The Archives of Falconry Legacy Circle, The North American Falconers’ Association,
Peter Devers, Upstate New York Falconer Friends and Admirers of Heinz
r. Heinz K. Meng, one of Americas leading
ornithologists and an avid falconer for almost 75
years, passed away quietly and peacefully at the age
of 92 on August 13, 2016.
Heinz was born in Germany in 1924 and immigrated to
America with his family when he was five years old. His father, a
banker in Germany, took a job as a chauffeur to a wealthy New
York City family, the J. C. Penny’s, who also owned a large farm
upstate in Dutchess County. Heinz grew up both in the city and
the countryside. The countryside spoke to the boy in many ways
that the city did not. Heinz developed a deep fascination with
the creatures he saw there that he could not find on the asphalt
streets and in the concrete canyons of NYC.
While surf casting off a Long Island beach in 1941, Heinz
captured his first peregrine falcon. The bird was feeding on a
marsh hawk, unaware that a soon to be falconer was stealthily
making in on her. A jacket was quickly thrown over the raptor
and Heinz had his first bird. He then found a book on falconry
and embarked on an adventure with birds of prey that occupied
the rest of his life.
Heinz’s interest in animals caused him to enroll at Cornell
University, one of Americas leading colleges, and one that
offered very strong programs on agriculture, veterinary
medicine, and ornithology. He was tutored there by Dr.
Arthur A. Allen (1885-1964) who orchestrated the first college
courses in the United States designed to confer a Doctorate in
Ornithology. Through him Heinz met the illustrious falconer
and lecturer Captain C. W. R. Knight (1884-1957) of Great
Britain who toured the States in many years talking about
falconry and the value of preserving birds of prey. Heinz’s
interest in falconry was further kindled by this meeting. Heinz’s
Ph.D thesis was a study of the Cooper’s Hawk, still a most
valuable document to this day.
Upon graduating in 1951, with a
Ph.D in Ornithology, Heinz was
immediately hired by the State
University of New York at New
Paltz as its biology professor. He
retained this position for fifty
years until his retirement in 2001.
Through the years his classes were
amongst the most popular offered
by the college. His instruction was
both enjoyable and educational.
He greatly delighted in taking his
students out of the classroom and
into the wild to watch birds, insects, and other wildlife in their
home. Quite a few of his students went on to become biology
teachers themselves. One of them – a falconer too – even took
over teaching his course for several years after his retirement.
Several of his students have become notable falconers and are
still practicing the sport today.
Heinz lived at the base of the Shawangunk Mountains whose
steep cliffs harbored eyries of the Anatum Peregrine Falcon.
Though his thesis had been on Cooper’s Hawks, his heart
was captured by these longwings. He often went to watch and
photograph them in their natural habitat, and took some to
train for falconry.
In the 1960’s Heinz and other ornithologists and falconers
grew alarmed at the disappearance of the peregrine from its
traditional haunts. Chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides were
causing eggshells to thin and shatter when being brooded. Over
the course of only a few years, it seemed, the peregrine was
gone. In 1971 Heinz became the first scientist to breed peregrine
falcons for release into the wild. Frank Beebe in Canada
probably was the first in North America to breed peregrines in
captivity but the progeny died. Heinz developed a successful
– and reproducible – technique for consistently breeding the
birds, and his successes were shortly followed by Jim Enderson
on the west coast and Thomas Cade and companions at
Cornell. Falconers all. For his contribution to the restoration
of the peregrine in the United States and his advocacy for the
environment Heinz was named one of the Hundred Champions
of Conservation by the National Audubon Society in 1998.
Amongst the other champions were fellow falconers Tom Cade
and twin brothers John & Frank Craighead, and giants in the
field of conservation such as Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and
Louis Agassiz Fuertes.
As a falconer Heinz was ever the teacher. He was the guru and
go-to-guy for many novice falconers
in the Hudson River Valley of New
York. He never failed to take the time
to get initiates off on the right foot,
offer advice on how to improve mews
and equipment, and was available even
in the latest hours of the night when a
panicking falconer called with a problem.
Heinz was involved heavily in writing
the New York State Falconry regulations
and for this work was granted falconry
license #001 in 1975. From 1967 through
1976 Heinz was the Eastern Director of
1924 ~ 2016
Photo by Howard Huff
the North American Falconers Association. He attended
many NAFA Field Meets, New York Field Meets, and
travelled west on several occasions to hunt with fellow
longwingers such as Steve Chindgren.
An all-around country sportsman, Heinz enjoyed fly
fishing very much and travelled quite widely around
the Northeast, and out west to Montana, to participate
in this sport. He tied his own flies (his books on
entomology were not just used for schooling!) and was
also an avid bowhunter. His quest for a good venison
stew recipe is legendary.
Heinz was a proficient artist and many of his
paintings grandly illustrate the 9th edition of Beebe
& Webster’s North American Falconry and Hunting
Hawks. They have also appeared in NAFA Journals,
the Conservationist Magazine, and other periodicals.
He was the co-author of Falcons’ Return published in
1975, and wrote many articles on biology and falconry
over the years. His most infamous painting was a piece
of “modern art”, a blank canvas on which he let his
Redtail and falcons defecate. A series of vertical black
and white lines resulted. Turning the canvas 90 degrees
another series of lines was created. This cross hatched
painting won first prize at the local art show.
Heinz married Elizabeth “Sonny” Metz in 1953, herself
an educator and artist. At the time they met, however,
she was his student, only a few years his junior. She
thought him an interesting person to spend the rest
of her life with. He thought the same about her. Over
the years Sonny tolerated the innumerable drop-in
students and falconers with great good humor as they
came to “hang with Heinz”. They had two children
together, Robin and Peter-Paul.
Heinz was a life member of the American
Ornithologists Union, the Cooper and Wilson
Ornithological Society, was an Honorary Life Member
of NAFA, and a member of other organizations such as
the Audubon Society and local bird clubs.
A Celebration the Life of Heinz Meng was held at
The Terrace Building, SUNY New Paltz, on September
25, 2016 at 2:00PM. Over 135 members of his
family, falconry family, students and friends were in
attendance. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. gave the moving
and delightful keynote speech, and testimonials were
also offered by family and friends. Falconer Brian
Bradley flew his falcon at the end of the ceremony over
the grounds on which Heinz spent much of his life
teaching the young. From its vantage point the falcon
could see the cemetery in which Heinz now sleeps.
Contributions in his memory may be made to The
Archives of Falconry in Boise, Idaho. A bronze plaque
for Heinz will be placed on the Wall of Remembrance
there at the 2017 Rendezvous.
As a falconer Heinz was ever the teacher. He was the guru and go-to-guy for many novice
falconers in the Hudson River Valley of New York. He never failed to take the time to get initiates off
on the right
foot, and offer advice on how to improve mews and equipment.