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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote® - Winter’s Regal Visitor

Air Date: Week of
Gyrfalcon. (Photo: Tom Munson©)

The large, majestic Gyrfalcon is no snowbird. This falcon lives and breeds in the Arctic tundra and sometimes heads to the northern states of North America for the winter. Mary McCann has this BirdNote®.


CURWOOD: This time of year, some folks flock to warmer climes, earning them the nickname “snowbirds.” But there are some birds of the feathered kind, who like cold winters and Mary McCann tells us about one in this week’s BirdNote.

Gyrfalcon. (Photo: George Vlahakis©)


MCCANN: Winter sends wondrous birds down from the Arctic. Unrivalled among these visitors is the majestic Gyrfalcon. Gyrfalcons are among the largest falcons in the world, with the female—the larger of the sexes—outranking even a Red-tailed Hawk in size.


MCCANN: With a name that derives from an Old Norse word for “spear,” the Gyrfalcon was a medieval falconer’s prize, reserved for royalty. Kublai Khan, it is said, kept two hundred. When hunting, the Gyrfalcon flies swiftly, and low, over the ground, hugging contours to conceal its attack. A Gyr’ is capable of overtaking even the fastest waterfowl, some of which can fly 60 miles an hour.

Gyrfalcon. (Photo: Tom Munson ©)


MCCANN: On its summer range on the tundra, the falcon feeds mostly on ptarmigan. But in winter, it is opportunistic, chasing down shorebirds, ducks, partridges, and even small rodents. By December, a small number of Gyrfalcons have flown south to the northern states, where they will spend the winter in areas of open expanse, such as farmlands or coastal areas.


MCCANN: For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.

CURWOOD: To see photos of the Gyrfalcon, fly on over to our website L-O-E dot org.



Call of the Gyrfalcon and Greater Scaup provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Call of Gyrfalcon recorded by A.L. Priori. Call of Greater Scaup in flight recorded by W.W.H. Gunn.

BirdNote® - Majestic Gyrfalcon – Winter’s Regal Visitor was written by Bob Sundstrom.


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