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Gyrfalcon

Falco Rusticolus


Population Status

Distribution:

Gyrfalcon nesting sites are widespread at relatively even densities across the North Slope, but are most common along the major river drainages. The Gyrfalcon with its particularly long nesting period is believed to winter on the North Slope during periods of prey (ptarmigan) abundance.

Population size:

Gyrfalcons are relatively prolific on the Yukon North Slope, reaching the highest known breeding density in the Yukon at about 1 pair/167-211 km2 in suitable habitat. As many as 107 gyrfalcon nesting territories have been located on the Yukon North Slope. The highest nesting densities are along the Firth and Anker rivers, which coincides with a high nesting density of golden eagles.

Population trend:

Gyrfalcons are presumably at natural densities. By nature they cycle numerically, driven by the availability of ptarmigan, which experience significant and cyclic changes in abundance. This produces considerable annual variation in breeding numbers, productivity, and presumably survival rates. For example, from peak to trough in the ptarmigan cycle, gyrfalcon productivity on the North Slope has varied by as much as 70%.

Unique or special characteristics:

Gyrfalcons and, to a lesser extent, Peregrines are highly valued for sport falconry. Their high value may predispose them to poaching losses from the wild.

Habitat Features

Gyrfalcons are habitat specialists, nesting on steep cliffs in tundra environments. Neither species builds its own nests but rather uses ledges or the nests of Golden Eagles, Common Ravens, and Rough-legged Hawks. Peregrines typically require wide valleys or sea coast to facilitate hunting opportunities, as they are mainly avian predators. Gyrfalcons hunt both avian and mammalian prey, but because of a very long nesting period and therefore advanced egg laying, they require nest sites that offer adequate protection against winter conditions. Gyrfalcons have specialized food habits during part of their annual life history and are, over most of their range, restricted to areas where ptarmigan are common.

Harvest

N/A

Eco-tourism

Gyrfalcons hold significant value for tourists. Gyrfalcons are rarely seen in the south and are therefore a preferred attraction to birders travelling in the north. Opportunities for seeing these birds of prey are good along the Firth River and at Herschel Island.

Threats

Gyrfalcons are for the most part dependent on non-migratory prey and are therefore less predisposed to chemical contamination. Both falcons are potentially threatened by nest site disturbance or poaching of nestlings from nest sites for captive breeding or falconry.

Species at Risk Status

Yukon: Special Concern. Also specially protected by the Yukon Wildlife Act

COSEWIC: Special Concern

CITES: Appendix II

Yukon:
Special Concern. Also specially protected by the Yukon Wildlife Act
COSEWIC:
Special Concern
CITES:
Appendix II

Research and Monitoring

Population Monitoring:

In mid-July 2005, Parks Canada and the Yukon Government surveyed the Yukon North Slope in order to document the number of Peregrine Falcons and other species of raptors breeding in the region. The survey area included the coastal and foothills areas of several drainages including the Malcolm, Trail and Babbage rivers. Herschel Island was also surveyed. The Firth River was surveyed by raft from Margaret Lake to Nunaluk Spit. Breeding pairs of peregrines with chicks were found in about half of the known nesting areas in Ivvavik National Park. Golden Eagle, Gyrfalcon and Rough-legged Hawks were also observed during the survey. Information from Ivvavik will be combined with similar information collected in areas of the Yukon North Slope that are outside of the park to give an overall count for the area.

There is also an ongoing program to record species observed on Herschel Island.

Research:

Ecological data such as prey use and nest site characteristics has been collected incidental to periodic census of falcon breeding pairs. A management project involving the cross-fostering of captive-raised Tundra Peregrine chicks into Gyrfalcon nests on the Yukon North Slope was continued for three years during which time 32 young were fostered. There has been no systematic tracking of these individuals, although a band return indicates that at least one Peregrine was successfully fledged and attained adult status. Aircraft disturbance studies involving Gyrfalcons have been conducted.

Deficiencies:

Further study of the Peregrine Falcon population recovery and habitat use on the North Slope would be valuable.

Management

Management Jurisdictions
AreaLegislationEnforcementAgreementsOccurance
Ivvavik National Park IFA Parks Canada CITES Nesting
Hershel Island Territorial Park Yukon Wildlife Act YTG Nesting
East of the Babbage River National Parks Act YTG Nesting
Adjoining NWT NWT Wildlife Act GNWT Incidental

The harvest of non-game birds is prohibited under the Yukon Wildlife Act and the National Parks Act. Canada, as a signatory to CITES, has complied with legislation (Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act) to prohibit the export and import of wild-raised gyrfalcons in the Yukon. While there is no commercial harvest allowed, an individual may capture a falcon, with a permit, for personal use outside of National Parks.

Related Literature and Information Sources

Eckert, C.D., 2007. Personal communication, Government of Yukon, Department of Environment.

Hawkings, J. 2002. Personal Communication, Canadian Wildlife Service, Whitehorse.

Parks Canada. 2003. Annual Report of Research and Monitoring in National Parks of the Western Arctic 2003. http://www.pc.gc.ca/docs/v-g/rs-rm2003/sec1/index_E.asp

Sinclair P.H., W.A. Nixon, C.D. Eckert and N.L. Hughes (eds). 2003. Birds of the Yukon Territory. UBC Press Vancouver. 596 pp.

Yukon Bird Club. 2000. Check list of the birds of Herschel Island. http://www.taiga.net/wmac/herschel/herschelbirds.pdf

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