Steve Chitty, Stephen Gatti, Mike & Karen Yates
HAWK CHALK Vol. XXXII. No. 3, Dec. 1993
Alva G. Nye, Jr., His Contributions
To Falconry And Personal
Memories Of Some Of His Friends
— by Mike Yates
Where does one begin to recount the life of
such a man and all he has meant to American
falconry? First, a few of the basics: married to
Dorothy and raised three ne sons; graduate of
the University of Pennsylvania, where he was
All-American in both football and lacrosse; mem-
ber of the college lacrosse hall of fame; Navy
veteran of WWII; retired in 1974 as a Defense
Department aviation procurement analyst and
was a recipient of the Department’s Meritorious
Civilian Service Medal; expert bowhunter with
well over 50 deer to his credit; Eagle Scout; be-
gan practicing falconry in the late 1920s; found-
ing member in 1933 of the rst American falconry
organization (The Peregrine Club), and of every
subsequent national entity, serving each in vari-
ous capacities; chairman and organizer of the
rst national falconry meet in 1938; discovered
in 1938, with Bill Turner, the tundra peregrine
migration at Assateague Island and captured the
rst falcon in 1939; founding member in 1961
of the Potomac Falconers Association; eloquent
spokesman for raptors and falconry in many fo-
rums, including the halls of Congress.
Impressed yet? The man, however, was so much
more than even these monumental accomplish-
ments indicate. His inuence on the course of
American falconry and on the individuals who
continue to sustain it are pervasive. No less a
gure than Bruce Haak wrote Al (in part) shortly
before his passing: “...Because of one fortuitous
phone call back in 1963, you had a major inu-
ence on the course of my life...It would be in-
teresting to know exactly how many sets of feet
you set on the proper path of falconry over the and the old guard made American
falconry what it is. Others merely copied your
moves and, hopefully, added something to the
larger pool of knowledge...In retrospect, I am
amazed at your patience and perseverance with
would-be falconers. These are indeed virtues
that most of us simultaneously admire and lack...
You will never know the extent to which I have
beneted from your counsel and good example.”
In the words of John Harrell, an excellent falcon-
er of long standing who, along with Steve Gatti,
was as close to Al as anyone: “First, and most
importantly, he was an honest, carng, thought-
ful and generous man. He was a true gentleman
in every sense of the word. Alva would talk to or
listen to everyone, no matter what their stature
was in life...He not only was a ne falconer but a
ne representative of falconers and falconry here
in America. He spoke in front of the Congress of
the United States, state legislators, game depart-
ments and others in support of falconry and the
birds it employs. Al was well respected and com-
manded their attention when he spoke. We all
have him to thank for his efforts.”
Several anecdotes from John follow which tell us
more about Alva the man— “Alva loved falconry
and hawks, especially the peregrine. Most are
aware that when he commented on someone’s
equipment or how they were caring for their bird
he was trying to help the person and the bird at
the same time.
“Al and I together took our last trip to a barrier
island to trap our last passage peregrine fal-
cons. The island was accessible by a 7-mile boat
ride through the marsh. During the week a bad
northeast storm blew up and we were forced
to retreat back into the marsh to a shack... built
up on tall poles... Our tent site was covered
by a foot of water...the lock (on the shack) had
been broken and lay at the door. Nothing looked
disturbed. We entered and made ourselves at
home, xed dinner and spent the night. The next
morning we awoke to the drone of an outboard
motor. Looking out the window we saw a man
approaching in a small skiff. I wondered aloud
what he would say when he found his cabin had
been broken into. Al said, ‘Give me ve minutes
with him and he’ll be asking us if he can use it for
two weeks next summer.’ Al was right; the man
showed us where a new key would be hidden
and said to use it whenever we liked. Old ‘silver
tongue’ did it again.”
John adds that “Alva lived a very good life thanks
to his wonderful wife, Dorothy (Dot) Nye. Behind
a good man stood a better woman. She is a
peach.” Amen, John.
I rst met Al in the late 1960s and our friendship
grew as the years passed. We spoke often of life
in general, his bunny hawking, my duck hawk-
ing and trapping of hawks near Sterrett’s Gap,
Pennsylvania, and peregrines on Assateague
(both of which Al pioneered). With early beach
trappers such as Alva, Jim Rice, and Brian
McDonald, our mutual love of peregrines and
Assateague fostered special bonds between
us over the years. In 1982 I helped to organize
a celebration of 50 years in falconry for Alva,
Jim and Doc Stabler (August ‘82 Hawk Chalk).
Serving as M.C. at the banquet, it was my dis-
tinct pleasure to rib Al about his ‘invention’ of
telemetry and the Harris’ hawk (he was initially
skeptical of both but soon embraced them with
all the zealousness of a true convert). I moved
to Nevada in 1987 and we talked less frequently
after that, but a high point of each trip through
the D.C. area was a visit with Alva and Dot at
‘Hawk Hill’. In 1989 we staged a celebration at
Assateague honoring the 50th anniversary of Al’s
capture of the rst peregrine there (December
‘89 Hawk Chalk). It was to be Al’s last trip to the
beach. In the summer of 1990, along with Bill
Seegar and Tom Maechtle, I located a new per-
egrine eyrie in our west-central Greenland study
area. Bill Mattox and the Greenland Peregrine
Falcon Survey took great pride in dubbing the
eyrie ‘Nye’s Honeycomb’, in honor of Al and his
all-time favorite tundra falcon.
These are just a few of my memories of Alva,
and I apologize to the reader if there seems to be
too much ‘me’ in them. To get to the true purpose
of this remembrance, what do I think was so spe-
cial about Alva Nye and why was he so important
to American falconry? I will try not to belabor
points made previously by Bruce and John, but
Al was the personication of the all-American
‘can-do’ guy. When he decided to y hawks, he
had access to very little guidance. He attacked
the problems and conquered them through a rare
combination of ingenuity, raw talent, and force of
will. Al could somehow devise a way to accom-
plish anything he wanted. An example: In 1947
Al wanted to capture a tiercel peregrine at the
Harpers Ferry (WV) cliff. Through intense ob-
servation he determined its preferred night roost,
then established a free-climb route on the cliff
and repeated it in daylight until he had mastered
it. He then returned at night and, using only the
ambient light from the small town below, quickly
and silently negotiated the route and stood below
the sleeping tiercel. Using a net of his own de-
sign stretched between two long poles, he soon
had the tiercel in hand.
No goal was out of reach if he put his mind to
it. Want that tundra falcon sitting on the beach?
“How about getting someone to bury me in the
sand, put a woven grass headset over my head
and a pigeon in my hand?” He brought this en-
thusiasm and will to succeed to everything he
ever did. When many others were content to
throw pigeons out to their peregrines, nothing
but gamehawking would satisfy Al. He would put
his ne tiercel ‘The Senator up and run for miles
through the countryside, getting ights at any-
thing he might ush and having success at it.
He was not only a rst-class hawker but a natu-
ralist. He was an eloquent spokesman for birds
of prey and falconry, winning us many supporters
and friends through the years. When there was
a battle to be fought, you didn’t have to look far
for Alva; he was right there, usually three steps
in front of you. He was opinionated and full of
advice, and he was not shy about sharing any of
it with you. But anyone who truly knew Al never
took offense because his love for the birds was
at the root of it all. He abhorred the thought of a
hawk in the hands of anyone who was not dedi-
cated and competent, and so was quick to give
others the benet of his experience. Alva was a
fountain of knowledge, and it could all be had by
anyone with the interest and sense enough to
In his later years he was slowed considerably
by the abuses his body had absorbed during his
All-American careers in football and lacrosse.
He never quit hawking, however, and the slow
and enjoyable pace of afternoons in the eld
with his Harris’ hawks served him well. Scarcely
a month before his passing and knowing the
end was near, he was aeld with friends at the
Pennsylvania Falconry and Hawk Trust meet.
Who would have expected less?
Alva didn’t just live falconry; he wrote about it.
Throughout the years he kept detailed notes
on everyday events and on uncommon occur-
rences. The more remarkable experiences he
wrote up in narrative form and kept under the
heading ‘One for the Book’. The book, sadly,
was never a reality in his lifetime, despite the
constant nagging of his inner circle. Even deep
into retirement, Alva led a full and busy life. ‘Next
year always seemed to be the time for the book.
Perhaps in the future these literary treasures will
see the light of day through the efforts of Al’s son
Geoff. We have seen ne examples of Al’s nar-
rative skills in NAFA publications over the years
on subjects ranging from his famous European
goshawk “Susie” to the use of Brittany spaniels
in falconry. I look forward to the day I will see in
print the oft-told stories, like: The time he stayed
at Doc Stablers house on the way to and from
the Kintnersville (PA) eyrie, never knowing that
Doc already had the eyases in his basement; the
whole story of the rst capture of a peregrine at
Assateague (as told to the fortunate attendees
of the 1989 NAFA Meet banquet); his ingenious
capture of a haggard Eastern anatum peregrine
weighing 54 ounces off the D.C. post ofce
building; the Nye/Gatti trip as Geoffrey Pollard’s
guests to hawk red grouse in Caithness with their
tundra falcons; the time Bill Turner (and his girl-
friend) went into the woods above the Harper’s
Ferry cliff to lower a needed rope to Al (on the
cliff and unable to go forward). Turner got ‘lost’,
it grew too dark for Al to retrace his steps and he
had to be rescued by the re department! Put
this stuff in a book and we’re talking best seller
Winter before last, as his parting approached,
I reected on the life of my dear old friend.
Falconers in this country today, building on the
solid foundation laid down by Al and a few oth-
ers, are enjoying the nest quality gamehawking
the world has ever known. Centuries from now,
I feel condent that true falconers will still be
aware of and honor his accomplishments and the
role he played in the establishment of American
falconry. While this part of his life was an im-
mense satisfaction and source of pride, so were
his family, career, and outside interests. No one
ever balanced them all in such a consistently
excellent manner. As his life itself was a celebra-
tion and an afrmation of all we can be, let us be
thankful for the time he spent among us.
We lost a giant of a man we loved so well. We
will not see another like him. It hurt then; it hurts
now. I miss him.
Steve Gatti and Al: lifelong hawking friends