Peter Stavrianoudakis has been enamored with falcons since age 14, when he caught a type of falcon called a kestrel.
“My first hunting experiences were in the front yard with the kestrel catching grasshoppers from my hand,” Peter recalls. “I kept him for about two years, then set him free.”
Peter became hooked on falconry—the art of rearing, training, and flying birds of prey which dates back to the first century B.C. and is widely considered the world’s oldest sport.
Today, Peter is a deputy public defender by trade, where he daily defends the constitutional rights of others. But outside the office he’s an ardent falconry enthusiast who lives with his raptor (and wife) in central California. He became a licensed falconer in the early 1980s and previously served as director of the Pacific Region of the American Falconry Conservancy (AFC).
For Peter and his fellow falconers, the bond with their birds is just as strong as that of other pet owners, if not more so. The time, training, and commitment it takes to become a successful falconer instills a special relationship between bird and man. In addition to hunting, trained falcons today are often used for abatement efforts as a non-chemical way to protect crops, landfills, hotels, and airports from destructive birds and rodents.
But government regulations prohibit falcons from just about any other commercial use—including films and photos—even for educational purposes. What’s worse, in order to keep their licenses, falconers must allow unannounced, unwarranted searches of their private homes.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service put these rules on the books in 2008, greatly expanding federal falconry regulation, and encouraged states to follow suit. California did just that, first in 2014 with the content-based restrictions, then in 2017 with the search requirement.
Peter decided that enough was enough.
Now, on behalf of Peter, and a group of longtime falconers, and the AFC, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a civil rights lawsuit to protect the rights of falconers under the First and Fourth Amendments against the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife and California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The suit argues that both state and federal regulations violate the falconers’ First Amendment protection from content-based limits on expression and their Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable home searches.