California Hawking Club with Frank and Linda Ely, Mrs. Mary Fairman
Jim in 1964
Norval “Val” Fairman took his first peregrine falcon for falconry at a time that was a far
different era than that which we enjoy today.
Game hawking was new to most Americans and the
captive propagation of raptors and radio telemetry were completely unknown. Val recorded his first trip to
a peregrine falcon eyrie. It was a hundred foot tall sandstone cliff overlooking the ocean at Point Reyes near
the San Francisco Bay Area. The film begins with him and his new wife, Mary, loading in to their convertible
1957 Chevy, and ends with peregrines stooping above the beach.
Val did not take a peregrine that day, nor did he take one on his next visit. These early days of falconry had
not yet benefited from Yvon Chouinard’s later popularization of rock climbing and attendant gear. So being
a smart guy, he hung a ladder from the top of the cliff but found that he still could not quite reach the eyrie.
He finally hired a climber to make the trip to the nest and collect his bird.
During his next twenty years, Val watched the near extirpation of the peregrine due to DDT contamination
of the environment and the beginning of captive propagation. He saw Brian Walton help other Bay Area
falconers, Louis Davis and Dewey Savell get the first two raptor breeding permits awarded to non-scientists
in the late 1970s, and Val soon had one too. He tried unsuccessfully to breed prairie falcons but had success
after Dewey gave him a pair of peregrines. (Breeders were not allowed to receive any compensation for their
progeny for at least another decade). From that time until his death in 2016, Val always had at least one pair
of peregrines on his property in Diablo, California.
I got to know Val about twenty years ago when he was in the process of retiring from a career as an attorney
for Californias Department of Transportation. At the time, he had two pairs of peregrine falcons that were
producing as many as three cohorts of young each year. As a conservation biologist for the UC Santa Cruz
Predatory Bird Research Group I would collect all the young he produced and set up a hack site for them. His
older pair usually had eggs in the nest by early January and five week-old young in March. The pair would
immediately recycle when we took the grown young and produce a second cohort of young that were ready
for release at the more “normal” time of mid-June. So we usually released seven or eight young per year from
that pair alone, and as many as a dozen from his property.
Periodically I asked Val if he wanted to sell or give any of his birds to falconers and occasionally he held
back a falcon as a gift for someone. But Val said that he preferred to release his birds—to put some back—
Val Fairman will be missed
by those fortunate enough to
have known this pioneer of
Bay Area falconry.
and besides, he said, “falconers often
complained that the birds were the
wrong color, wrong size, or too hard to
train. It just made him feel good to see
the birds going to the wild and he came
to one of our hack sites along the coast
to see a group of them released one year.
One of his birds was found nesting on
Santa Cruz Island off the Santa Barbara
coast and another was famously the mate
to the San Jose City Hall female in 2008.
In the course of our endangered species
recovery work we often had contracts
that underwrote the costs of releasing
peregrines to the wild and we paid Val
and other breeders for this purpose. We
released Val’s birds in Santa Barbara
County, Muir Beach, San Gregorio,
Santa Cruz, and even on Idahos Camas
Prairie. But every single time we paid
Val for falcons under the terms of our
contracts he refunded the money to
the Predatory Bird Research Group as
a donation that could be used for other
raptor recovery work. He paid the entire
cost of the mountain of quail his falcons
consumed. More than anything else Val
was a gentleman and a generous human
being. He used his ability as an attorney
to push back on some of the overly
restrictive and oppressive policies of the
Department of Fish and Game in the
1980s to help make falcons more readily
available to all of us.
I imprinted one of Val’s falcons for use
as a duck hawk and so that audiences
could connect with nature during the
many public lectures I offered on the
peregrine recovery. “Sophie flew at 1050
grams her first year. She and I visited
schools, universities, corporations, Audubon club meetings, and community groups. During her thirteen
years with me she killed ducks, appeared before more than 75,000 people, and agreeably stood for artificial
inseminations that resulted in many lovely hybrids including two that I fly today. I am grateful to Val for that
In his final years Val never left home and rarely strayed far from his easy chair. I usually found him reading the
most recently published falconry book. Even when he had lost the physical ability to be in the field with his birds
and his dogs, he continued to read about our sport and to visualize flights in his mind. Val was a gentleman and
avid follower of our sport. Val Fairman will be missed by those fortunate enough to have known this pioneer of
Bay Area falconry. He will be honored with the installation of a memorial plaque on the Wall of Rememberance
at the Archives of Falconry in March 2018.
In Memorium
More than anything else Val was a gentleman and a generous human being.
by Glenn Stewart