The City’s Wildest Job: Falconer Adam Baz’s Unconventional Routine
If you happen upon a man on the street in downtown Los Angeles wearing a single leather glove and looking up at the sky, stop and wait for him to whistle. At that precise moment, a thousand feet above you, a soaring hawk or falcon will tuck its wings to its sides and rocket at up to 80mph toward the whistler, landing with precision on his gloved forearm. Falconers, a long beloved guild of hobbyists and a burgeoning new profession, can be spotted throughout California’s cities and wide open country sides, where they’re hired with increasing frequency to fly their raptors in patterns that intimidate pesty local pigeon populations. Adam Baz and his team of awe-inspiring hawks are becoming a more frequent sight in and around Los Angeles, on call for bird abatement for vineyards and skyscrapers alike, the recent uptick in demand for falconry lessons and, as location would demand, the occasional film or photo shoot. “I appreciate that I can wake up in my bed, have coffee at home, and go to work in a normal way while still doing one of the weirdest jobs in L.A.,” says Baz on a call after a long day of swirling his hawks with precision. Here, Baz breaks down what it’s like having, quite possibly, the city’s wildest job.
How did you first become interested in Falconry?
I moved to Portland, Oregon when I was 22 and started doing environmental restoration work for AmeriCorps. I wanted to work outside. While I was planting native plants, I got interested in birdwatching as a hobby. A couple years later, I landed my first job working as a bird biologist, doing seasonal bird population surveys all over the western U.S. It wasn’t until I started tracking migratory raptors—eagles, falcons, hawks, kites, owls—by trapping and tagging them, that falconry became the logical next step. Holding these incredible wild raptors in my hands was really inspiring.
How does someone become a Falconer?
It’s an all or nothing affair, you can’t dabble in it. It’s a hunting sport, highly regulated by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Before you can even hold a bird, let alone own one, you have to pass a comprehensive exam covering pretty in-depth knowledge of biology, veterinary care, hunting regulations, you name it. Then you start a two-year apprenticeship with a master falconer, kind of like an old guild, learning how to trap and train birds of prey. I did mine in Oregon.
How does Falconry work as a career?
It’s a really new, rapidly growing industry—only 10 or 15 years old. It’s commonly referred to as falconry-based bird abatement, implying that we use falconry techniques to manage flocks of nuisance birds. It’s ineffective to use falconry for anything but abating other birds. We work in airports, outdoor shopping centers, private residences, landfills, recycling centers, piers, and blueberry farms. Vineyards are a huge—that’s the environment where our line of work really exploded. Birds love grapes—and blueberries—because they’re sweet and juicy. There is no solution available to a vineyard manager more effective than hiring a falconer, period. Though I think of myself more as a professional hawk and falcon trainer, rather than a pest technician.
What does it look like to do bird abatement in Los Angeles?
I bring a team of birds, depending on the job site—certain species are better suited to different environments. Harris’s hawks are an extremely intelligent and versatile bird that are relied on heavily in urban contexts, if not almost exclusively due to their flight style, trainability and disposition. Various species of falcons are generally used for more open environments like vineyards, landfills and airports. At the job site, I strategically unleash [my birds] one by one over the course of a work shift, flying them in a way that is intimidating to the flock of nuisance birds. It’s a really complicated process, but their instinct is to chase flocks of smaller birds. My Harris’s hawks are laser-point trained, so I use that almost constantly on an urban job site, moving the hawks like a chess piece to constantly pressure the flocks of pigeons.
Tell us about your birds. How many do you have?
I have three right now. I have an East African hawk called an auger buzzard, Kanoni, who is eight months. My focus with her is falconry lessons. She’s still a baby so she is yet to come into her own. She’s observant, curious, and maybe even nervous about new things, people and places.
Two are Harris’s hawks: Fox is ten. He’s a curmudgeonly old man—particular and stubborn. He doesn’t like to be pet or when new people go into his cage. He is exceptional at flying. You wouldn’t think one hawk would be better than another, but he does something called soaring. Jasper [my other Harris’s hawk] tends to stay close to the ground because he loves hunting. But Fox will spiral up into the air and then, the second you raise your glove, he skyrockets right down to you which is exhilarating. There are so many beautiful moments. The sensation you feel when a falcon is 1,000 feet in the sky and is a tiny spec to the eye and you blow a whistle and it just folds its wings and torpedoes down at you is pretty incredible.
Jasper, who is two, is kind of my champion bird. He’s simultaneously the most gentle, personable, and most deadly from the standpoint of a pigeon or a rabbit. [With humans], he’s patient and not in any way aggressive. I use him on falconry demos because, regardless of people’s experience, he’ll fly to you if you raise your hand with a glove. I’m not one to anthropomorphize. I don’t have a spiritual connection with my birds—I think they’re opportunists who think of me as a reliable food source and trust me. But if there’s any bird that I think enjoys my company, it would be him.
Do you form close bonds to your birds?
People often ask what kind of bond I have with the birds. I, of course feel affection for my birds, but one of the blunt realities is that they do not reciprocate love. My first bird was a red-tailed hawk named Jess that I trapped in the wild —[This was before I worked in bird abatement.] If you plan on making so much as a single cent with your falcons, you’re only allowed to use captive bred birds that you purchase from a captive breeding program. [After two years, I released Jess into the wild.] I had a whole ceremony and threw her up into a tree. I was fully crying. She never looked back. [Laughs]. The second you cease to become a reliable food source, [raptors] forget about humans.
That is brutal.
I have a dog, Una, she’s two. She’s a Visla and comes with me for work, but she’s fully a pet. She sleeps in the bed and gets tucked in under a blanket every night in the house with me and my girlfriend. The birds live in an aviary in the backyard, each in their own chamber. And we have two miniature goats.
And you all live in Los Angeles. You wanted to work outdoors—how did you end up in the second largest city in the country?
I can tell you I moved here because I didn’t like the rain and to expand the reach of our falconry business into the California market. There’s a lot more green space and wildlife than people realize. And I like the mix [that L.A. offers]. I spent about ten years tracking wild bird populations, backpacking for four months at a time seeing only one other person, my field partner, for that extension. There were years where I spent more nights in a sleeping bag than I did at home. I loved it, but I’m also 36 and have a family and appreciate that I can wake up in my bed, have coffee at home, and go to work in a normal way while still doing one of the weirdest jobs in L.A.