DONORS:
Dale Patton, Jennifer (Nelson) Willes, North American Falconers Association,
Alberta Falconers Association.
Wayne Nelson passed away at home in Cambrose, Alberta,
Canada with his wife of 49 years, Alora, and daughter Jennifer
(Willes) by his side. Wayne’s life was spent as a scientist, falconer,
avid reader, writer, researcher, photographer, art and music
aficionado, loving husband, father, and “Pa to granddaughters
Olivia and Vienna.
Robert Wayne Nelson was born 26 December 1945 in Vernon,
British Columbia to Bob and Verna Nelson. At an early age,
Wayne fell in love with hunting and observing wildlife. Around
1957, he saw an article in National Geographic “Life with an
Indian Prince” by John and Frank Craighead and their earlier
article Adventures with Birds of Prey. He soon was handling a
young redtail and developing a lifelong appreciation of natural
history.
He encouraged his father to join him as an avid birder. They
received a copy of The Condor which contained Frank Beebes paper on the Peale’s Peregrines of the Queen
Charlotte Islands. That article set the course for much of Waynes life.
Wayne took his first falconry bird in 1959 – a red tail he named Ulysses (Uly) from Bald Hill in Vernon,
B.C. He gave his last bird, a peregrine named Perri to Phil and Helen Trefry in 2016. A rich birding history
spanned those years.
At the age of 15, Wayne fell in love with Alora; they married in 1967. They attended University of British
Columbia (UBC). His imprint prairie, Dusty, shared his dorm room. After receiving his undergraduate
degree, Wayne was a graduate student studying the behavior of peregrines on Langara Island, B.C. What
began as a three year M.S. degree concluded with a PhD and several papers that captured peregrine
behavior and falcon ecology. The self-funded and vacation-timed, study continued for a remarkable 43
years!
In 1971, Wayne became very involved with the peregrine breeding program at John Campbell’s project
in Black Diamond, Alberta. They fledged the first captive bred anatum peregrines in Canada. They wrote
several articles and produced a film on peregrine and merlin breeding behavior which was shown at Raptor
Research conferences.
Wayne and Alora were among the founders of the Alberta Falconry Association. They were active members
R. Wayne Nelson, PhD.
Wayne in 1986
Wayne’s first bird Ulysses
Wayne, Alora
and Jennifer
in Yukon
Territory,
1978
26 December 1945 – 15 February 2017
and served in leadership capacities for over 20 years. They received service awards from the association and
Wayne was made an Honorary Life Member.
Waynes professional career began as a biology instructor at Camrose Lutheran College. Then, with his
raptor background, he was employed with Alberta Fish and Wildlife as a biologist for over 20 years. Wayne
had a special condition of his employment – his supervisors understood he required time off to continue
his research on the Langara Island peregrines!
After retiring in 2006, Wayne spent 5 days a week “working on the massive amount of literature on
the behavioral ecology of Peregrines, other raptors, and many other bird species. In retirement, his love
of raptors continued with wing-tagging vultures in central Alberta. The next seven years were mostly
consumed with field work, literature, correspondence and his voracious reading habit.
In the early years, Alora was his primary field assistant. In subsequent years, he had an assortment of able
field assistants, including Keith Hodson and David Pitt-Brooke. With a bit of dark humor, Alora noted that
the assistants’ primary duty was to return and report the location of Waynes body!” Alora wasnt kidding
about Waynes potential for an early, field-related demise. Over the years, he survived a fall from a cliff, a
Zodiac with a split bottom running through high waves, a fish tender sea rescue, engine repair in rolling
seas, a fishing guide who needed rescue assistance, open sea runs to the islands. All these harrowing field
days were usually related matter-of-factly by Wayne.
Wayne gained personal insight during his Langara visits. He watched
as his beloved daughter became his field assistant and grew into an
attractive, intelligent, competent young lady in her own right. He would
often speak with pride about Jennifer’s becoming a registered nurse
with two beautiful daughters.
Wayne was a one-of-a-kind friend and an ever-inquisitive scientist
whose passing leaves a major void in the raptor world. Wayne Nelson
could be described as one of the last great Canadian naturalists who
gathered information out of love of nature rather than notoriety. He
created a data set that spans nearly 5 decades and is a remarkable
contribution to those who love raptors. As Wayne once said: “Ordinary science cannot convey any proper
sense of the creature at home in its environment – those great dark falcons enduring the fierceness of a
west-coast winter. Perhaps it requires a different means of expression, closer to art and poetry, but no less
essential in apprehending the lives of wild creatures.
Wayne and Alora with grand daughters Olivia and Vienna in 2010
Wayne and Alora with daughter Jennifers and grand daughters
Olivia and Vienna in 2016
Wayne always observing wild areas
Wayne’s last bird Perry
Ordinary science cannot convey
any proper sense of the creature
at home in its environment –
those great dark falcons enduring
the fierceness of a west-coast
winter. Perhaps it requires a
dierent means of expression,
closer to art and poetry, but no
less essential in apprehending
the lives of wild creatures.
Wayne in 1998
Wayne was one of the last
Canadian naturalists and
his nearly five decades
of data collection is a
remarkable contribution to
those who love raptors.
Langara Peales eyrie