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Raptors visit church for First Tuesday Speaker Series

By Staff | May 11, 2018

Tabitha Johnston/Chronicle Licensed Federal Falconer Rachael Seratte poses with her falcon, Eva, during her discussion about protecting native bird populations May 1 at Christ Reformed United Church of Christ.

The Harris’ hawk beat her wings in the air, jerking the arm of licensed Federal Falconer Rachael Seratte during Christ Reformed United Church of Christ’s monthly First Tuesday Speaker Series on May 1.

This month’s event, Pilgrims of the Sky: Raptors around Us, featured Seratte and two of her bird companions: Eva, the Harris’ hawk, and Lumen, an American kestrel. Seratte, who has been a falconer for seven years, explained the importance of protecting native bird species and the privilege of hunting with birds.

“I like hunting with Eva, because when we hunt, she’s allowing me to participate with her, which is such an honor,” Seratte said.

Seratte also trains red-tailed hawks for the majority of the year, trapping them in Maryland and training them over the winter, before releasing them to breed in the summer.

“They hunt with me through the winter, and within four weeks they’re coming back to me,” Seratte said. “The first time you let them go and they fly back to you is always an exciting experience.”

Usually, regular hunting season is through the fall, but it depends on what I’m hunting, too,” she added. “In Maryland, I can hunt crows all year round on the weekend.”

Seratte said she can hunt non-native species, like sparrows and starlings, all year as well, because those birds hunt species like bluebirds and indigo buntings.

“Starlings are gorgeous birds, but they kill other birds and are an invasive species – and they’re actually really disgusting,” Seratte said. “I’ve caught them before and lifted up their feathers and seen they were covered in fleas and maggots.”

Unlike starlings, Seratte said many birds are meticulous in their grooming habits – although those habits are different from what might be expected. Birds often need to bathe in dirt, because their bodies produce large amounts of oil.

“When I first saw Lumen flailing in the dirt, I thought she was having a seizure,” Seratte said, while the kestrel fluffed its feathers and preened on its perch.

Although she loves falconry, Seratte said it’s not necessarily as glamorous as it might seem.

“It’s really fun and challenging being a falconer,” she said. “People try to assign a lot of mysticism and romanticism to it, but it’s not so pretty when they throw up on you. If you look on my arms, you’ll see all sorts of fun scars from my raptors’ talons.”

And the relationship between Seratte and her birds isn’t exactly a typical owner-pet relationship.

“They’re not pets; they’re companions at best,” Seratte said. “How do they see me? I’m the walking refrigerator tree.”