Gyrfalcons are the largest falcons in the world, with a wingspan of almost four feet and weighing almost five pounds. The name “Gyrfalcon” derives from an Old Norse word for “spear.” During the summer, you’ll find Gyrfalcons on the tundra, where they feed on arctic birds. But in the winter, some will fly as far south as the northern U.S.
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The Majestic Gyrfalcon
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote.
[A cold winter wind]
Winter sends many wondrous birds down from the Arctic, including majestic Gyrfalcons. They’re smaller than our biggest raptors—like Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles — but Gyrfalcons are the largest falcons in the world, with a wingspan of up to four feet and weighing in at almost five pounds.
The name “Gyrfalcon” derives from an Old Norse word for “spear.” No wonder it was prized by medieval falconers and reserved for royalty. Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor, is said to have kept two hundred.
When hunting, the Gyrfalcon flies fast and low over the ground, hugging the contours of the land to conceal its attack. It can overtake a fleeing duck at 60 miles an hour.
During the summer, you’ll find Gyrfalcons on the tundra, where they feed on arctic birds like ptarmigan. But in the winter, some will fly as far south as the northern U.S., hunting shorebirds, partridges and even rodents, across open farmland and coastal areas.
When these great hunters from the north descend, it’s wise to take cover.
[Repeat Gyrfalcon calling]
For BirdNote, I’m Ashley Ahearn.
Producer: John Kessler
Managing Producer: Jason Saul
Editor: Ashley Ahearn
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
Assistant Producer: Mark Bramhill
Narrator: Ashley Ahearn
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by A.L. Priori.
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2019 BirdNote December 2016 / 2019
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