For a man with nearly 40,000 Instagram followers, a talent for drawing media attention and a pocket full of raw squirrel meat, Adam Baz is surprisingly soft-spoken. But when you have perfect cheekbones and a mid-size bird of prey perched on your left arm eager to do your bidding, you don’t need to say much more.
Baz and his bird share a similarly serious approach to their work: frightening crows out of downtown Sacramento. The bird — a 5-year-old Harris’s hawk named Jasper — has a raptor’s rigid brow that gives him a perpetual scowl. Baz moves briskly through the streets of downtown, tilting his blue eyes up to peer at the trees, almost as unsmiling as the hawk.
The Downtown Sacramento Partnership hired Baz, a licensed falconer based in Los Angeles, to convince thousands of crows that the blocks from Capitol Mall to I Street and from Fifth Street to 12th Street are a bad place to sleep at night. The birds like to roost in the warm city, and where there are sleepy crows, there’s copious poop. Baz and two fellow falconers who work for his company, Hawk on Hand, started the contract in October; they patrol the streets at night, frightening crows and mesmerizing passersby.
Jasper doesn’t have to eat anyone. On Friday, he simply flew down Capitol Avenue glaring, and the crows broke out in a chorus of shrieks and scattered.
As Baz sped down K Street with the hawk on his arm, a man stopped in his tracks, eyes brimming with wonder. “Wow,” he murmured, and Baz did not pause for a moment, because he and Jasper were on the clock.
Like the enchanted man on K Street, reporters are not immune to the charms of a trained raptor. Baz was in a KCRA segment in 2019; in 2020, the New York Times ran a feature about his work in L.A., complete with a glamorous photo shoot. Midway through Baz’s interview with The Sacramento Bee, two journalists from CBS 13 showed up to shoot their own piece, and on-camera reporter Brady Halbleib said that this was cooler than their assignment earlier that evening, which involved talking to Black Friday shoppers.
The falconer’s shift downtown never starts before dusk, when thick clouds of crows begin to descend on the city. And so Baz suggested meeting two Bee journalists at 5 p.m. in front of California Bank & Trust on Capitol Mall because, he said, the light would be decent there.
Still, he insisted, “I don’t have a big hustle. ... I tend to be a little more active with social media. ... A lot of falconers — there are some amazing falconers out there, way better falconers than me, who’ve been doing it way longer than me, but they don’t share it with the world. And they don’t have any interest in that. For them, it’s a very private thing, and I respect that. But then there’s no way the world’s gonna find them.”
An ancient practice in a modern city
Before he became a professional falconer, Baz was a biologist who did research on a variety of wild bird populations. About eight years ago, he decided that the saying is true — a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush — and he pivoted to working with trained hawks, owls and falcons.
The worksites are varied. This winter, Baz spends some nights in Sacramento’s urban core and some days at a landfill with Jasper scaring crows and seagulls, respectively.
Baz began teaching Jasper the job when the bird was just fledgling. The hawk reliably flies toward a green laser beam, and he knows that when he returns to Baz’s arm, he’ll be rewarded with a small piece of raw meat.
Despite the fairy-tale aura of a semi-wild animal who hops from tree to tree expectantly following him, Baz speaks of Jasper as more of a colleague than a friend.
“He’s completely comfortable around me,” Baz said. “He trusts me. He knows I’m his food source.” But the bird doesn’t long for human affection. “They’re not really considered social animals,” the human said. “He wants to work. He wants to fly and hunt and chase things.”
The crows, meanwhile, are very social, warning each other about the hawk in their midst. They pay close attention, Baz said, and they learn the green laser pointer means a hawk is about to appear.
He also has to vary his falconry schedule on a crow project. “Sometimes I’ll come at 5, sometimes I’ll come in at 10 o’clock — start at 10. Because the crows will learn my pattern. And if I only ever come from 5 to 8, then they’ll come at 8:05.”
Baz began doing this kind of large-scale project — driving thousands of crows out of an urban area over a period of months — in Portland in 2017, before he moved south and started his own company. “A lot of other falconers said it couldn’t be done,” he said. But he and a team of humans and birds proved them wrong, and now this kind of work is his specialty.
“It’s effective,” he said. He pointed up to the roof of the California Bank & Trust building, where hundreds of crows had been lined up just an hour before.
They were gone.
And on Saturday, Capitol Mall would be less caked in bird droppings. The seemingly magical man practicing the ancient art of falconry, with a merciless winged predator in his thrall, was in the city to prevent crows from defecating on the sidewalk.
With that, Baz put his hawk into a box in his car, and drove to dinner.