Henrietta Alexander, Eide Bailly, Daniel Berger, David Bird, Karen Brender, Roy Britton, Veronica Brice, Steve Bly, Linda Behrman, William Brock, Spencer Beebe,
George Cawthon, CC, Eide Cleaveland, Kathy Coontz, Bob Collins, Conoco Phillips, J. Colvin, Jeff Cielk, Donna Daniels, Disney Worldwide Service, Walt Disney
Animal Kingdom, Mary Ann Edson, Phil Eldredge, Jan Erhart, Bob Fitzsimmons, Nancy Freutel, Peter Harrity, Larry Hays, Herrick Investments, Higgins & Rutledge
Insurance, David Horwath, Wally Imfeld, Bryan Jennings, Robert W. Johnson IV Charitable Trust, Louise Kelly, Judith King, Luther King Capital Management, Eileen
Leisk, Bill Mattox, Mimi McMillen, Ray Mendez, Microwave Telemetry Inc., Don Moser, MTI, Rishad Naoroji, Tyler Nelson, North American Grouse Partnership, Bob
Oakleaf, E. Owens, Pioneer Hi-bred International, Timothy Pirrung, Garrett Riley, Patricia Rossi, Leonardo Salas, Cynthia Salley, William Satterfield, Jacqueline
Schafer, Margaret Schiff, Linda Schueck, Peter Simon, Richard Snyder, Sue Sontag, Jim Tate, Terence Tiernan, Linda Thorstrom, Skip Tubbs, Wayne Upton, US Bank,
Veco Polar Field Services, William Wade, Richard Watson, Conni Williams, E. Williams, George Williams, Margaret Wood, William Wood, Jesse Woody, Mike & Karen
illiam A. Burnham, our President and
leader for the past 23 years, has died
at the age of 59 after a brief battle
with cancer. What can one say about a person who dies
before his time? In Bill’s case quite a lot.
We all die; “therefore,” as John Donne cautioned,
“never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for
thee.” How long we live is not as important as how well
we live—how much we contribute to the good of
humanity and to the welfare of the earth, the sustainer
of all life. Bill Burnham made outstanding contributions
to the preservation of his beloved birds of prey and
other wildlife, and to nurturing the habitats they require.
Therefore, we should not mourn but celebrate his life
and move forward, strengthened by our association with
him and thankful for all he has done.
Bill became associated with The Peregrine Fund
(TPF) in 1974, after receiving his MS degree at Brigham
Young University under Prof. Clayton White. That sum-
mer, Jim Weaver met him on a field trip to western
Greenland. Hiking and camping with Bill in the arctic
wilderness, Jim became greatly impressed by his stamina
in the field and by his eagerness to face up to hard chal-
lenges. Jim recommended that TPF hire Bill to head up a
new program of captive breeding and reintroduction of
Peregrines that we were just starting in collaboration
with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to restore falcons
in the Rocky Mountains.
On Christmas eve of 1974, Bill and his wife, Pat—
soon to be joined by a son, Kurt—moved into some
rooms on the second floor of an old game farm facility
the Colorado Division of Wildlife made available for
TPF use on the outskirts of Fort Collins. Kurt was born
in May, 1975 at the same time the first baby Peregrines
were hatching. Pat not only mothered her child, she also
cared for many young falcons over the years and always
remained the person Bill relied on most for running The
Peregrine Fund. Bill quickly attracted several skilled and
dedicated associates to help with the breeding and
release of Peregrines. Two of them, Bill Heinrich and Cal
Sandfort, are still with TPF 31 years later.
By the 1980s the Fort Collins team, under Bill’s
supervision, had produced hundreds of Peregrines and
had released them in several Rocky Mountain states and
in the Pacific Northwest. At the same time all this inten-
sive work was underway, Bill somehow managed to earn
a Ph.D. degree from Colorado State University without
ever taking time off from his job. Bill’s effectiveness in
managing the western operations did not go unnoticed
by the fledgling board of directors of TPF. In 1977 he
was elected to the board of directors, and in 1982 he
became the fifth “Founding Member” of the board, join-
ing Bob Berry, Frank Bond, Tom Cade, and Jim Weaver.
When TPF had an oppor-
tunity in 1983 to consolidate
its eastern program at Cor-
nell University and its west-
ern operations into one
facility, Bill was put in charge
of finding a location, con-
structing the new campus,
and making the move. At the
same time the directors
decided to expand the mis-
sion of The Peregrine Fund to embrace work on birds of
prey worldwide. Through Bill’s leadership and ability to
organize the volunteer efforts of many falconers and rap-
tor enthusiasts, members of the business community,
and government agencies into a unified and productive
endeavor, the World Center for Birds of Prey came into
existence on a hillside overlooking Boise, Idaho, in
1984. The site was dedicated in May, construction began
soon after with much comradeship and enthusiasm, and
the birds from Fort Collins were in their new quarters
before the next breeding season in 1985. The Cornell
birds followed a year later.
It quickly became clear to the small group of directors
that TPF’s expanded global mission would require a much
bigger board of influential people and a strong and deter-
mined chief executive. Bill became President in 1986, and
he began to build a more active and diverse board of
directors, including people from the business world, sci-
entists, and conservationists. Through Morley Nelson’s
introductions, he began to establish personal relation-
ships with local business people in the Boise community,
meeting weekly with some of them for breakfast and dis-
cussion. Several joined the board and brought some of
their friends along. Our vice presidents, Jeff Cilek and
Peter Jenny, whom Bill wisely chose to help him, made
important additional contacts, as did Frank Bond and Bob
Berry. Currently the board consists of more than 30 mem-
bers, and it is considered to be one of the strongest boards
of a non-profit, conservation organization in the country,
thanks largely to Bill’s ability to forge personal ties with
influential and supportive people.
The combined fund-raising abilities of Burnham,
Cilek, and Jenny, and their equal facility in dealing with
government bureaucrats and legislators, were beautiful
to observe in action. They allowed TPF to move beyond
its original focus on the Peregrine and to take on many
other projects around the world, although we had been
involved previously in cooperating with Carl Jones on
restoration of the Mauritius Kestrel.
The first major effort was the “Maya Project,” which
grew out of Pete’s and Bill’s interest in the Orange-
Tom J. Cade
Thank You, Bill
Ben Widener
(continued on page 2)
he wisely left
us with the
capability to
move forward
without him,
but ever in
memory of
with The Explorers Club’s Lowell Thomas Award in 2004. In
2006 he was chosen to receive the Conservation Medal of the
Zoological Society of San Diego in recognition of his many con-
tributions to the conservation of birds of prey.
I knew Bill for 32 years and watched in admiration how he
developed as a person and crafted The Peregrine Fund into an
outstanding organization. Bill was the quintessential workaholic,
an early riser, often in his office before 6 a.m. and putting in
many seven-day weeks. He was a natural-born leader, attracting
many good and loyal people to work with him. He viewed his
position as President to be one of making the big, strategic deci-
sions, and he left his associates free to handle most of the tacti-
cal, day-to-day things. Consequently, he empowered a strong,
well-organized group of people to carry on after him.
Bill worked hard, but he also played hard. He was not a large
man, but he had great body strength and great endurance. His stam-
ina in hiking and backpacking was legendary. On hikes in Green-
land looking for falcon eyries, he was always ahead and would be
set up in camp brewing coffee by the time the rest of us straggled in.
Danger excited and challenged him. He actually enjoyed rap-
pelling on a rope hundreds of feet down cliffs to enter falcon
eyries. You can read his account of one such climb on a karst cliff
in Guatemala in search of the nest of the Orange-breasted Falcon
(page 189 in his book A Fascination with Falcons, 1997). Once in a
campfire discussion, we both agreed that one of the things that
makes true wilderness so exciting is the possibility of being eaten
by a grizzly bear. Remove the bear—no more wilderness.
Bill was an avid falconer, especially in his earlier years. When
he became President of TPF he selflessly reduced his practice of
falconry, a time-consuming avocation, so that he could devote
more attention to the needs of the organization. He did continue
to hunt big game seasonally, often with his close friend, Pete
Widener, and more recently, upland game birds with Kurt and
other companions. I know it was one of his great joys to return to
falconry in recent years.
Although Bill had the reputation of being a practical, rough-
and-ready, can-do, let’s-get-it-done-now, sort of guy, he also
revealed a more philosophical and meditative—even poetic—side
to his character from time to time. Some of his reflections on the
need for conservation and the value of wild animals and wild
places in his book, A Fascination with Falcons, reflect a deep devo-
tion to nature. I especially like his short essay on “The Scent of a
Peregrine” published in Return of the Peregrine (2003, p. 222), a
book he conceived and helped edit: “There is nothing in the world
that smells like a newly captured Peregrine. She smells like a mix of
willow and birch of a green arctic tundra, the scent of pine as the
rays of the sun pierce the forest to dry the needles of the morning
dew, the freshness of the golden prairie grass on an autumn day,
and the fragrance of the sea breeze through marsh owers.”
Bill loved to explore new places and to test his endurance
against hardships. One of my strong memories of him is how he
stood stalwart and confident at the controls of our “Safe Boat”
with Kurt by his side, as we faced into a gale and icy rain, while
traveling up the west coast of Greenland with icebergs passing to
port and starboard. Jack Stephens and I crouched in the back of
the open boat, huddled in our rain parkas trying to keep from
freezing to death, while Bill and Kurt faced the brunt of the storm
during hours of hard travel to reach a safe harbor.
When traveling under such conditions, I tend to enter a kind
of sleepy lethargy, and all sorts of random thoughts and images
drift through my groggy consciousness. Once I glanced up and
saw Bill still at the wheel, and some words from history came to
mind: “There stands Jackson like a stonewall.” I then realized
that our “Safe Boat,” said to be unsinkable, was safe not so much
because of its design as because of who was at the helm.
One of Bill’s legacies is that he has left behind a strong and
capable wife and son who have guided us with grace and dignity
through these last days with Bill. He has also left behind a dedi-
cated and active group of colleagues, which he molded into an
internationally respected conservation organization—The Pere-
grine Fund—and which he wisely left with the capability to move
forward without him, but ever in memory of him.
Clockwise, Bill duck hawking with his female Peregrine Falcon,
Ebony, near Sheridan, Wyoming, in 2004; with his son Kurt con-
ducting Peregrine Falcon surveys near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland,
in the summer of 1992; and with his best friend Pete Widener
antelope hunting near Buffalo, Wyoming, in the fall of 2005.
All gifts received in memory of Bill will be placed equally in the
general endowment for The Peregrine Fund and the endowment
for The Archives of Falconry.
File photoKurt K. Burnham
Lucy Widener
breasted Falcon, a rare species of the Neotropics. Located in Tikal
National Park, Guatemala, the fieldwork for the Maya Project was
headed up by Dave Whitacre with several assistants, notably Rus-
sell Thorstrom, and included local Guatemalans. Carried out over
several years, the project resulted in new scientific descriptions of
the life histories of more than 20 species of tropical raptors and a
detailed analysis of their community ecology, as well as studies
on Neotropical migrants and the training of a number of
Guatemalan biologists.
In 1990, a comparable project started up in Madagascar and
continues to the present, under the supervision of Rick Watson,
again with impressive fieldwork by Russell Thorstrom. It has
focused on the ecology of the rare and endangered raptors found
only on the island, notably on the Madagascar Fish Eagle.
The list of overseas projects quickly expanded under Rick’s
supervision as International Programs Director, including activi-
ties in Africa, New Guinea, Mongolia, Pakistan and India, and
Latin America. In Hawaii Bill set up a program for the captive
breeding and reintroduction of endangered bird species unique
to the islands and oversaw the development of two breeding
facilities. Under the management of Alan Lieberman and Cyndi
Kuehler, this program was later transferred to the Zoological Soci-
ety of San Diego. Bill also established a new branch of The Pere-
grine Fund located in Panama City—Fondo Peregrino-Panama,
and supervised the construction of the Neotropical Raptor Center
to carry out research and conservation involving raptors of Latin
America and the Caribbean, again emphasizing rare, little-known,
and endangered species, such as the Harpy Eagle, Orange-
breasted Falcon, and Ridgway’s Hawk.
One of the most important but least heralded accomplish-
ments spearheaded by Bill was the discovery of the cause for the
Asian Vulture Crisis”—the virtual extinction of three species of
griffon vultures on the Indian Subcontinent in just the past
decade. In collaboration with a former associate of TPF, Lindsay
Oaks, now a veterinarian specializing in avian virology at Wash-
ington State University, TPF biologists obtained conclusive proof
that a veterinary drug called diclofenac was fatal to vultures that
fed on carcasses contaminated with this chemical, which had
become widely used on the Subcontinent as an analgesic and
anti-inflammatory for domestic livestock. In 2006, as a direct
result of this discovery, the governments of India, Nepal, and
Pakistan banned the use of diclofenac for veterinary purposes.
This achievement is in many ways equivalent in importance to
the banning of DDT in the United States in 1972. Recovery of the
vultures is now a possibility.
The study of Peregrines and Gyrfalcons in Greenland was Bill
Burnham’s favorite project. His first trip to Greenland was in 1972
when Bill Mattox started the Greenland Peregrine Survey, which
on Mattox’s retirement in 1998 he transferred to TPF. Burnham
expanded the project to include Gyrfalcons and the prey species
falcons eat, and with help from his son, Kurt, established the
“High Arctic Institute” at Thule, using a decommissioned facility
leased from the U.S. Air Force. Father and son worked together in
Greenland each summer for the past 16 years, along with many
other associates. Bill was able to fulfill his last wish by making two
trips to Greenland in the summer of 2006, despite an incapacitat-
ing illness that would have kept anyone else in hospital.
Since the removal of the Peregrine from the list of endangered
species in 1999, an accomplishment that involved Bill and other
TPF staff in negotiations with the federal government for more
than five years, our two main domestic projects have been the use
of captive breeding and reintroduction to restore nesting popula-
tions of Aplomado Falcons in the Southwest and California Con-
dors in northern Arizona. By negotiating use of the “safe harbor”
policy for private landowners in Texas and the non-essential
experimental population designation under section 10(j) of the
Endangered Species Act for condors in Arizona and falcons in
New Mexico, Bill quietly but effectively maneuvered TPF through
a tangle of political and societal issues that initially impeded the
development of these projects.
Believing strongly that public education and academic train-
ing are the keys to successful conservation, Bill promoted projects
such as the Velma Morrison Interpretive Center, which welcomes
thousands of visitors each year, and the Gerald D. and Kathryn S.
Herrick Collections Building. The latter houses a major ornitho-
logical library, egg and specimen collection, and the Archives of
Falconry. Both facilities attest to Bill’s commitment to education,
as does TPF’s support over the years of more than 20 Doctoral
degrees, 53 Master’s degrees, and numerous Bachelor degrees and
high school diplomas earned by students around the world.
Bill also participated in many activities external from but
related to TPF interests. For example, he helped establish a unique
graduate program in raptor biology at Boise State University
(BSU) and became an adjunct professor in the program, supervis-
ing a number of students who carried out research associated with
TPF projects. Secretary of the Interior Emanuel Lujan appointed
Bill to the National Public Lands Advisory Council; he also served
as a trustee on the BSU Foundation; as a conflict mediator and
then member of the Bureau of Land Management’s Oversight
Committee for the Snake River Birds of Prey Area; on the council
for the multi-agency and university Raptor Research and Technical
Assistance Center at BSU; on the board of the North American
Raptor Breeders’ Association; on the advisory board of the Walt
Disney Company’s Animal Kingdom; as an adviser to the Philip-
pine government on science and conservation for the Philippine
Eagle; as a board member of the Philippine Eagle Foundation, Inc;
and in various other similar capacities.
He was elected to be a “Fellow” of the Arctic Institute of
North America and of The Explorers Club. He was also presented
Thank You, Bill (continued from page 1)
Even at age 14, Bill’s rock climbing skills were evident and
developed to the point where he could pull an eyess eagle
to conserve
birds of prey
in nature
fall /winter 2006
newsletter number 37