How to Identify a Gyrfalcon

How to Identify a Gyrfalcon
Of all the species of falcons the gyrfalcon is easily the largest. The bird was so prized by those that enjoyed the sport of falconry in the Middle Ages that it was forbidden for anyone except a true king to own a gyrfalcon. Today the home range of the gyrfalcon in North America is limited to the far north of Canada and throughout Alaska, but the gyrfalcon will spend the winter in the northern states when food farther north begins to become scarce.


Difficulty: Challenging

How to Identify a Gyrfalcon

Step 1
Identify the gyrfalcon by its appearance if you can get a good look at one. The gyrfalcon is about two feet long and can weigh as much as four pounds. Look for a bird that resembles a hawk but has pointed and long wings. Its tail will have barred markings and it will have a very broad chest. Observe the feathers, which can be almost pure white in some specimens to a very darker shade of gray that is almost black in others.
Step 2
Pay close attention to the beak, feet and eyes. A gyrfalcon may vary in the color of its feathers from one to another but all gyrfalcons have yellow feet, and a patch of yellow skin around the beak and encircling both eyes.
Step 3
Study the flight of a bird you suspect to be a gyrfalcon. The gyrfalcon is one of the fastest birds in the world and is capable of actually overtaking other birds in the air, where it kills them with its sharp talons. The gyrfalcon's wings will flap steadily as it flies, with the bird occasionally gliding short distances before flapping its wings again.
Step 4
Search the ledges of cliffs for the nest of the gyrfalcon. The gyrfalcon prefers places like this to lay its eggs and will not build its own nest. It will use a nest abandoned by birds such as hawks or eagles. The male gyrfalcon does most of the hunting, bringing food back to the female, who does the majority of incubating the eggs. Gyrfalcons live on the open tundra and among jagged cliffs in Canada and Alaska so your chances of seeing one in the northern US increase if you are in open country, especially near a river or large body of water.
Step 5
Remember that the gyrfalcon is capable of flying at incredible speeds and then diving down onto prey on the ground. Birds such as ptarmigans are a favorite meal but the gyrfalcon will also kill and eat smaller mammals like rabbits or lemmings.

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