Donors Kellyn Betts, Cody Birdwell, Jon and Maud
Bolstad, Gloria Bowman, Patricia Burnham, Tom and
Renetta Cade, Robert Collins, Maryon Evans, Phillip
Galgiani, Mike Garets, Ray Gilbertson, Madison Haley,
Laura Hebenstreit, Richard Howard, Peter and Barbara
Jenny, Ruth Kassens, Ed Levine, Toni Lubrecht, Merlin
Systems, Julie Mulholland, Len and Brit Peterson, Monica
Pittman, Kris Spanjian, Paul and Jenifer Spurling, Lucinda
Falconer – Free Spirit – Naturalist – Man of Iron
— by Bill Heinrich and colleagues
Jim got involved in falconry in 1955. He began
working with The Peregrine Fund in 1980. He took
his life with raptors in a new direction. Jim started
at the most difcult Peregrine hack site, named
Death Canyon, in Grand Teton National Park,
Wyoming. Jim showed up fresh from New Mexico
in street shoes. After a two-hour hike straight up
the mountain, Jim’s shoes were literally falling off
of his feet. The crew planned to set up another
camp and Jim volunteered to do that as well, even
though he was by now half barefooted. Everyone
learned a lot about Jim at that moment. He did a
tremendous job and became part of the Peregrine
Fund family.
In 1984, Jim was asked to help construct The
Peregrine Fund’s new breeding facility in Boise,
Idaho. Jim put his construction talent to work and
performed awlessly. Jim worked as a peregrine
release assistant for 11 years until their recovery.
During the off-season Jim pursued the sport of
falconry. Jim’s close friend Anthony Crosswell
from England wrote a few words about the time
they spent together hawking:
“We bought a house together in Albuquerque in
1990. We hawked all over the Midwest out of a
trailer. We trapped my Prairie, ew it along with
our Peregrines and Jim’s hybrid, Gremlin. His
rst kill was a drake mallard (on its 9
day!) at
the Rio Puerco where Jim unhesitatingly waded
the stream up to his chest at minus ten degrees!
This soft Englishman looked for a less challenging
crossing. It was a great time!
Jim Willmarth was a falconer, the most accom-
plished and creative that I ever knew - he had an
instinctive understanding of his hawks. Without
fanfare he made practical the quintessential fal-
coner conservationist whose life made a differ-
ence to us all. As passion waxed and waned in its
intensity, his commitment never faltered fanning
the ames of his re and purpose enabling and
inspiring those around him. How fortunate I have
been to have this man as my friend.”
In 1993, The Peregrine Fund asked Jim to go
to Hawaii to build an outdoor aviary to house the
endangered Alala, better known as the Hawaiian
crow. Peter Harrity wrote: “When we built the ‘alala
aviary, Jim worked tirelessly. He always knew the
correct way to tackle a construction problem. There
was no better person for that role. His efforts set
the foundation that allowed The Peregrine Fund to
play an important role in establishing the restora-
tion programs in Hawaii. I have very fond memo-
ries of experiencing Hawaii with Jim.”
In 2000, Jim helped construct a new California
condor holding pen above the Vermilion Cliffs,
Arizona. Jim and Bill Heinrich slept under the stars
and discussed their experiences together late into
the night. The release pen is still in use. Later that
year, Jim helped work on the Cape Verde Red kite
project where our biologists needed help trapping
kites for genetic analysis.
Colleague Simon Thomsett wrote: “Jim spent
months in the remote and wind swept archipelago
of Cape Verde, off the West
African coast. His mission,
to catch the rare Red Kite,
required careful observa-
tions and enduring patience.
Walking long before dawn to
wait days fruitlessly staring
at a distant and hidden bow
net, to be thwarted in the end
by a faulty transmitter. In the
shade of a thorn tree he spent
hours relating the virtues of
the passage Prairie Falcon
over all others, and spoke of his ancient gyrkin hy-
brid, Gremlin. He caught kites by tying nooses on
locusts and setting them on the tips of branches, a
genius idea born of innovation spent during a life-
time living with his birds.”
Veterinarian Dr. Martin Gilbert wrote: “I was
fortunate to spend time with Jim during a critical
juncture in the story of vultures in Pakistan. Jim
arrived in Pakistan at a turbulent time, as we tried
in desperation to rescue a founder population of
vultures. Politics and time conspired against us,
but throughout it all Jim was a rock of reliability,
turning a dry wasteland into holding aviaries t to
house 100 vultures within a matter of weeks. Jim
combined the good humor and exibility that made
daunting tasks possible. He was a huge support
at a very difcult time.”
After Jim returned from Pakistan in 2004, he
went to Arizona where he spent the next four
years, working with Chris Parish and the eld
crew releasing endangered California Condors at
the Vermilion Cliffs.
Chris Parish wrote: “It wasn’t long after Jim ar-
rived that I saw that we had something special.
Despite the fact that Jim had been working in the
eld longer than many of our crew had been eat-
ing solid foods, he melted into the fabric of the
red-rock desert land of the condor. It wasn’t so
much that he t in, but we all fell in around him,
his stories of old, and the easy way about him that
left nothing too big, too hard, or impossible in the
future that lay before us. Nothing stopped him.
Because as long as ol’ Jim was there we could
handle anything. As with most experiences and
relationships, one never seems to know when you
are amidst some of the best times of your life, but
Jim always seemed to exude an understanding
that every day was one of those days.”
During Jim’s time in Arizona, Dr. Bill Burnham
asked Jim to go to Greenland. Bill Heinrich, Cal
Sandfort, and Kurt Burnham had the good fortune
of spending September and October of 2004 and
2005 with Jim. Over 100 gyrfalcons were trapped.
The close-knit group’s only company were migrat-
ing falcons, arctic fox and hare, ptarmigan, sled
dogs and the elusive polar bears. We rediscov-
ered how strong Jim was mentally and physically.
There was always a tremendous amount of physi-
cal labor involved from carrying water, moving 55
gallon barrels of fuel, and jumping off boats in the
frigid arctic water to load and unload equipment.
Jim always took care of his comrades rst, without
a thought to his own safety, and did more than his
share of work. Life was always good when Jim
was close by.
In 2007, The Peregrine Fund’s current president
Peter Jenny asked him to manage the education
birds at the World Center for Birds of Prey. Utilizing
his knowledge of falconry, he put together ight
demonstrations for the public. He worked with
kestrels, falcons, and his favorite Harpy Eagle.
Trish Nixon wrote: “During the 4 years that we
worked together, he became my friend, my teach-
er, my condant. When I rst talked with Jim, I felt
that I’d known him all my life. I’d been working with
our education birds for a decade when Jim joined
the team. I gained an immeasurable knowledge
in all aspects of falconry, husbandry and under-
standing raptors. Jim brightened my days, made
me laugh, and listened in a way that made me
feel comfortable discussing anything with him.
Jim was dedicated to taking care of our birds and
to demonstrating that raptors are beautiful, well-
designed, vital birds that everyone should care
about. I will always remember Jim as the sweet
person who prompted a 5-year-old boy to write a
note thanking Jim for teaching him to not be afraid
of birds of prey. That little boy, upon learning of
Jim’s illness, wrote, ‘I am so sorry you are sick. It
makes me cry.’ We all feel that way. A kind, gentle
man and steadfast friend has left us.”
Material items meant nothing to Jim, aside from
a camera that could capture images from nature
that he could share with others. His determination,
work ethic, and dignity in dealing with pancreatic
cancer were unmatched. He set a standard that
inspires. When it came to building things, both
large and small, Jim was gifted with a special ge-
nius. Jim was a hero to everyone who knew him,
and he lived his full life as a free spirit.
Jim conducting a public ight demonstration
at The World Center for Birds of Prey
Tom Cade, Kent Carnie, Frank Bond, Bill
Burnham, Willard Heck, Jim Weaver, Jim,
Tom Smylie
Pakistani Friends
Jim, Laura, Susan, Lynne, Ann
Jim and the Bantams
Michael and Jim Willmarth, May 1962
Greenland 2004. Photo by Bill Heinrich
Greenland 2005. Photo by Bill Heinrich
Public Flight Demonstration with colleague
Trish Nixon. Photo by David Wells, Oct. 2008
Jim with Harpy Eagle, Luigi.
Photo by David Wells, Feb. 2009