Resident Raptor - Gyrfalcon
Nike was captured on the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington in February 2005 by raptor researcher and bander Dan Varland, who had noticed she had an eye problem. Finding her with a badly infected eye once in-hand, Dan transferred her to the Wildlife Center of the North Coast near Astoria, Oregon. After stabilizing the bird and giving it a week on topical and systemic antibiotics, a veterinarian surgically removed the eye, as there was no chance of saving it.
Eye infections can be very dangerous, as the infection can travel up the optic nerve to the brain and/or the other eye. Excessive post-surgical bleeding resulted in the eyelids being stretched so thin that the skin died. When the gyr was transferred to CRC at the end of March 2005, extensive further surgeries were necessary to clean the site and assist the skin to heal across the eye socket. A bird that hunts primarily other birds at high speeds, as do gyrfalcons, would be too handicapped by the loss of one eye to survive in the wild.
Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)
The Gyrfalcon is the largest of all falcons, with females substantially
larger than males. They are the most northern of the diurnal raptors. Like
other falcons, they have dark eyes, and a short, strong beak with a tomial
tooth used for killing prey. Their bodies are streamlined, hard and compact
with smallish heads and long pointed wings. As with other bird-catching
raptors, their toes are long and thin. There is no sexual color dimorphism
in this species but individuals do vary greatly in color, from pure white to
uniform dark gray-brown. Tail may be barred or unbarred. The Gyrfalcon is
distinguished from the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) by the
lack of a dark cap and a crown and/or nape that is heavily streaked. The
Gyrfalcon also has a shorter, broader wing base with a rounder wing tip than
does the Peregrine. The flight of the Gyrfalcon is more buoyant, and they
are capable of more sustained flight, but are less maneuverable than the
||19 - 24"
||20 - 25" ave.
||27 - 30"
||27 - 32"
||1.7 - 3.0 lb.
||3.0 - 4.5 lb.
Status - The Gyrfalcon is both federally and state protected under the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act but has no special listing status in the United
States. They have been less effected by DDT and other pesticides than the
Peregrine Falcon, due to their being resident (mostly non-migratory) in
remote locations with low pesticide usage and feeding on non-migratory
birds, which do not carry as much pesticide contamination (e.g., ptarmigan
or seabirds). In some parts of the world they are threatened by the falconry
trade. Habitat loss is not a current issue for this species due to the
remoteness of their habitat.
Habitat - Arctic and alpine tundra above the boreal forests, often
along rivers or seacoast, are the primary breeding location of this species.
Little migration occurs after the breeding season, however higher latitudes
and elevations are probably vacated during the winter. In more temperate
regions, open areas at lower elevations are chosen as habitat. These falcons
will concentrate in areas where prey congregate such as seacoasts,
reservoirs, and agricultural areas. Terrain is usually flat or rolling with
little forest cover.
Diet - Diet consists of many bird species but the principle food is
ptarmigan. Some mammals are also taken as prey, mostly by individuals at
higher latitudes and elevations. Prey population numbers will strongly
influence breeding success and population density of Gyrfalcons. These
falcons will hunt with short stoops, knocking or driving prey to the ground.
They will often pursue their prey for long distances (tail chases) until the
prey tires and is knocked to the ground. Prey is less likely to be grabbed
from the air as it is to be knocked to the ground and taken. Gyrfalcons are
opportunistic hunters, taking the easily seen displaying male ptarmigans
during breeding season even when ptarmigan numbers are not larger than other
potential prey species.
Call - Similar to other Falco species with a series of Kak
sounds repeated in relatively short intervals.
Nesting - Males begin defending nesting territory in mid-winter (end of
January) while females arrive near the beginning of March. After
approximately 6 weeks of pair bonding, eggs are laid at the end of April.
This species does not build nests, though when stick nests of other
predatory birds are available, they will be used. Nests are typically found
on cliff ledges when pairs are nesting above the tree line. These nests are
easily seen from the yearly build-up of guano. Eggs can be laid on bare
soil. Nest sites are chosen by their relative closeness to colonial-nesting
seabirds or waterfowl. A single brood can vary greatly in color, and it is
not certain what genetically controls color variation in individuals. Prey
is delivered throughout the day during the nesting season, with the prey
decapitated and plucked at the kill site rather than the nest. Females will
cache the food in nearby vegetation to feed to the chicks as their food
requirements increase. At around 10 days the heavily downed chicks are able
to thermo-regulate and will be left by the female so she can begin foraging
with the male.
Most Common Problems - These birds do not come into rehabilitation very
often, due to their remote range. When they are found near people, the most
common injuries are from collisions with motor vehicles. The illegal capture
of wild individuals, usually the white form, for the falconry trade is a
concern but is not well documented.