Heckled By ParrotsBlue Sky WritingRebecca K. O'Connor

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Five on Falconry: John Pittman

Luz, Shakin'

John Pittman has been a falconer for ten years and got his start in Madbury, Maine. His favorite falconry bird is Luz, a peregrine falcon and he cites Teddy Mortiz as a falconry muse. John works as a Director of Information Services although he dreams of retiring and someday being voted “great person to go for a walk with” by the New England Dogs ‘n Kids Association. He spends the moult avoiding washing the windows by nibbling on wasabi almonds while checking to make sure his telemetry receiver still works.

1) First question always involves partial disclosure about you and me. I’ve known you for quite some time, but only online. We have a ton of mutual friends that I’ve met in person though, so I think that’s close enough to make us friends IRL. Which is good, because I’m dying to tour your house. You are like the best kind of nature/scifi geek. Amphibians, carnivorous plants, funky cool books, dogs, falcons…. When did the falconry come in and how does this all fit together for you?

Nepenthes truncata Paisan Highlands (AKA Massive Pitcher Plant!)

I’ve been interested in falconry since I was a kid. Like, I suspect, quite a few American falconers, I read My Side of the Mountain; it sounded like heaven to me. I’d been berrying (with my mom) and chasing frogs, newts, lizards, etc. from the beginning, so the idea of pulling a Sam Gribley never seemed like a tall tale to me. When I was just starting Middle School, we moved to a town outside of Schenectady, NY and for some reason the Schenectady public library had quite a few falconry books. I mean, As The Falcon Her Bells AND Observations on Modern Falconry (the 2 I remember most clearly) in a public library? Go figure. I read ’em all. Then, about 15 years ago, I came across A Rage For Falcons and it became obvious to me that falconry was within the realm of possibility. I found a sponsor and…
Falconry fits me in so many ways. I am a bibliomane – falconry lit is extensive (to say the least). I like hunting and gathering. I like inter-species relationships (no, not that kind! sheesh) and establishing a working partnership with a raptor is as good as it gets.
Falconry lets me get involved in the non-made world (what some would call the natural world, but I maintain that it’s ALL natural – even the stuff we plains apes do) in a very direct, immediate way. I’m able to put things aside and concentrate on the job at hand – where’s the bird? where’s the prey? is this going to be a good slip? – and then, once things start to happen, to focus on the drama that I’ve set in motion and taken a small part in. When I’m gun hunting over the dogs the ‘in the moment’ concentration is there, but when the bird flushes things resolve very quickly. It’s difficult to identify with the cloud of shot or the grouse (just not enough time for the latter) – when I’m hawking I have the time and the inclination to identify with both predator and prey. The art and practice is simultaneously beautiful, terrifying and awe inspiring.
2) I know you teach dog training too and of course, training domestic animals is very different than training a wild one. All the same, I’m curious what training raptors has brought to your teaching style and philosophies on training.

More than anything else, it’s reinforced -incredibly strongly- the need to keep 3 things front and center in any training situation:
a) The animal you are trying to work with is not a little person in a fur or feather suit. It is a different species with a different sensorium and a different list of priorities. Dogs, because they are such amazingly co-evolved companions, will often let you BS yourself. A raptor won’t and both the dogs and the raptors benefit from the trainer being more clear-eyed.
b) The animal you are trying to work with is an individual. Obvious in the dog world and reinforced by finding that a creature with an even shorter to-do list, the raptor (eat, eat, eat, and if the season is right, mate), still has plenty of room for variation. Work with the critter in front of you, not the last one or the idealized one.
c) Succeed. Do whatever you need to do to move forward – put the critter in a situation where the response you want is the obvious and easy(er) one. Like points 1 & 2, sometimes easier said than done, but you have to try!

John and His Daughter Once Upon a Time....

3) I know there is a new Light-Of-Your-Life who is a wonderful tiny human addition (at least occasionally) to your awesome menagerie. What do you think is most important to share with the children in your life as far as the natural world and falconry?
She is wonderful – thanks for noticing ;-). The most important thing to share with her is time outside. Just that. I’d love it if she grows up to be a woodswoman but in any case I want her to be comfortable outside and nothing substitutes for modeling behavior. So – we’re going to continue to go for walks, pick blueberries, picnic, and eventually go fishing and hawking and roast marshmallows over a campfire. Other folks reading this – demonstrate what you’d like your kids to emulate. Be outside. Be calm (don’t freak out about minor things including creepy-crawlies). Go bird-watching. Gather stuff with your children and eat it. Eating raspberry pie/cobbler/jam made out of raspberries you picked together is about as good as life gets.
4) Being the serious techie that you are, I’m very curious to hear what you think is the future of falconry in an increasingly wireless world…

My big idea falconry tech-wise is integrating a GPS receiver on to the telemetry transmitter. We’re not there yet – size and power consumption haven’t come down enough – but I can envision a transmitter that encodes location data into each of its beeps.
Something that wouldn’t surprise me, but that I’m ambivalent about, is a video camera/transmitter backpack. I know NatGeo has done this already, but again, only a matter of time before the rigs are so small that it stops being a big operation. I’m not sure where I want my vantage point to be – I think I’d like my falcon to be an independent operator with me looking on, astonished.
5) I check your blog frequently to see your newest discoveries in creepy/cool nature models, mechanized animals and steampunk “artifacts”. If you and I went hawking in a Steam Punk universe, what would be your best falconry accessory(ies)?
It would probably be the zeppelin-built-for-two we’d use to follow the chase when we went crow-hawking. Envision a pumpkin-seed-shaped envelope of engineered carbon (diamondoid, if you will) surrounding a hard vacuum for lift; suspended below is a tube-frame gondola with 2 lovely leather seats, a pair of large propellers with integral electric motors and a brass and aluminium box containing Mr. Tesla’s finest super light, high capacity batacitors (to power the motors).
It was so much fun talking to you, John! We really have to do it in person over wasabi almonds sometime! Your insights on molding our youth and our animals should give everyone something to think about or at least reminds themselves to consider.
And I would love to write a short story about crow-hawking in your zeppelin-for-two only to stumble upon a murder, a mute goggle and empire boot-wearing witness and a strange clockwork box that is the key to solving the mystery…But only if someone will illustrate the zeppelin…


  1. Steve Bodio says:

    I like and agree with the Good Doctor’s comment that it is “all natural”.

    I want a ride in that Zeppelin; I want to read that story; and we should discuss artists, not that you don’t already have at least one possibility!

  2. rebecca says:

    Oh! I would love to hear artist suggestions!! If you mean my brother, the ridiculously talented Raymond Swanland for an artist, I already called in my “sister favor” for RISE and now I can’t afford him! LOL.

  3. Another wonderful interview~ keep them coming .. such a great variety of people in the falconry community~

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