A Gyrfalcon in Texas

By Hugh Powell
November 7, 2008

(First things first: the gyrfalcon referred to in this post is a falconer’s bird – we’re not reporting a mega-rare arctic falcon scant miles north of Mexico.)

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I’ve been in Harlingen, Texas, for a little over 24 hours, but my bird list isn’t really off the ground. I’ve been on booth duty at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, saying hello to folks and Twittering like a House Wren.***

Unfortunately, it means I only got outside for an hour or so of birding today. Still, there was an Anhinga, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, a flock of parrots outside the convention hall, some sunny Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and a White-tailed Hawk over a field just south of town.

The big thrill was watching ace falconer Jonathan Wood fly a young, female Gyrfalcon he’s been training. Gyrfalcons are the largest and most powerful falcons in the world and they normally live above the Arctic Circle, where they knock geese out of the sky on hellacious diving attacks.

This bird was big, dusky-streaked, with immense, gentle eyes; Wood held her at arm’s length over his head, and she lifted into the sky. She fluttered on dainty beats of her wingtips and eased into the musty tropical breeze. Wood swung a lure for her to chase and she began beating powerfully, circling over our heads and at one point coming straight for us. I confess: I ducked.

If you’ve ever seen a peregrine and said to yourself, What a big, powerful falcon, this is something you have to see. Watching the bird circle against the green grass and palm trees, not 30 feet away, was impressive. (Even though technically not countable.)

But don’t take my word for it – check out the YouTube clip (above). And for more vicarious Rio Grande Valley birding, see Birdchick’s Green Jay video. Thats an immense heap of color for just one bird.

Friday: Santa Ana.

***Also, showing people cool hi-def video of migrating godwits and fighting grouse, courtesy of the Lab’s multimedia department. If you’re here, stop by and see!

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