just remember, each one has its own personality.
[Deja Perkins] Yes. That’s something that we could even apply to life– just remembering that everybody is different, everybody has their own personalities and unique qualities, and we have to respect that and treat people right. That’s the main thing. So we have a few more questions. How long do you keep the birds that you trap and train?
[Rodney Stotts] Just under a year. If I caught them in September, I would usually release them May, June of the next year. So I keep them just under a year. And the only way I would keep them a little longer is if their molt didn’t come in the way that I wanted it to come in– a nice full-feathered molt. Then, I would hold them off for one other year and then release them once their feathers came in complete.
[Deja Perkins] Oh, here’s a good question. Do you ever become very attached to your birds? Are there any birds that have impacted you the most?
[Rodney Stotts] All of them, every single one, even the ones that I trapped and had to release, even the adults. The fact of being able to hold that creature just for that one second and realize that what you’re trying to do is way bigger than you– so when you let that bird go, you say a prayer, and you just let it ride on the wings of the birds. Every single animal, period, to me, that I’ve kind of come in contact with means something to me. And most of them are named after people that I’ve lost that are loved ones. So all of them are super special.
[Deja Perkins] I love that you named them after people who are special to you and keep them alive and close to you in that way. I love that. Someone asked, do any of the birds you release come back?
[Rodney Stotts] No, you don’t want them to come back. That’s the one thing. If that happens to come back to you, say, two weeks after you release it and you went out and you happen to see it and you call for it and it came back to you, you would probably end up having to keep that bird because it’s imprinted to you and has no fear of humans. You want it to stay away from people. You don’t want it to depend on people. And if it’s coming right back to you, then there’s a problem. So you really want that bird to look at you like, who are you, and fly off and go on about his business. Then you know you’ve done your job right.
[Deja Perkins] And, yes, someone put in a comment that these are not pets. That is correct. We are doing this to help their population, to help them survive the first year. And after that, you let them go. And you say be free, my little bird, and let them do their thing. All right. So, we have a lot of questions about how– I guess, getting into falconry. So someone wants to know, is it possible to start falconry without having land, for example, living in an apartment or in an urban environment?
[Rodney Stotts] Yes. There are some states that you actually can have an indoor aviary which is inside your house. You can have your bird in your house if it’s a state that has falconry. I was living in a townhouse with a little, teeny backyard. And the owner of the townhouse, when I explained to him what I was doing– I was becoming a falconer and I wanted to build an aviary– he gave me the permission to build the aviary in the backyard.
You don’t need a lot of space. You’re not going to have 15, 20 birds, unless you can actually take care of them, fly them, feed them, give them the best quality of life. So you would usually have one or two birds at the most. And then, as you develop, become a general and then a master falconer, you’re able to have more birds. And usually by that time, you’ve expanded where you are.
[Deja Perkins] That gives me so much hope for the future because I’m still in an apartment. And I am hoping that I can somehow make my way into becoming a falconer as well. So a big question here in the chat– do you have a special permit– or do you have to have a special permit to have a bird of prey in your possession? And, also, what birds of prey can be used in falconry?
[Rodney Stotts] Yes. It is very important that you get the license. Do not go out and try to trap a bird. They are all federally protected. They fall under the Migratory Bird Act. So everything that is native to the United States, bird-wise, falls under that act. So you do not want to go out. You must have a sponsor first. You’re an apprentice for two years. You’re a general for five years. And then you become a master after seven years. So you definitely have to have a license. I’m sorry, what was the rest of it?
[Deja Perkins] I think it was what birds can be used.
[Rodney Stotts] The birds that you really wouldn’t use are owls. You wouldn’t really use them at all in falconry. Some people do Harrier Hawks. Things like Red-tails, Red-shoulders, Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-shinneds, almost every falcon, people will basically use in falconry. Just because it’s a raptor doesn’t really– you wouldn’t really use it in falconry.
A lot of people like a Harrier Hawk– hunts little small voles and mice and stuff like that. Or ferruginous– they really don’t hunt squirrels and rabbits and things of that nature. So to take this big, huge bird out to chase mice– and then it’s the dead of winter, so there’s very little rodents that’s running around like that. So those are the birds that I’ve never really seen anyone using in falconry.
[Deja Perkins] That makes a lot of sense. So remember, everybody, this is about the bird and not us. I know we love them and we want to– the idea of having them close to us is really fascinating. But they are not pets. We’re doing this to help their populations. We have to think about what they eat and what makes the most sense in that sense for the bird– so great, great point. Here is a good question. What qualities make the best falconer?
[Rodney Stotts] Well, I’ll say this. It doesn’t matter who you are, that bird is going to break you and rebuild you into something else. So you’re going to learn patience. You’re going to learn difficult– dealing with difficult situations because you’re sitting there– why aren’t you’re doing this? And the bird’s just looking at you. So you can’t holler. There’s nothing you can do, so you’ll learn to slow yourself down. That’s one of the best things about falconry and working with the birds. They make you become someone else. Regardless of what you think you’re going to do, they’re going to make you become someone else. And it’s usually a better person.
[Deja Perkins] Truly a transformative experience for sure. Someone says, is there a right or wrong reason to get into falconry?
[Rodney Stotts] Wrong reason is because you just want to see something kill something. That, to me, is the wrong reason. I don’t condone hunting or anything like that. However, if your only reason– you had no love for the animal itself, you just wanted to see it do something, that, to me, would be all the wrong reasons.
If you had a love for that animal, for animals, period, you want to make sure that the population stays. You want to make sure that future generations get to see these. You want to start a generational thing. Like, my son is now a falconer. His daughters– 10 years old– can tell you everything about a bird, putting anklets, jesses, on them– everything. So it’s something now that you can pass down generation after generation after generation, instead of debt and always just the things that we end up having to pass down to each other. So that would be one of the best reasons to get into it, because it can build your family, bring people closer together, mend old wounds– everything.
[Deja Perkins] Definitely a better legacy to pass down to the next generation for sure. So do you sponsor? Are you allowed to sponsor people?
[Rodney Stotts] Yes. Yes, I’ve sponsored. I am allowed to sponsor. And hopefully, again, next year, 2022, I’ll be sponsoring again.
[Deja Perkins] Awesome. Well, don’t everybody jump in his email box. I got first dibs, OK? So, related to sponsorship, someone asked, how do you find a sponsor in an environment where there are no falconers? Do you all have a network? Is there–
[Rodney Stotts] Yeah you can go– whatever state you’re in, if falconry is in your state, you can go on that website– like Maryland Falconers’ club out here in Maryland, or you may have the Virginia Falconers’ club, the Ohio Falconers’ Club– and they’ll have a list of master falconers and general falconers. Then you can call them and ask them are they sponsoring at that time. Also, if your state doesn’t have it and the state next to you does, and your sponsor is close enough where you guys can still communicate and you can still go over and learn the things that you need to learn, you’re able to sponsor someone in another state.
[Deja Perkins] That’s very good to know. So don’t everybody hop into Rodney’s inbox. I said I have dibs. Go find you another one. I’m not going to be selfish. I’m just kidding. All right. So how has falconry built your relationship with community residents in helping them understand that nature is healing?
[Rodney Stotts] Well, because I can go– I feel I can go anywhere with those birds. When you first see me get out my car, most people look. There’s a 6 foot 2 Black guy just walking down the street. And then when they see me pull this bird out, everyone– it doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are, what you believe in, what your religion is, what your politics are– oh my god! That’s a hawk. What are you doing?
Then you got them. Encouragement, excitement, educate– there you go. So now that I got you excited, I can educate you and encourage you to please start doing things a little differently so that little kid that you’re holding– these birds will still be around when they’re our ages.
[Deja Perkins] Do you feel that falconry has improved your connection to nature?
[Rodney Stotts] Oh, definitely– just another aspect of healing for me, just like with the birds named after my loved ones. So, the first thing we always say when someone passes is they’re up there looking down on us. So where are the birds? Up in the sky. Doing what? Looking down on you. So the bird is named after your mom, your brother, your cousin, whoever, you’re never alone. So go on out. Take them out with you and have them look down on you like they still be doing.
[Deja Perkins] Yes, I love that. Let’s see. There are so many different questions here in this chat box. Here is a good question. Someone says it sounds like being a falconer is a full time job. Do you also have a regular job? I guess that means a 9 to 5.
[Rodney Stotts] Well, I was blessed to turn my loving for falconry into a 9 to 5. I’m actually starting a sanctuary, like I said, down in Charlotte Court House, Virginia. It’s named after my mother, Dippy’s Dream. And so what I was trying to do out here– when the pandemic hit, it actually shifted in a better direction for me to do it at home so I can do it after my mom’s name. And then people can come down.
We’re trying to start a sanctuary where it’s actually free. It’s donation based. So, because you can afford something doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it. You can get up and feed the homeless every day, and you’re on your way to being homeless. And you wanted to learn how to ride a horse and someone said, well, that’s going to cost you $1,000. Well, you couldn’t afford it. Does that mean you did not deserve it? No, it just means you couldn’t afford it.
Well, I have horses. I can teach you how to ride a horse, and it can be free. And, say, you only have $5.00. Well then, donate $5 so the next person will be able to get the chance to enjoy and get that feeling and connect with nature again. So it’s not about money. And you know when you die, you can’t take it with you. I would love to know that I left smiles on faces.
[Deja Perkins] I’m sure you have left tons of smiles on faces. I see people commenting in the chat, asking about some of the birds that they’ve seen on different programs that they’ve been in contact with you. And I will just let our audience know that– please do donate to Rodney’s Raptors if you do have that little extra bit.
Or if you do– if you want him to sponsor you, you know, you got to got to get to the point first. Let him know you are truly invested. OK? Let him know. You got to give a little. You have to invest a little bit to get a little bit. So go ahead. If you got a little bit of extra or you feel the need in your heart, please do. We dropped the donation link into the chat a few times.
[Rodney Stotts] Can I tell them one thing?
[Deja Perkins] Sure.
[Rodney Stotts] If I got the chance to sponsor them, it never would be what did you do, or did you do this for Rodney’s Raptors or anything. My whole thing I tell everyone, before my mom left here, she was always proud of me. She wasn’t always proud of what I was doing. Before she left here, I got to make her proud of what I’m doing.
So when I do sponsor and do, like you said, make people smile, to me, that’s telling her, I love you, baby. And she started saying, thank you, baby. Keep on doing what you’re doing. So it would never be a thing of you don’t have enough for this. No, let’s go. If you want to learn it and you truly passionate about it, let’s go. That’s all the payment I need.
[Deja Perkins] I love it. I love it. So I think it would be a really great time–
[Rodney Stotts] Aw, someone just
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across the bottom. Thank you.
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[Deja Perkins] I see– aw, somebody said that they love you.
[Rodney Stotts] I love you, too. No, I’m serious. We supposed to love every one. See, I don’t know when we got away from not realizing that we all are human. We all bleed. We all hurt. We all go through things. Cancer has no name, no face, none of these things. So we all have to realize that we all hurt and we all can heal.
Kindness don’t cost a thing. My mother used to tell me that kindness does not cost a thing. Open a door for someone. Just tell them have a nice day. Buy a cup of coffee for someone one morning– little, simple things. And you just don’t know what that could have done for that person’s life at that moment. And so, I know that there’s been times that I felt the whole world was on my shoulders.
Someone, just out of the blue– thank you, man. You know you did just this and this, and I’m looking at them like I didn’t do anything, though. However, at that moment, I just needed that. And it was the most beautiful thing in the world. So my thing is just– just be kind to each other, if nothing at all. Just tell everybody you love them because we’re not going to be here forever. And so my last thing for everybody, man, is I love you. Let’s go. Let’s do this. That’s just who I am. I’m sorry.
[Deja Perkins] I think you have won the hearts of everyone in the room. I mean, I don’t think there needed to be any winning, because we all came here to hear from you and learn about you and all the wonderful work that you’re doing. But I think through every word that you have spoken today, you’ve just shown us that love is really what drives you, whether it is from the love that you have for these birds or the love that you have your community, the love that you have for your family. It has really just shown through in every word that you have spoken today. And we need more examples like you. We need more people who have that same mentality, for sure.
[Rodney Stotts] You know what? There are a lot of us. There’s a guy named Xavier Brown. You have a Akiima Price. You have so many people that are out here that just don’t get any recognition whatsoever about what they’re doing. And I explain to people, if I didn’t have a bird, I would be one of those people that no one ever heard of.
So when people say you have a platform– my thing is look at all these other organizations, people that are growing vegetables for stressed communities and food deserts, and stuff like that. To me, you guys are the real heroes. You’re changing lives completely, I mean, from the inside out. You know– better eating, better health, better everything.
So, there are so many other things to me that are so much bigger than what I’m doing. I just really feel like I’m not doing anything, to be totally honest. I don’t know. It’s just me. It’s just– that’s what I do. So the 9 to 5– this is 24/7. You don’t quit. There’s no time off. You really don’t.
[Deja Perkins] Yes, we definitely need to start, maybe, a list of all of the hidden heroes and just people who do so much great work, but yet don’t have the platform and the reach. And that’s one of the things that we’re trying to do with #BlackBirdersWeek week as well. We definitely want to highlight all of the amazing people who are doing this great work and who deserve to be highlighted.
So thank you, again, for being a part of this program and sharing your words of wisdom with us today. I think we have about 10 minutes left, and I think it would be great to show the audience a little sneak peek of one of the clips from “The Falconer” tonight.
– There’s a lady named Ms. Suzanne Shoemaker, who is my sponsor, who taught me some of the things that I needed to know. When I told her I wanted to be a falconer, she said she would sponsor me. I went and took the test, passed the test, and she was the first one I called.
– She knows what these mean. They mean she’s going to be tethered, which she doesn’t like. I know, baby. She says, I don’t want to be here. But she likes her toys.
– Now that’s the one you need to follow. See, you’ll get all this cool stuff, like I said. My bird just sit there and look at you. She got all this, man.
– So you would love to be able to hop onto your head. This little guy’s– girl, actually– it’s a female. She is not releasable. But she’s already– you know, she’s all ready for education programs.
– Yeah, I would love to have her. Aw, look at her eye.
– See, she’s missing that left eye. She was hit by a car.
– They had to take it altogether? They couldn’t–
– Yeah, there was no way to save it. It had ruptured. It was–
– This one down here had her leg stuck in the cavity of a tree. That’s not typical. We don’t get many birds that have natural accidents like that. And the other thing that we get sometimes is rat poisoning and other toxins from rodents that they eat. You know, we lose a fair number because they don’t get found until they’re really in bad shape sometimes. I get them through Department of Natural Resources hotline, animal control officers.
– Oh, look at you.
– This one must have fallen out of the nest and it fractured its wing. There’s a chance that he might have to go for education, but we’ll definitely place him. He’ll be easy to place. And then this one, here, actually, was hit by a car and had a wing fracture. So this one is acting like a foster parent for this one while it’s in captivity. That way, it won’t imprint on me.
– Told you, boy, nobody sponsor me, but Suzanne did, though. When I asked them about sponsorship, he said Black people don’t fly birds, y’all eat chicken– you don’t fly hawks– or something crazy. It was something crazy to that effect of we don’t– we’re not falconers. Black people don’t work with birds.
– Somebody said that to you?
– Oh, yeah. I heard all kinds of stuff being told to me. You don’t fly birds, you eat them. That’s what they used to say, man. It just make me laugh.
– I wanted Rodney to be able to do what he wanted to do. That’s why I wanted to sponsor him, because he knows the people he’s trying to reach, and they know him. They can relate to him.
[End video playback]
[Deja Perkins] Awesome. Well, that was a special sneak peek into the film. And it will be premiering tonight on PBS, the World. I think we’re going to drop a link in the chat so that you can find your local channel and go ahead and watch that right after this live session ends at 8:00 PM Eastern.
And there will be a few private watch parties going on throughout the rest of the week as well if you don’t get a chance to see the film tonight as it premieres. But we do hope that you go over and watch it. I mean, if you weren’t inspired to watch the film before this Q&A, I hope that this conversation with Mr Stotts has definitely convinced you to do that.
Now, I’m curious. Do you have any, I guess, resources or final words of wisdom that you would like to share with any hopeful or future falconers we have in our audience, because we have tons of them, as you’ve heard throughout this is live?
[Rodney Stotts] Well, I guess what I would say is if there’s something that you truly, truly want to do, don’t give up. Every obstacle that comes in your way is your test to see if we truly want to do it. And as long as you keep on persevering and believing in yourself, nothing can stop you, nothing.
[Deja Perkins] Yes, that is– I feel like that’s the message that my parents tried to instill in me as I was growing up– like, just keep– if there is something you’re passionate about, just keep doing, just keep going. And that is– that’s what’s gotten me here. So it’s definitely wise to live by.
[Rodney Stotts] Your journey in your journey.
[Deja Perkins] Yes, that’s true. And comparison is the thief of joy, so no matter how much we all want to be falconers, we know we can’t all be as wonderful as you.
[Rodney Stotts] You can be a falconer.
[Deja Perkins] Yes.
[Rodney Stotts] You can still be a falconer. You can’t be as wonderful as me, but you still can be a falconer. No, I’m just joking.
[Deja Perkins] I love it. Well, thank you so much for this. I see we have so many comments and compliments to you and just how everyone has really enjoyed this program tonight. I know that someone said that they will be making a visit to Dippy’s Dream this summer with their 12-year-old son. So, we love to hear it. And if anybody else is also in the area, I want to direct you there as well. Go have a chance, hang out, learn more about everything that Mr. Rodney is doing. And go check out the film right after this.
Be sure to stay tuned for the rest of the #BlackBirdersWeek events. Tomorrow we have #LIferMemories. Thursday we have #SafeInNature And Friday we have #OnTheirWings. So be sure to catch those livestream events and be sure to participate throughout the day. And, of course, be sure to participate in our 24-hour bird watching event on Saturday, #BirdsOfAFeather. And check out to see if there are any local walks happening in your area.
Know that I would definitely like to say thank you, all, for coming and tuning in to this show and this conversation– not even a show– this discussion and conversation that we’ve had tonight with Rodney. Thank you so much for sharing your words of wisdom, your passion for this, your love for both people and birds. And we really do just wish you the best. Thank you just for giving us your wisdom tonight.
[Rodney Stotts] Oh, thank you, guys. Truly, thank you. And everyone that wrote in and everything, thank you all. Truly appreciate it.
[Deja Perkins] Awesome. Great. Well, everybody, I think we’ve dropped all the links. If we can drop the link to the PBS World locator one more time, don’t forget to go ahead and hop on over and watch that after we end tonight. So thank you, everybody.
[Rodney Stotts] Thank you, guys. Have a good one.End of transcript
Dive into falconry with Black Birders Week and Rodney Stotts! Join this live Q&A conversation as we learn from a master falconer from southeast Washington D.C. Learn about Rodney’s journey to becoming a master falconer and preview the new documentary The Falconer premiering on public television’s WORLD Channel and streaming on the PBS app right after the Q&A.