Richard Fyfe, Greg Holman, Richard Moore, Wayne and Alora Nelson, Mike and
Linda Person, Clee Sealing, Mark Sloan, Scott Taylor, Mark Williams, Kevin Zeh
Hawk Chalk Vol. XLII No. 3 - December 2003
Alberta Falconry Loses One Of Its
— by R. Wayne Nelson
(With assistance from John Campbell, Jr., the AFA les,
and from a manuscript John prepared in the 1990s that
is both a partial autobiography and a partial history of fal-
conry in Alberta.)
On August 29, 2003, John Campbell, Sr. died at the
age of 77 at the family ranch near Black Diamond,
Alberta, after a lengthy battle with cancer. The
Alberta Falconry Association (AFA) lost one of its
founding fathers and a very ne gentleman. In large
part, John’s love for falconry and birds of prey,
and his dogged persistence in pursuing certain
challenges, were responsible for the existence
and quality of the sport of falconry that we enjoy in
Alberta today. Also, these same qualities caused
John to contribute substantially to the return of the
Peregrine in those frustrating early years of cap-
tive breeding and recovery.
Early Years
As a 14-year-old at a boarding school in England
in 1940, John became forever interested in falcon-
ry as a result of an article in the British sporting
magazine The Field. He corresponded at length
with Jack Mavrogordato and later with Colonel
Gilbert Blaine, two now very famous falconers,
and he ew a kestrel and Merlins until joining the
British Army in 1944. For a time in Germany he
had a second-hand Goshawk until required to re-
turn to England on a packed troop ship.
A New Life in Alberta
John emigrated to Canada in 1948, attended
Agricultural College at Guelph, Ontario, married
Elizabeth Balfour, and bought their ranch at Black
Diamond, Alberta, in 1954. John and Elizabeth had
seven sons who, no doubt, were quite an effort to
raise. These boisterous boys had many times their
share of car accidents, rodeo spills, and other life-
threatening mishaps, but, thankfully, all survived
their very adventurous younger years.
Falconry Again
In 1964, two eyas Goshawks taken by others and
given to John brought him back into falconry, and
got John Jr. started in the sport at age 11. John
then set out to nd others interested in the sport
and to get falconry legalized in Alberta. Little did
he know that this project would take 17 frustrat-
ing years! John soon discovered Mike Person, a
falconer and recently graduated veterinarian who
had just moved to Alberta from Colorado, and they
soon became best of friends and co-workers in the
decades-long efforts to legalize falconry and then
build a vibrant Alberta Falconry Association (AFA).
At that time John also corresponded with Richard
Fyfe on the east coast of Canada and Frank Beebe
on the west coast. John joined NAFA in the fall of
1964 and attended one of the rst NAFA Meets,
at Centerville, South Dakota. In January 1965 the
rst incarnation of the AFA was formed, with John
as president and Mike as vice-president. In that
year they met with the Director of Wildlife and cor-
responded with the Minister of Lands and Forests
to request legalization of falconry. But, at that time
in Alberta there was a large number of unsympa-
thetic Fish and Game club members and natural-
ists appeared to be a major political deterrent to
legalizing falconry.
In the summer of 1965 John, Mike, and others
boated parts of a number of Alberta rivers looking
in vain for Peregrines. (That fall, at the Madison
Peregrine Conference, it became clear that a wide
scale Peregrine decline was underway.) In 1966-
1967, Richard Fyfe, Frank Beebe, John and others
worked to form a Canadian Falconry Association
(CFA), for which John served as Alberta Director.
Yet, the CFA was relatively short-lived because of
the amount of work, the small number of Canadian
falconers and the huge distances involved. In 1966,
John and others imported six Swedish Goshawks
to y in Alberta and he ew one of these at the
BCFA Meet near Vancouver that fall. Also that
year, the Alberta association held a eld meet and
passed a motion that none of its members would
take Peregrines from the wild in Alberta. Efforts
continued to work with politicians, toward legaliza-
Yukon Peregrines and Falconry On Hold
In 1967, John planned a 700 mile (each way)
trip by freighter canoe and outboard engine from
Dawson City down the Yukon River for 400 miles
mostly in Alaska, then up the Porcupine River to
Old Crow in the Yukon, and back. Accompanying
him on the trip were U.S. falconers Bob Berry and
Jim Enderson, and David Glaister, a neighbor of
John. In addition to it being a collection trip, it was
a falcon survey trip in which they found more than
30 Peregrine nests, banded many nestlings in that
still-strong population, and Jim trapped a number
of adults to take fat biopsies for DDT analysis.
They returned with two eyasses for John and two
for Mike Person that were own that fall.
At Black Diamond, in the fall of 1967, the last fal-
conry meet was held in Alberta until over 20 years
later. From 1965 to 1968 the Alberta Fish and
Wildlife Division had given a cool reception to the
proposals to legalize falconry. Several escapades
by B.C. falconers (including poaching Prairie
Falcons and Merlins from Alberta) had soured
the Alberta government’s view of this sport. The
Alberta falconers were informally advised to get
rid of their birds because falconry was not going to
be legalized here anytime soon. Predictably, John
didn’t get rid of his Peregrines!
Also in the late 1960s and 1970s, John assisted
Richard Fyfe and his Canadian Wildlife Service
colleagues in a number of raptor surveys and bio-
cide sampling river trips, including a number of
trips on the Bow and South Saskatchewan rivers.
John became the Canadian director for NAFA in
1971 and discussions were renewed with the pro-
vincial government. However, absolutely no prog-
ress was achieved. Frustrated, John resigned as
Canadian Director at the end of 1973.
The Alberta Provincial Government Peregrine
Breeding Project
In 1969, John and John, Jr. went to Old Crow with
Yukon permits for two more Peregrines which
they trained and ew that fall. In November, John
attended the NAFA Peregrine Symposium in Ft.
Collins, Colorado and, while driving back with
Wayne Nelson, John decided that those four
Peregrines were much too important and valu-
able to risk in ying. He set them up for attempted
breeding efforts in his barn. The falcons had been
legally obtained in the Yukon, but were not legally
held in Alberta because it was impossible to do so
under the current regulations.
In early 1971, when Alberta Fish and Wildlife
accidentally learned that John had two pairs of
Peregrines, and seized the birds, the government
quickly realized that it had a really interesting
problem. It was doing nothing for a species (the
Peregrine Falcon) that had almost vanished from
the province, but it had just seized falcons from a
private individual who was actually trying to breed
Peregrines in captivity. After some interesting dis-
cussions, John was ned the minimum ne ($10),
and the birds were formally conscated to the
Crown. But shortly afterwards they were returned
to John as Crown (government) property and until
1985, John operated the provincial government’s
Peregrine breeding project!
In 1973, John edged the rst captive bred ana-
tum Peregrines in Canada, in the same year that
Photo by Clee Sealing
anatums were rst captive-bred in the U.S. And
in 1974, he and Phillip Glasier, a British falcon-
er/breeder, were the rst to successfully breed
Merlins in captivity. During those early, difcult
years of captive breeding of falcons, Wayne
Nelson helped with observations of courtship
behavior and with research literature for John’s
project. John and Wayne jointly wrote a number
of articles on captive breeding methods and on
Peregrine and Merlin breeding behavior for publi-
cation in Hawk Chalk and the NAFA Journal. They
also made a 60-minute lm on the captive breed-
ing behavior of John’s Peregrines and showed it to
a Raptor Research Foundation conference and a
British raptor captive breeding conference. Roger
Flood also worked with John, especially on ren-
ing the parameters for incubating Merlin eggs and
establishing and operating the Alberta Peregrine
Foundation to secure funds for additional pens,
incubators, and other equipment.
In a number of years John experimented with
various incubation and rearing techniques with
Peregrines, sometimes improving production,
and sometimes not. Despite some losses be-
cause of this, by the time that the provincial proj-
ect was closed down and several pairs were re-
turned to John in 1985, he had raised 85 edgling
Peregrines for use in various breeding projects
and for release across Canada. Today, many of
the Peregrines in the Prairie Provinces and cen-
tral and eastern Canada carry genes from John’s
Finally, Falconry Legalized in Alberta
In regard to falconry, John’s success with breed-
ing Peregrines for release was an immeasurable
positive factor when, in the late 1970s, as the new
Alberta Raptor Association, the falconers and their
associates started to push again for legalization of
From a decade earlier, it was clear that the gov-
ernment was not going to legalize falconry if the
province’s naturalist groups and Alberta Fish and
Game Association were opposed to the sport. So,
in 1978, John and Richard Fyfe gave a presentation
to the Lethbridge naturalist club and John, Wayne
Nelson, and Ross Lein (a University of Calgary
professor) gave a presentation to the Calgary Field
Naturalists. They focused on falconry’s methods,
long history, acceptance elsewhere, benets to
raptors and society, and its non-impact on raptor
populations. Advice and data from NAFAs TAC,
Kent Carnie, and other falconers were immensely
helpful at this time.
These meetings, and an article about falconry they
wrote for the Calgary Field Naturalist newsletter,
changed many minds that had previously been op-
posed to falconry in Alberta. John and colleagues
also made presentations to the Alberta Fish and
Game Association (AFGA) at the regional level,
and John addressed the AFGA annual convention,
sought their endorsement of a resolution support-
ing falconry, and won it. Then, with the two major
forces now on side - or at least not opposing fal-
conry the Minister and Fish and Wildlife agreed
to build falconry legislation. However, when two
years later the legislation had still not been com-
pleted, John sought some help through a political
connection and the Minister quickly brought the
legislation to conclusion. After 17 years, nally in
November 1981, John and his companions had
brought legal falconry to Alberta. John and friends
then completed bylaws and formalities so that the
Alberta Falconry Association could be ofcially
registered and so the legislation could take effect
(because the legislation requires permittees to be
members in good standing of the AFA).
Building and Enjoying Falconry
At the inaugural meeting of the newly registered,
Alberta Falconry Association in August 1982,
John was elected its rst president (again). During
John’s many terms as president of AFA, the asso-
ciation evolved in a number of ways and, in 1987,
falconers were nally allowed to take raptors from
the wild in Alberta. From 1982 to 1987, only cap-
tive bred raptors or those imported from elsewhere
could be own in Alberta. But in 1987, with eyas
and passage birds now available, Alberta falcon-
ry nally came into its own. John hosted the rst
and second AFA eld meets of the legal era at the
Campbell ranch near Black Diamond in 1988 and
1989. Because of a possible perception of conict
with his responsibilities in another organization,
John stepped down from the presidency of AFA
in 1990.
Through the 1990s the quality of falconry in
Alberta reached a high level. Camaraderie and
gentle peer pressure encouraged all falconers to
work hard and do well with their birds. After retir-
ing (sort of) from ranching and farming, in some
years John hawked for long periods in the fall with
Mike and Linda Person, Clee and Mary Sealing,
Rick Skibsted, and others. In some of these years
John did exceptionally well with several of his fal-
cons, especially Peregrines, at ducks and some-
times at huns and sharp-tails. Through all of these
years John was the AFA Supervisor for a number
of novice falconers.
At the AFA eld meet at Stettler in October 2000,
John and Mike were each presented with a framed
photo and a certicate and made Honorary Life
Members of AFA. John ew a Peregrine until au-
tumn of 2002, but sent it to Mike in May 2003
when he was becoming quite unwell. John was
especially touched when, in late July 2003, NAFA
bestowed upon him an Honorary Membership.
With wild birds of prey, John had many great ad-
ventures and he contributed in many ways to the
recovery of Peregrines in Canada. John was also
a major force in legalizing falconry in Alberta and
bringing us the many opportunities and the high
standards of falconry we have here.
Alberta falconers sincerely thank Elizabeth and
the rest of the Campbell family for sharing this
wonderful man with us for all of those years.
John with an immature male Peregrine, Turbo,
on a hen mallard, 1994 AGA Field Meet.
Photo by Wayne Nelson
July 1998. Photo by Wayne Nelson