John Lejeune with a wild gyr from Northern Quebec in 1968.

Then John with “Chimo” in 2004.  Chimo is a gyr female who was bred from similar stock for several generations in captivity.

You will find her records in the Genetic Records page, #182.

The Gyrfalcon,  “Falco rusticolus” is the largest of all falcons and the most common raptor in the high Artic.  The extreme northern population of Greenland, North Eastern Siberia around the islands of Ellesmere, Melville, and Devon are mostly white,  while southern birds near the tree line are silver gray  with a few  dark chocolate  individuals, mostly found  in the Labrador and Ungava bay area.  All colors mix freely in the area between the two extremes.


Left, white gyr tercel by Dr. O Kleinschmidt. 
Right, gyrfalcons by O. von Riesenthan, 1893.

The gyrs closest relative is the somewhat smaller saker  falcon, who nests, in various subspecies, from Siberian, south through Mongolia, the Altai mountains, and into the desert regions of Asia and the Middle East. The saker comes similar like the gyr in color shades from light to dark, but these are not so distinct.  For centuries the saker is the most used hunting falcon of Arab Bedouins.  Especially valued were light colored desert individuals and dark birds found in the Altai region.

Gyrfalcons were known to Arab falconers before world war II, but since these birds did not migrate far south, they were simply not  easy to come by.   In North America only a few birds and mostly the juveniles of the gray southern population show up regularly on their winter migration in agricultural areas of Canada and the northern USA.  The majority of gyrfalcons winter in  Arctic regions and follow the migration of ptarmigans.  It is an awesome sight and sound when a gyr attacks a flock of several hundred migrating ptarmigans and the whole side of a mountain explodes in a white cloud as I saw it on the Alaska border in northern B.C.  Gyrfalcons work these flocks, just the way that merlines herd a swarm of starlings or blackbirds, to find a weak individual.  During the breeding season gyrs prey mostly on ptarmigans, lemmings, ground squirrels, artic hares and seabirds.  Some of them get specialized more or less on one single prey species.  I have found young gyrs in a starving condition in northern B.C. shortly after ground  squirrels went to hibernate.  They simply had a hard time to adjust to different prey in a few days. 

There are only estimates available on the total gyr population and even these are meaningless as the population seems to explode and almost double in certain years similar as the snowy owl population.  The governing factors are food supply and weather condition during the breeding season.


F. Salamonson  (1951) refers to records, that 200 to 300 white Gyrfalcons pass through Scoresby Sound in northern Greenland each year and that up to 250 are being shot in that area in a single season.  Bird and Bird (1941) are more specific.  They record that all but one out of over 100 juvenile gyrfalcons killed at Myggbukta, Greenland (Denmark), contained food remains of  lemmings.  These numbers give some indication of the actual population density, the fact that almost only juveniles got killed is proof that a high adult population exists which shuns human activities.  In agricultural areas of Canada and the northern USA one very rarely sees an adult gyr during the winter migration.

John and Ginny Lejeune and Monica Cromarty
(Wir sprechen Deutsch)
Phone: 604-796-9573                       
Phone: 604-796-9511
(We give out our email address only if necessary and after a phone call.)