Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)

Description
Gyrfalcon

Size

  • The gyrfalcon is the largest member of the falcon family, about 56 centimetres (22 inches) long.

Appearance

  • Several color variations from white to near black exist but most are classified simply as light or dark phases.
  • Light gyrfalcons may be pure white, or white with black spotting on the crown, back and sides, and black bars on the primaries (longest wing feathers).
  • Dark gyrfalcons may be black, or more commonly an ash-grey with white streaking on the undersides.
  • The white or light phase is common in the eastern high Arctic, whereas the darkest birds are found in northern Labrador area.
Distribution

The gyrfalcon is an Arctic bird with a circumpolar range. It visits Alberta only as a rare wanderer during the winter months.

In the summer it inhabits Arctic and subarctic regions near cliffs or mountains, either inland or along the coast line. Winter range includes open or lightly wooded terrain from the breeding grounds irregularly to southern Canada.

Natural History

Habitat

  • Habitat can vary between cliff or mountain ledges to open or lightly wooded terrain.

Food

  • Major sources of food on the tundra include:
    • Ground squirrels
    • Hares
    • Lemmings
    • Ptarmigan
  • In Alberta, voles, rabbits and game birds are preyed upon during the winter.
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behavior

  • The gyrfalcon lays three to four buff-colored eggs with heavy markings of reddish brown in nests on the ledges of cliffs.
Conservation and Management

Status

The gyrfalcon is classified as Secure in the current General Status of Alberta Wild Species report:

Current management

Like all raptors in Alberta, the gyrfalcon is protected by the provincial Wildlife Act and classified as a non-game species.

When falconry was at its height in Europe, the gyrfalcon was reserved only for royalty. It was used to hunt grouse and ducks and often larger game, including herons and geese.
Similar Species

 

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Posted: Oct 14, 2009