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Biology

The Legacy of Heinz Meng

 

Dr. Heinz K. Meng was one of America's leading ornithologists and an avid falconer for almost 75 years.

Born In Germany on February 25, 1924, Heinz 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 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 an immature 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 enrolled at Cornell University, one of America's 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 Dr. Allen, Heinz met the illustrious falconer and lecturer captain C. W. R. Knight (1884-1957) of Great Britain who toured the United States talking about falconry and the value of preserving birds of prey. Heinz's interest In falconry was further kindled by this meeting. His 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 natural habitat.  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. 

 

 

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.

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.

Heinz was also 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 the 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.

Following his retirement, Dr. Meng was honored with the President's Medal from SUNY New Paltz for his 50 years of service. He had also received the SUNY New Paltz Alumni Association's Distinguished Teacher Award 1n 1984. In 2001, the College awarded Heinz the Heritage Award for his “devotion to the ideals of SUNY New Paltz that serve as an extraordinary example to the entire New Paltz community.”

Heinz Meng passed away peacefully on August 13, 2016. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth “Sonny”, his daughter, Robin, and his son Peter-Paul.

If you would like to make a gift to The Heinz Meng Environmental and Conservation Fund...

Please fill out the form below. SUNY New Paltz and the Department of Biology received Dr. Meng's study collection of almost 5,000 specimens of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and plants. This collection provides hands-on learning for students before they head out into the field. With your support, the students at SUNY New Paltz will assist in the conservation and interpretation of the collection, digitizing it for sharing with primary and secondary biology teachers and students across the region for years to come.