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Gyrfalcon

Falco rusticolus ORDER: FALCONIFORMES FAMILY: FALCONIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The largest falcon in the world, the ghostly Gyrfalcon is a fierce predator in the High Arctic, where it chases down ptarmigans in flight or plummets from the sky at breathtaking speeds to strike prey to the ground. Nesting on remote cliffs in the far reaches of Canada and Alaska, Gyrfalcons in North America are safe from most human disturbance but face challenges from a warming climate. They are rare winter visitors to open habitats in the northern United States.

Calls

  • Captive calls
     
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

When alarmed, Gyrfalcons give a hoarse “kak kak kak” with several repetitions per second. They give a sharp “chup” when foraging or transferring food, repeating it up to 20 times. Other calls include chatters, wails, and low whines. The female’s calls are usually lower in pitch than the male’s.

Other Sounds

The Gyrfalcon’s wings make a hissing noise when it stoops for prey or circles the nest.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Find This Bird

Because Gyrfalcons breed so far north, most people encounter them as rarities spotted during winter in the northernmost U.S. and southern Canada. In these areas the birds look for tundra-like habitat including plains, open agricultural land, and coastlines. Peregrine Falcons can look very similar, so be sure to look for the Gyrfalcons bulky body and relatively thick, blunt-tipped wings. Gyrfalcons are used to perching on the ground, so don’t just search the skies—be sure to scan open stretches of ground, where they may be standing at rest or sheltering next to a rock or shrub.

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North of the Treeline: The Hardy Lives of Arctic-Breeding Birds, Living Bird, Summer 2015.

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