Morley Nelson left an indelible mark on Idaho. He led a rich and vibrant life and our beautiful state is better off because of his work to protect raptors in Idaho. To say that he had an enormous impact on how we view birds of prey today is an understatement.
To this day, Morley Nelson is known as the most influential naturalist on raptor conservation in the Western United States.
Morley played semi professional hockey to help pay for his college education at North Dakota State University where he received a degree in soil science, engineering and nuclear chemistry in 1938.
Born in Munich, North Dakota on October 5, 1916, Morley grew up on a farm near the Cheyenne River. While herding cattle he observed a falcon strike down a teal duck and this spectacular natural act inspired him to pursue falconry, the training and hunting of birds of prey. At 12 years old he trained his first hawk and remained dedicated to the preservation of birds of prey for the rest of his life.
He worked for the Soil Conservation Service as a soil scientist until the outbreak of World War II. He joined the elite 10th Mountain Division Ski Troops as an officer and served in Alaska, Italy, and Yugoslavia receiving the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Silver Star. After surviving his war experience Morley always referred to himself as "A Lucky Dog".
Following his recovery from war injuries he worked for the Soil Conservation Service in Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. He settled in Boise in 1948 as the Snow Survey Supervisor of the Columbia Basin.
Morley continued his work with raptors and, after relocating to Idaho, became interested in the golden eagle. In 1958 he influenced the State Legislature to enact a law protecting raptors in Idaho.
In the early 1960's Morley began working for Walt Disney Production's True Life Adventure Series training falcons, eagles, and hawks. He worked on numerous films with Walt Disney and Paramount Pictures as well as working with Marlin Perkins on the Wild Kingdom television series, and television programs for PBS and other networks. In the 1980's and 1990's Morley participated in many documentaries and videos featuring his birds.
In the 1970's and 1980's Morley was instrumental in recognizing the importance of the Snake River Canyon as a haven for birds of prey and with the help of Governor Cecil Andrus, who was then Secretary of the Interior, and others, they establishing the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. He also influenced the establishment of the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise.
Morley had a long and productive association with the Idaho Power Company and the Edison Electric Institute to help solve the electrocution of eagles problem. He designed nesting platforms that attach to large transmission lines which have helped to expand the nesting areas of Raptors. Morley Nelson's power line corrections and nesting platform designs are now used worldwide.
Throughout his life, Morley rehabilitated injured raptors brought to him, including many exotic species. His home in the foothills of Boise was well-known as a place to see and learn about all sorts of birds of prey and he would talk for hours about his passion to anyone who showed interest.
Morley Nelson was an educator who mentored young people, imparting his passion for raptors in a knowledgeable and generous way.
After his death, in 2005, at the age of 88, the Idaho Legislature renamed the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.