Gyrfalcon

Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)

The gyrfalcon is famous for its superb hunting and flying skills. The gyrfalcon even let itself be trained by humans to a perfect cooperation as early as 1.500 years ago.

It became the supreme falcon, partly because of it size, partly because of its pure and beautiful colours. Its colours range from black to snow white; there are not two gyrfalcons, which look the same.

The young gyrfalcons can be recognized by their blue feet, and their plumage is often darker. The gyrfalcon is the only bird of prey that can pull a leg up underneath itself so it's totally covered by feathers. This is of course a characteristic that is adapted to the rough polar weather conditions.

As early as in the beginning of the Middle Ages the gyrfalcon was hailed by kings, emperors and princes, who often let them selves be portrayed with their favourite falcon. Expedition ships were equipped to sail the long and dangerous voyage to Iceland and Greenland to supply the courts of Europe with this bird. Beautiful pavilions were decorated for the falcons in the castles in Europe, and many falconers were hired with the sole purpose to train and care for the falcons.

The gyrfalcon is not as flexible and manoeuvrable as the peregrine falcon, and it happens only very rarely that it dives with folded wings, which the peregrine falcon is famous for doing. Therefore it will not reach the same speed as the peregrine falcon. However, it is much more endurable and can fly with a speed of 130 km/h in horizontal flight. Because of its weight and muscles it is able to beat even big birds as heron and geese with incredible force. The gyrfalcon, which lives in some of the most desolate and harsh polar areas, has very large breeding areas of between 100 and 600 square kilometres. The reason for this is not that the bird is endangered, but the slender supply base in the winter months. The gyrfalcons that are not yet ready to breed tend to migrate south, where there is more prey.

Human hunting has until recently been the primary threat to the gyrfalcon, however without much influence on the stock. Only a few decades ago it was not unusual that up to 250 gyrfalcons were shot while migrating during the first 18 days of September at Scoresby Sund in Greenland. In Iceland too, human hunting is a problem for the gyrfalcon. Here hunters and farmers want to protect the grouse stock.

The gyrfalcon is ready to breed at the age of 2-3 years. At that time it starts looking for a suitable nest. The gyrfalcon often occupies an unused nest of a raven, golden eagle or a rough-legged buzzard, as it never builds a nest itself. It lies between 2 and 7 eggs with an interval of three days. Hatching time is 28-34 days, where the female rarely leaves the nest. The male provides food for the female during this period. The babies are fledged after about 50 days, but they only leave the parents after about 100 days. The gyrfalcon couple does not breed every year. After a winter with shortage of food or a cold and long spring they simply skip the breeding season. The gyrfalcon is not in a hurry, as it can reach an age of up to 25-30 years.

Falconers rarely use the gyrfalcon, as it flies quickly and far away from the falconer. Earlier, when the castles had unlimited areas of land to them this was not a problem, but in modern society, where the land is divided in relatively small parts, you risk that the hunt takes place over the neighbour's land. Besides the gyrfalcon don't share the peregrine falcon ability to hang over the falconer (Anwarter) and wait for the prey to show. In USA and Canada the gyrfalcon is more frequently used, as there are large open areas of land, which can be used for flying and hunting.

The gyrfalcon is not as flexible and manoeuvrable as the peregrine falcon, and it happens only very rarely that it dives with folded wings, which the peregrine falcon is famous for doing. Therefore it will not reach the same speed as the peregrine falcon. However, it is much more endurable and can fly with a speed of 130 km/h in horizontal flight. Because of its weight and muscles it is able to beat even big birds as heron and geese with incredible force. The gyrfalcon, which lives in some of the most desolate and harsh polar areas, has very large breeding areas of between 100 and 600 square kilometres. The reason for this is not that the bird is endangered, but the slender supply base in the winter months. The gyrfalcons that are not yet ready to breed tend to migrate south, where there is more prey.

Human hunting has until recently been the primary threat to the gyrfalcon, however without much influence on the stock. Only a few decades ago it was not unusual that up to 250 gyrfalcons were shot while migrating during the first 18 days of September at Scoresby Sund in Greenland. In Iceland too, human hunting is a problem for the gyrfalcon. Here hunters and farmers want to protect the grouse stock.

The gyrfalcon is ready to breed at the age of 2-3 years. At that time it starts looking for a suitable nest. The gyrfalcon often occupies an unused nest of a raven, golden eagle or a rough-legged buzzard, as it never builds a nest itself. It lies between 2 and 7 eggs with an interval of three days. Hatching time is 28-34 days, where the female rarely leaves the nest. The male provides food for the female during this period. The babies are fledged after about 50 days, but they only leave the parents after about 100 days. The gyrfalcon couple does not breed every year. After a winter with shortage of food or a cold and long spring they simply skip the breeding season. The gyrfalcon is not in a hurry, as it can reach an age of up to 25-30 years.

Falconers rarely use the gyrfalcon, as it flies quickly and far away from the falconer. Earlier, when the castles had unlimited areas of land to them this was not a problem, but in modern society, where the land is divided in relatively small parts, you risk that the hunt takes place over the neighbour's land. Besides the gyrfalcon don't share the peregrine falcon ability to hang over the falconer (Anwarter) and wait for the prey to show. In USA and Canada the gyrfalcon is more frequently used, as there are large open areas of land, which can be used for flying and hunting.

 

Male

Female

Weight in grams

1.100

1.800

Wing span in cm

120

140

Number of breeding couples in Denmark (Greenland)

500-1000