Friday, March 9, 2012


While en route to The Wildlife Society Conference at Oak Hammock Marsh (Manitoba, Canada) this morning, I spotted a grey Gyrfalcon on a telephone pole. Since it is such a rare treat to get good looks at one of these magnificent tundra-breeding raptors, who sometimes come down to southern Manitoba for a winter get-away, I thought I would interrupt my series on the Philippines to share a few images of the largest falcon in the world in flight.

Let's start with a few images of our bird sitting on a pole. Don't be fooled by their docile demeanor, Gyrfalcon are impressive hunters! Large females can be over 60 cm (2 feet) in length!

In my onion though, it is the flight photos that show off this falcon's most impressive adaptations. Note the powerful down stroke that immediately launched this bird several feet above the pole, the folded-back wings in between strokes that allow the bird to cut through the air like a knife, and the remarkable ability to fly at staggering speeds in a straight line just a few feet off the snowy ground for very long distances (a technique they exploit to flush ptarmigan and other prey). Though the Peregrine Falcon is famed as the fastest flyer, they only earn that title in a stoop, with their more streamlined shape and dense aerodynamic feathering and slightly longer wings in proportion to the body. In level flight, the more robust, barrel-chested, Gyrfalcon is much faster (note the bulky shape especially in the shots below of the bird flying low over the snow). Friends and I once clocked a Gyrfalcon at 90 km/h as that bird was slowing down and coming in to land, so I'd love to know what speeds they can hit at full tilt. The sequence unfolds below...


  1. Wow!! What a find! Great pictures too...

  2. Wow.. what images of this stunning raptor!! :)

  3. Hi Christian;

    I'm in the process of creating an online "Field Guide to the Birds of Vancouver Island' and hoping that you might be generous enough to donate some of your excellent photos to the project, especially the Gyr images. The range maps and text are stored at under RANGES. Those who have donated so far are listed with links to the stored photos on Flickr under the Mockingbird image. My email is If you are interested please leave your photo (Flickr) website address and a note of permission.
    My real name is Keith Taylor and the explanation for Greg Smythe’s name on the website is explained under the picture of Homer Simpson.
    Thank you


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