To escape the tough streets of Southeast Washington, D.C. in the late 1980s, young Rodney Stotts would ride the metro to the Smithsonian National Zoo. There, the bald eagles and other birds of prey captured his imagination for the first time. In Bird Brother, Rodney shares his unlikely journey to becoming a conservationist and one of America's few Black master falconers.
Rodney grew up during the crack epidemic, with guns, drugs, and the threat of incarceration an accepted part of daily life for nearly everyone he knew. To rent his own apartment, he needed a paycheck – something the money from dealing drugs didn't provide. For that, he took a position in 1992 with a new nonprofit, the Earth Conservation Corps. Gradually, Rodney fell in love with the work to restore and conserve the polluted Anacostia River that flows through D.C. As conditions along the river improved, he helped to reintroduce bald eagles to the region and befriended an injured Eurasian Eagle Owl named Mr. Hoots, the first of many birds whose respect he would work hard to earn.
Bird Brother is a story about pursuing dreams against all odds, and the importance of second chances. Rodney's life was nearly upended when he was arrested on drug charges in 2002. The jail sentence sharpened his resolve to get out of the hustling life. With the fierceness of the raptors he had admired for so long, he began to train to become a master falconer and to develop his own raptor education program and sanctuary. Rodney's son Mike, a D.C. firefighter, has also begun his journey to being a master falconer, with his own kids cheering him along the way.
Eye-opening, witty, and moving, Bird Brother is a love letter to the raptors and humans who transformed what Rodney thought his life could be. It is an unflinching look at the uphill battle Black children face in pursuing stable, fulfilling lives, a testament to the healing power of nature, and a reminder that no matter how much heartbreak we've endured, we still have the capacity to give back to our communities and follow our wildest dreams.
Raised in Southeast Washington, D.C., Rodney Stotts has achieved the highest level of master falconer. Stotts is an educator and the founder and director of a successful educational nonprofit called Rodney's Raptors. When he's not on the sanctuary property located in Laurel, Maryland, Rodney lives on seven acres in Charlotte Court House, Virginia, where he is working to turn the property into a haven for underprivileged youth and anyone who is interested in learning about falconry, wildlife, and conservation. The finished project will be called Dippy's Dream, after Rodney's deceased mother. His work has been featured National Geographic, NPR, and other national outlets. He is the subject of the documentary The Falconer.
Kate Pipkin is the Senior Director of Communications and Marketing for the School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. She has contributed to The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Johns Hopkins Magazine, Loch Raven Review, and other publications.
"Stotts's gift for storytelling, as an educator and public speaker, is on full display in this remarkable memoir; it's thought-provoking, moving, and inspiring."
– Library Journal, starred review
"The book is embellished with impressive photographs that capture the beautiful relationships between Stotts and his bird friends. The loving relationship that can be cultivated between humans and the amazing birds is shown through charming moments between the birds and Stotts's audience, too. Bird Brother is a memoir that is apt in its demonstration of nature's ability to transform people."
– Foreword Reviews
"If you've loved H is for Hawk or any sort of memoir that intersects with nature, you'll like this one!"
– Smart Bitches Trashy Books
"Humanity and hawks. The lines between two-legged and taloned blur beautifully in Bird Brother. Rodney Stotts' life is more than a story of man and nature, it is a no holds barred bittersweet odyssey; the much-needed, uplifted, uniquely-hued heroic epic of a determined soul who through a love of wild birds, delivers a heart-rending lesson in how grounded possibilities can soar beyond perception. There is no more powerfully positive sign of these times than a hawk on Rodney's raised fist."
– J. Drew Lanham, cultural & conservation ornithologist, birder, and author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature
"My overwhelming refrain to Rodney Stotts is 'thank you'. His story, and the pictures he paints as he tells it, are the most incredible demonstration of the substance of hope. He beautifully captures the complex, and often visceral, nature of finding life within death through the liberation that comes with 'looking up.'"
– Corina Newsome, ornithologist and environmental activist
"Rodney Stotts' story is a tremendously moving tribute to the power of birds to transform a life. Searingly honest, Bird Brother is a love letter to the avian world from a fiercely dedicated master falconer and tireless conservationist who not only does the work – no matter how unglamorous – but also inspires others to see the beauty of nature and find their place within it."
– Julia Zarankin, author of Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder