The Alberta Falconry Association (AFA) was formed in 1965, but encountered a number of stumbling blocks. In 1978 the Alberta Raptor Association (ARA) was formed to recognize members' broader interest in birds of prey, rather than focus on falconry. The ARA provided a platform for members to continue to lobby for legalized falconry.
The Government of Alberta approved regulations permitting falconry in November 1981. In July 1982 the Alberta Falconry Association registered as a society. In August of that year the AFA held its inaugural meeting and soon had 21 members.
Falconry progressed slowly in the 1980s because the harvest of wild raptors was not permitted. Injured birds from rehabilitation facilities were not available to falconers at that time, and captive bred falcons were extremely expensive. In general, falconry in the AFA's youth was severely hampered by very limited access to the most important element of the equation; the birds it employs.
In 1987, the Wildlife Act was amended to allow a limited harvest of wild raptors for falconry. Injured wild birds also became available to AFA members at that time, as falconry serves as an excellent means of rehabilitation for those unlucky individuals.
Since it's formation in 1982, the AFA's membership has increased to approximately 40 members, of which, 25 actively participate in falconry.
Founding Member Mike Person
Mike Person was born in 1939 and raised in Colorado, USA. His interest in falconry was sparked by an article written by John and Frank Craighead and published in the National Geographic magazine. The Craighead brothers had been invited by a Crown Prince of India to visit the country and experience the hawking. (The full account of their trip was subsequently published under the title “Life with an Indian Prince” by the Archives of Falconry”).
Mike, inspired by the exotic tales he had read of promptly launched his own falconry career by bow netting a haggard male kestrel. A member of the first U.S falconry club “The American Falconer’s Club”, which operated between 1941-1961, Mike was later a founding member of the North American Falconers’ Association (NAFA).
In 1964, as a recently qualified doctor of veterinary medicine he immigrated to Ponoka, Alberta with his wife Linda and all their worldly possessions, which at the time consisted of one dog, two passage falcons, a 1950 Pontiac and $35 in cold, hard cash.
At the time of Mike’s arrival, by omission falconry did not exist within Alberta. Not being recognized as legal made it illegal by default. At the same time there was no protection offered to raptors which were considered vermin, indeed in the severe winter of 1964, in order to protect game birds a bounty was paid for every raptor killed.
Within a very short time Mike became Alberta’s first raptor rehabilitator and the Ponoka Veterinary Clinic its first wildlife rehabilitation center.
In 1965 Mike met John Campbell and the two quickly became firm friends, together with a small group of like-minded people they convened a meeting to organize what would eventually become the Alberta Falconry Association. From that time on as president and vice president, the two friends began the long uphill struggle to formally legalize falconry in the province.
There were many struggles along the way, both politically and perhaps more surprisingly from other hunting interests. On the political front the illegal actions of a small minority of falconers elsewhere in Canada gave politicians and Alberta Fish and Game Association (AFGA) ample reason to argue against the legalization of falconry in Alberta. This coupled with sensational press reports which quoted $35,000 as the market value for a single falcon in the Middle East led Alberta Fish and Wildlife to believe that most if not all falconers were illegally dealing in wildlife.
The AFGA also feared the impact of legalizing falconry on Alberta’s other hunters. Fuelled by historical tales of large numbers of game taken by falconers in Victorian England it was felt that if falconry were permitted game would quickly be eradicated. (It is worth noting that bags of 15-20 partridge a day killed by falconers with a number of hawks pale into insignificance when compared to the numbers of partridge shot at the same time, bags of 700-800 a day were not uncommon and records exist of over 1,500 partridge shot in a single day in the late 1800’s. Over two million partridge were shot each year in the UK between the years 1870-1930).
It took over 15 years of hard work by Mike, John and other AFA members to finally break the deadlock-in 1981 falconry was finally legalized in Alberta, with the AFA being officially incorporated in 1982 and recognized as the voice of falconry in Alberta. Mike’s extensive experience of trapping, training and hawking with eyas, passage and haggard falcons and hawks led to him being classified as the first Master falconer of the AFA.
Another ten years of diligent lobbying by the AFA, spearheaded by Mike and John, led to legislation being enacted which gave Alberta’s falconers wild take, extended seasons and the other privileges which they enjoy today. Throughout this time the AFA built up exceptional working relations with both Alberta Fish and Wildlife (now SRD) and also Alberta Fish and Game Association, subsequently becoming an affiliated club.
Mike served the AFA as either president or vice president for 35 consecutive years and was awarded Honorary Life Membership in 2000 in recognition of this outstanding contribution to both the club and falconry in general. During this time he was also the Canadian Director for NAFA for three terms.
To date (2012) Mike continues to serve on the Alberta Sustainable Resource Development’s Wildlife Animal Care Committee.
Outside of falconry Mike’s interests are wide and varied, from rodeo cowboy, martial arts (he is a black belt in Judo), pilot, blacksmith, farrier, big game hunter, fly fisherman, alpine skier, pointing dog trainer, trailer, judge and conservationist, it is probably easier to make a list of things he hasn’t done rather than those he has!
Mike remains a fanatical falconer flying both longwings at game and a goshawk at hares each season, alongside his wife Linda. His love of the sport has been passed down to his son Jeff and grandson Riley, both practicing falconers. Mike also breeds falcons and in 1990 became Alberta’s first CITES registered breeder of peregrine falcons.
Founding Member John Campbell
John Campbell was born in 1926. In 1940, as a 14 year-old, he read an article in the sporting magazine, The Field, and became ‘hooked’ on falconry. As a teenager John corresponded with Jack Mavrogordato and Colonel Gilbert Blaine (both famous falconers who individually authored a number of falconry books, widely regarded as classics), and flew a kestrel and merlins until joining the British Army in 1944. He emigrated to Canada in 1948, went to Agricultural College in Guelph, Ontario, and subsequently married Elizabeth Balfour. In 1954 they bought their ranch near Black Diamond, Alberta, and subsequently had seven sons.
In 1964 two eyas goshawks were given to John, bringing him back to practical falconry, and John Jr., then aged 11, was introduced to the sport. John Sr. sought others interested in hawking, with the intention of seeking its legalization in Alberta. He soon found Mike Person, a falconer and newly graduated veterinarian from Colorado, living near Edmonton. As a formidable team they worked toward this goal, little knowing that it would actually take 17 years!
During this time John carried on voluminous correspondence with other falconers, for example with Richard Fyfe on the east coast and Frank Beebe on the west coast. He joined NAFA in the fall of 1964 and attended one of the first NAFA Meets, in Centerville, South Dakota. In 1965 John and Mike Person (as president and vice-president of the first of several incarnations of AFA) corresponded with the Minister of Lands and Forests, and also met with the Director of Wildlife to request the legalization of falconry within the province. At the time however Alberta had many unsympathetic Fish and Game club members and naturalists, and for many years these were a major political deterrent to legalizing falconry.
In the summer of 1965 John, Mike, and others boated Alberta rivers, looking for nesting peregrines, and found none. (That fall, at a conference on peregrines in Madison, WI, it was confirmed that a population crash was occurring across much of North America and Europe.) As a result at the AFA Meet in 1966, a motion was passed that no AFA member would take peregrines from the wild in Alberta.
In 1966 John and others imported six Swedish goshawks to fly in Alberta, and he flew one of these at the B.C.F.A. Meet near Vancouver that fall. In 1966-67, with Richard Fyfe, Frank Beebe, and others, John (as Alberta Director) worked to form a Canadian Falconry Association. However the organization was short-lived because of the small number of Canadian falconers and the huge distances involved.
In 1967 John organized a falcon-survey and collection trip by freighter canoe, down the Yukon River in Alaska and up the Porcupine River to Old Crow in the Yukon. In doing so they travelled nearly 1400 miles. He was accompanied by U.S. falconers Bob Berry and Jim Enderson, and David Glaister, a neighbor of John’s. At that time that falcon population was still strong; the team found more than 30 Peregrine nests, banded many nestlings, and trapped a number of adults and took biopsy samples for DDT analyses. In Yukon they took four eyasses, two for John and two for Mike Person. That autumn (1967) Alberta’s last field meet for 20 years was held at John’s ranch. Alberta F&W officials were still not receptive to the legalization of falconry due to a serious falconry-related infraction in B.C. and incidents of poaching by B.C. falconers of merlins and prairie falcons within Alberta. AFA members were unofficially told to dispose of their birds because there was no possibility that falconry would be legalized in Alberta in the near future.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, John helped Richard Fyfe and Canadian Wildlife Service colleagues on numerous raptor surveys and biocide sampling river trips. John became the Canadian Director for the North American Falconers Association in 1971; however he resigned from the position in 1973 as he was unable to achieve any progress with the Alberta government toward legalization of the sport.
Some interesting events followed the 1969 Yukon trip that John Sr. and John Jr. undertook to obtain two more peregrines from the Porcupine River. The falcons were initially trained and flown that fall, however that November, while driving home from the NAFA Peregrine Symposium in Ft. Collins, Colorado, John decided that the four peregrines they had at Black Diamond were much too valuable to be flown, and a breeding project would be set up instead.
In early 1971 Alberta Fish and Wildlife learned that John had two pairs of peregrines. Although the falcons had been obtained with proper permits in the Yukon; there were no permits by which they could be held in Alberta. The falcons were seized and John was taken to court. Because of some backroom discussions the court case and outcome were very unusual – F&W argued that, because John had legally obtained the birds, was trying to breed them, and helped with scientific work on falcons (and the Alberta government had at that time done nothing for the preservation of the species), he should receive the minimum fine ($10). The falcons were confiscated to the Crown; however within a few weeks those Crown-owned birds were returned to John’s custody and he found himself in charge of Alberta’s new falcon breeding project! In 1973 one pair of John’s northern anatum peregines fledged three young. In 1974, John, and Phillip Glazier in Britain, were the first to breed merlins in captivity. With Wayne Nelson, John wrote a number of articles on captive breeding for NAFA’s Journal and Hawk Chalk and made a 60 min. film on the captive breeding of peregrines. By 1985 when the Province’s project was officially closed, John’s peregrines had fledged 85 young that went either to other breeding projects or were released into the wild across Canada.
John's captive breeding work for the Province through the 1970s undoubtedly had positive effects when, in the late 1970s Alberta falconers started another push towards legalization. A substantial briefing document was prepared and subsequently John met with, and wrote an article for local naturalists’ groups. His work continued with meetings with Alberta Fish and Game clubs and also a presentation to the AFGA convention, where he sought and obtained a resolution supporting – or, at least, not opposing - falconry. This resulted in many people, previously opposed to falconry being receptive to a change in legislation. With some further pushing from John, the government put falconry regulations into place in November 1981. All of the necessary paperwork was in place when the AFA’s inaugural meeting was held at Red Deer in August 1982. John was elected its first president (again)and retained that position until stepping down in 1990. During the 1980s numerous improvements were made to the regulations, and finally in 1987 the first capture permits for wild raptors in Alberta were issued. In 1988 and 1989, at the Campbell ranch near Black Diamond, John and his family hosted the first two AFA Field Meets of the legal falconry era.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, for long periods in the fall, John hawked with Mike and Linda Person, Clee and Mary Sealing, Rick Skibsted, and others. During this time he flew several very fine peregrines at ducks, huns and sharptails. He and Mike were made AFA Honorary Life Members in 2000. John died August 29, 2003.
John’s contribution to legalizing falconry in the province and to the recovery of the peregrine in Canada should not be underestimated. Anyone who enjoys watching peregrine falcons grace our skies and all of the provinces falconers owe him a huge debt of gratitude.