Gyrfalcon at Teton Raptor Center by Nathan McCreery

Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)

Fun Fact

Gyrfalcons take the lead for fastest animal moving parrallel to the ground with a speed in level flight at 75-85 miles per hour for ten miles straight.

Etymology

Common name is derived from the Latin gyrfalco or girofalco, which may be a corruption of hierofalco, which means "sacred falcon" because of it's exalted place in falconry. Rusticolis means "living in the country." Also, Gir is the old German word for Greedy.

Conservation status

IUCN Least Concern.

Lifespan

10-13 years in captivity and up to 25 years in captivity.

Identification

The largest falcon in the world. Often grey but polymorphic from white to black-brown. They have a large head, deep chest and prominent shoulders, long and broad pointed wings, and a long tail compared to other large falcons. Perches upright in the open on cliffs, rocks, and trees.

Length

58-64 cm (18.9-25.2 in)

Wingspan

123 cm (48.4 in)

Weight

800-2100 g (28.2-74.1 oz)

Gray morph Gyrfalcon in flight by Daniel Arndt

Distribution

Circumpolar. Alaska, Canada, coast of Greenland, Iceland, Norway,
Northern Sweden, Finland and northern Russia. Adults typically residential, but some northernmost populations and individuals are migratory or nomadic.

Habitat

Gyr's prefer Arctic and Subarctic maritime cliffs, rocky coasts, islands, river outcrops and lakes found in tundra, barren uplands and mountain crags above tree-line. In winter they can be found in any open land within their range.

Prey

Almost entirely made up of birds, especially ptarmigan. Birds range in size from finches to geese. Has been seen using several different hunting techniqes. They will fly low over the ground and surprise their prey, pursue their prey in flight to the point of the prey's exhaustion, hover over a prey's cover and make short stoops in hopes of forcing prey out, and striking a prey item out of the air from below. Birds are usually knocked from the sky rather than snatched and are eaten on the ground.

Light morph Gyrfalcon by Emma J. Bishop

Behaviors

Solitary or in pairs, with juveniles sometimes occurring in small flocks of 6-8 birds. Aerial displays include high-circling, lateral rolls combined with steep dives and climbs. Males perform figure-eights past the nest. Chasing, mock attacks and presenting talons have also been observed.

Breeding

Late April-Aug. Nest is a scrape on a cliff with an overhang or more commonly in an old nest from corvids, or other raptors on a cliff with no material added. May lay eggs when the weather is still below freezing. Average clutch of 3-4 eggs and incubation period of 34-36 days. Chicks fledge at 46-53 days old.

TRC had a young Gyrfalcon at the center as part of our camera project and he is quite a playful fellow. See some of his antics in the video below as well as on our youtube channel.

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