Nicole Perretta has been a falconer for 20 years and started her falconry career flying Jamaica, a red-tailed hawk in North County, San Diego, California.
She has had numerous mentors, but Mike Healey is the one she most remembers looking up to. (Literally at 6’5”)
She supports her falconry obsession working as an artist, writer, lecturer and performer. Well known for her bird calls, Nicole has appeared on Ellen and on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. During the moult, Nicole spends her free time sipping chai tea, and working on her mad bird call skills while admiring her High School Best Attendance Award and remembering the time she spent with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Sadly, today she is stuck spending the moult talking to me.
1) So let’s begin with partial disclosure. We’ve known each other for a long time, but really only got to be friends recently. I think we agree that the landscape of women in falconry has changed quite a bit in our time. How do you see that shift and what’s the future of women in the sport?
As you know, when we first began in this sport, women were often shunned. It took a long time to be taken seriously. Women were not seen as true game hawkers and were seen as pet keepers. It took a while to prove that I was serious about hunting. Also for being a woman, I was often not invited out with the “guys”, as lets face it, what wife would want a 20 year old Italian girl hanging out with their husbands? When I’d call to talk with a falconer they would tell me to make sure I told their wives I was a falconer if they answered!!
I think falconry received a boom in women falconers once the internet was available. I remember how difficult it was when I wanted to be a falconer. I met my first falconer through a school friend when I was 15. I went to his house and saw his birds, but he never told me about Fish and Game and the whole process to be a falconer. I did get to hold his 14 year old Kestrel though. Anyhow, that falconer passed away before he revealed his secrets and I had to wait another 5 years before running into another friend of a falconer. They gave me the CHC Apprentice Chair’s phone number, and that’s how it all started for me.
Now days, you just type in ‘falconry’ on google, get some info, and your falconry packet will be in the mail the next day. I think this has opened the falconry world a lot for women. Plus, as the first falconry women had done before us, perhaps we too have helped path the way for the current generation of women falconers.
I think the future of falconry for either sex is going to be challenging. As we continue to lose fields and ponds our style of falconry will change. “Big game” falconry is going to be restricted to those who have the ways and means to hunt in the last frontiers of this country. City dwellers like myself will struggle even more to find game for the variety of birds we love to fly. What will likely happen is that small bird hawking will become more popular. I flew kestrels in the city after house sparrows when I was younger, and could not afford gas bills. It was quite fun actually and I would rather adapt my falconry style to what ever challenges we face than quit.
2) I can’t imagine raising kids and still hawking through the season. Yet you’ve done it and done it well and without another falconer in the family. How do you find the balance?
I think I’m lucky that I started falconry when I was a young adult. I was able to grow as a new falconer with no one but myself to worry about. By the time I had children, falconry was already imbedded in my veins. Falconry has become an involuntary action for me like breathing, and it did not take much tweaking to fit it all in.
Basically on the weekends during the hawking season, no one sees me from 4 am-noon. Then during the week, I squeeze an hour or two of hawking after I drop the kids off at school. With family, errands, housework, and running the business, I’m kept pretty busy the rest of the time. Everyone in my family knows that the time I spend hawking is the only time I take for myself. If I don’t go hawking, I’m not a pleasant person to be around. So hawking as much as possible during the season is encouraged!
All in all it is challenging to be the only falconer in the house. Only other falconers understand the passion we have for our birds and the flights they bring us. I am allowed to indulge, but it is only tolerated, not shared, or liked.
3) You’re a fantastic avian artist (nature artist in general) and do the most amazing bird calls I’ve ever heard. How has falconry shaped your art?
Thanks! Well I get inspiration from the birds I fly. I like to paint birds in flight, so watching the raptors hunt has given me the best reference material possible.
Many of the bird calls I do I’ve learned from listening to falconry birds.
4) So, chicks talking here. What’s your most important falconry accessory?
Cell Phone! Chicks love to talk! Especially falconer ones. Got to know when to meet your peeps in the field!!! All kidding aside, I love my receiver. I have an R-400 and it has found several lost birds and stray transmitters since I’ve had it.
5) Now, admit it. You get away with trespassing in places the guys do not. Don’t you?
Well I’ve been approached, but never run off!!!
Thanks for a great interview, Nicole. This was a lot of fun. Although, I gotta admit, next time would be better if you brought The Rock with you… Personally I’ve always been fairly certain those CA quail were calling “ReBEcca. ReBEcca.” It’s better when The Rock does it though…
Up next, Steve Bodio….