A conversation with the Bird Brother: That’s what it felt like I was having as I read the words on the pages. It was as if I was sitting right across from him, bonding over a glass of ice-cold sweet tea. Like relatives catching up at the family reunion, it was a pleasure to learn about the birds of prey and people: Dippy, Chuck, Mike, and the Grand cousins. And a crew of new friends like Bob and Agnes Nixon, Unk, and the original ECC (Earth Conservation Corp) crew.
Rodney Stotts’s story is truly raw and heartbreaking, and yet also heart-mending, teaching lessons in enduring struggles, giving your all, loving others, and not judging the cover of a book (or individual) before you actually get to know it.
It’s a book filled with lessons and encouragement throughout. I felt as if those lessons were directly for me, like when Rodney mentions his late mother Dippy’s lesson on self-pity after his hawk, Chuck, passed. “Self-pity was the worst thing you can have,” I can hear her say. "Okay, you can have five minutes to feel sorry for yourself. That's 300 seconds.” It’s a reminder that life goes on, and you can’t wallow in misfortunes. Take a few minutes to acknowledge it and get back on the saddle. Or lessons like: Nature is for everyone; it has no favorites. “It [Nature] is here for all of us, no matter what color, age, or background.”
Rodney shows us that sometimes the simplest forms of encouragement can be a monumental moment in someone’s life:
I notice that the little boy with the missing tooth is standing at the back of the line and that he is crying quietly. I walk over and stoop down next to him. ‘Hey little man-man,’ I say. ‘What's the matter? You just did something amazing.’ He wipes his eyes with the back of his hand and looks at me like he's not sure if he can trust me. I lean my head down so he can whisper in my ear. In a low voice he says, ‘Nobody ever said they were proud of me before.’ ‘Aw, shoot,’ I say, giving him a high five. ‘I’m saying it to you now. I. Am. Proud. Of. You. Got it? And don't ever forget it.
Wow, it’s amazing how what seemed like a small gesture provided an overwhelming experience for this young child. It shows us not to leave those words of encouragement unsaid.
Raw, real, and uncut: In this book we learn of the origin of the Bird Brother from drug dealer to earth healer. It is a story of hard work and getting it out the mud (or should I say river) to achieve success and triumph over loss and defeat. Rodney has not only witnessed, but also experienced a lot of heart-wrenching and grotesque things. Yet he has remained humbled and a lover of people and the Earth and its inhabitants, especially the winged creatures!
Throughout the trails and valleys of his life, Rodney remained grounded and hopeful. Over the years, as Rodney worked cleaning up and healing the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C., with his job through the Earth Conservation Corps, it was as if nature was healing and restoring him in return. Rodney is a friend and helper to many, willing to lend a hand when needed. Sometimes he even goes beyond the call, like when Dippy the eagle was caught in a fence. Rodney strapped himself to the fence by his belt in order to free her, further exemplifying his love for animals and how big of a heart he has. I love that most of his animals are named after important people in life.
This was an inspiring read, not only as a fellow Black man with a love for helping others and caring for the environment, but also as someone who has dealt with obstacle after obstacle, yet still finds the hope to remain determined and joyful as I pursue my goal.
Ms. Agnes Nixon was right when she told Rodney, “You’re going to do great things!!!” His work with the ECC, Wings of America, and Rodney’s Raptors is just the beginning! I’m looking forward to the impact that Dippy’s Dream, his new wildlife sanctuary, will have on this world. I’m looking forward to visiting one day, and, who knows, maybe being a partner and Black falconer, hunting and sharing with kids alongside the Bird Brother, Rodney Stotts!
Alex Troutman is a wildlife biologist, birder, nature enthusiast, and science communicator. Alex holds a master’s degree in Wetland and Bird Conservation from Georgia Southern University. He has a passion for sharing and immersing the younger generation in nature. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time outside and trying out new recipes.
Birding is a force for good in our society. Learning and sharing about birds translates into concern for birds and the environment, and the American Birding Association provides resources and community for all people interested in birds!