Magnificent polar bird of prey that hunts over the arctic plains
What you need to know about the Gyrfalcon
Our Expert Says… "Although there is a worry about the impact of climate change, I'm hopeful that because there is so much habitat available in the high Arctic, the gyrfalcons and peregrines have the space to co-exist and weather the storm. I've had good sightings on trips to Greenland in particular."
The gyrfalcon is the world’s largest falcon and it’s a breeding resident of the Arctic coasts and tundra.
This magnificent and iconic polar bird of prey is very large. Males can grow up to 60cm (2ft) long and have a 1.3m (50”) wingspan and weigh up to 1.4kg (3lb), with females being even larger and heavier with a wingspan of up to 1.6m (63”). Similar in size to a buzzard, it is sometimes confused with them, but one differentiator is that the gyrfalcon has pointed wings
Gyrfalcons are highly polymorphic, meaning that their coloration can be one of several types. Individuals have been noted in all colors from white ranging to very dark plumage.
The gyrfalcon hunts small birds and mammals. Unlike other falcons such as the peregrine, the gyrfalcon does not hunt from a high “stoop” but pursues prey horizontally. They kill on the ground, and if they catch a bird they will bring it down before they dispatch it.
Gyrfalcons always nest on cliff faces, and never build their own nest - either laying on bare rock or using an abandoned nest of a species like golden eagles or ravens. They lay between 3 and 4 eggs, although some pairs have been known to lay a single egg or as many as 5.
Adult gyrfalcons have no known predators other than the golden eagle, and even these attacks are rare given the gyrfalcon’s size. Chicks and eggs can be predated by common ravens, although the gyrfalcon is known for aggressively defending its nest and chicks.
The gyrfalcon is not considered threatened due to its large range and distribution. However, there are worrying signs that climate change is pushing the hunting territory of peregrine falcons further north. Although the gyrfalcon is larger than the peregrine, they are conflict-averse away from their nests and so unable to successfully compete.
Gyrfalcon: Pictures from our travelers
Spots where the Gyrfalcon can be observed
On Admiralty Inlet on the very northwest side of Baffin Island.
Named after the whaling ship, the Arctic, in 1872, it is the site of quite a large community (mainly Inuktitut) called Ikpiarjuk, and a popular location to visit for expedition cruise ships. There is a museum and Ikpiarjuk a good place to learn about the culture. The area is great to ship cruise and explore for wildlife.
Located at the mouth of Kempe Fjord in the northern end of King Oscar Fjord. With the larger islands to the east such as Geographical Society Island.
It is in the middle of the King Oscar Fjord and Kaiser Franz Joseph Fjord ‘complex’ that matches Scoresbysund to the south. It is a great area to explore with stunning scenery, often the first Greenland landscape that many cruise ships experience that have come across from Svalbard, and you may even find wolf tracks on walks ashore. But expeditions tend to spend more time in Scoresbysund since the entrance to this fjord system can be blocked off by sea-ice drifting south in the cold southern flowing East Greenland current.
At the very northern end of Baffin Bay and the very northwest of Greenland, Etah looks across the Nares Strait to Ellesmere Island, the area usually frozen from October to July.
The area was the crossing point to Greenland for cultures 4,400 and 2,700 years ago, the Thule culture migrants less than a thousand years ago, and the point of the last migration of the Inuit from Baffin Island reached the coast of Greenland in 1865 Etah was also a starting point for various expeditions attempting to get to the North Pole.
Today the channel, when frozen, continues to be a crossing point for wildlife from Canada to Greenland, even Wolverine get across. Etah used to be the most-northerly populated settlement in the world, but it was abandoned (Inuit moving south to Pituffik) due to the harsh conditions.
Sheer sided fjord on the south side of Milneland. Great ship cruising, often as part of the circumnavigation of Milneland.
Denmarkøya, on the south-east side of Milne Island, is the location of a group of small islands with landing potential at the end of Føhnfjord, at a position between the deeper fjord systems and the open ‘bay’ of Scoresbysund. The popular landing here is Hekla Havn, named after the expedition ship used by Carl Ryder when the expedition explored NE Greenland from 1891 to 92. As well as the hut remains from the expedition, there are older Innuit remains, as well as good tundra walks, wildlife, and some great geology.
North of the Arctic Circle and deep in the long Kangerlussuaq fjord, it was the site of a WWII airport, then for refuelling for trans-continental flights.
The airport and the fjord are used as pick-up and drop off for cruise ships exploring the remoter parts of west Greenland. There are few roads in Greenland, but a 25 km dirt road connects the town with the mighty ice cap. Nowhere else is there easier access to the Greenland ice cap. Area also good for caribou, Musk Ox (actually introduced to this part of Greenland), and to look out for White-tailed Eagles.
A large and rugged island with steep cliffs, well into SW Scoresbysund that can be circumnavigated with access to several deeper fjord systems with glaciers coming down from the Greenland ice sheet.
Starting from the open sound (the actual area named Scoresbysund) and going in a clockwise direction from the Bear Islands: Ofjord to Storo island, then Rodefjord, then Føhnfjord back to the islands of Denmarkøya. Great ship and Zodiac cruising (even over several days), plus the chance of some landings. Spectacular ship cruising, Greenland at its best and a 'destination' within a destination with numerous highlights.
Much of the area has steep sided fjords, but where there are slopes with tundra, look at for Musk-ox.