LOS ANGELES (CIRCA) — Being such a large metropolitan area, Los Angeles may come off as an unwelcoming place for wildlife.
But just south of the hustle and bustle of the city, nature and wildlife collide head-on with tourism at Terranea Resort.
Terranea is one of the most gorgeous and luxurious resorts in all of Southern California. It’s a destination in itself.
But when you’re on the property overlooking the oceans, you may notice something missing from the scene: There’s not a single seagull in sight.
That’s thanks to one man.
Terranea employs Joe Roy, a falconer who flies his team of captive-bred birds of prey on the property. Joe and the birds keep the seagulls out of sight for resort guests.
“Basically my day is to come to the beach and fly hawks and meet people and keep seagulls off the tables,” Joe said.
“It’s a pretty good gig. Could be worse.”
Among his fleet of birds is a cheer falcon, a peregrine and hawks. While falconry usually involves the birds hunting something, that isn’t the case for Joe and his flock. He’s just scaring the gulls away.
When we caught up with Joe, there weren’t many gulls he had to worry about dispersing. But he says that’s because of the work he’d been putting in up to that point.
“We’re in a really good place lately, I’ve been working really hard,” Joe said. “So luckily I don’t have any seagulls that I’m looking to intimidate, but we fly here daily.”
Without Joe flying his birds, Terranea would be taken over by seagulls. He knows because it’s happened before.
“This place was inundated with seagulls when they opened,” Joe said. “They described these red-tiled rooftops as all covered in white gull guano. Engineers [were] on these buildings routinely with power washers hosing the gull poopy off the building.
“Think Hitchcock-ian. Think unsanitary. Think OMG. They brought falconry here as a means of addressing that.”
Cleanliness benefits of falconry aside, it certainly doesn’t hurt Terranea that watching Joe fly his birds is nothing short of absolutely thrilling.
“The falcons and the hawks themselves are a major draw — to the extent that people hire me hourly to come out and spend time with the birds,” Joe said. “And a lot of times they just want to be with the birds, they just want to see them, maybe photograph them. If they get to watch them fly, that’s kind of inspirational.”
After calling out to a falcon perched on a balcony railing, Joe ramps up the centrifugal force with which he spins a tethered lure just as the bird comes in to swoop it up, Joe’s little way of twisting this game of keep-away in his favor.
The art of falconry is many centuries old, and Joe’s been practicing it almost his entire life.
“I think I was 9 years old when my next-door neighbor introduced me to falconry. I fell in love with it instantly,” he said. “What’s really fun for me is I’m every bit as excited about my falconry today as I was then. I’m just better at it.”
And as you can imagine, this kind of work requires an incredible amount of skill, not only for the safety of the resort guests, but also for the safety of the birds.
Even in Terranea’s pristine setting, the rules of nature still apply. Joe’s birds are sometimes at risk of nature from their wild counterparts.
“I’ve had two injuries,” he said. “One of my male falcons, which are smaller than females, he and the female bound together, they came down in a patch of cactus. So I had to hold my bird down with hemostats and pull cactus quills out of him.”
You might be wondering: Do the birds ever not listen to Joe? The answer is yes, but only sometimes.
“We can train them. We can work with them. Certain things will be expected to happen and occur. But there’s still a wildness about them even though all of my birds are coming out of aviaries.
“They’re every bit as wild as their wild counterparts are. We have not domesticated them.”
And in four years, Joe has only had one bird not return to him.
One of the criticisms of this kind of work is that it upsets local wildlife for the comfort of the tourists. But there’s also an argument to be made that it’s a safety measure, both for the birds and the humans.
Joe explained that falcons are often being used to control airport runways and landfills.
“What they want to do is avoid the gulls coming in here, getting contaminated on the refuse, and then taking up on fresh water, municipal water supplies,” Joe said. “It’s healthy for the seagulls to eat their natural diet, absolutely. They’re not geared for pancakes, filet mignon, french fries and those sorts of things. They’re going to be healthier for it.”
Joe even points out that in some cases birds have introduced human health risks to populations. He says that safety aspect is enough to keep him from being conflicted about his work.
Plus, he just loves it.
“One of the great things about what I do here, I get to educate people. I love falcons, I love my falconry and all of that stuff.”
How to get the perfect shot of the #HollywoodSign on your trip to LA
Global tourism is booming — but in these cities, travel comes with a catch
The latest trends in cannabis tourism combine art, wine and wellness retreats