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.