Gyrfalcon Seen in New Brunswick
|Gyrfalcon [Jean-Guy Gallant Photo]|
On December 18, 2017 a white morph Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) was seen and reported near Caissie Cape by Nora Hebert. The Gyrfalcon is such a rare bird it has sparked a frenzy of birders travelling to the area in an attempt to see it. It was seen sporadically there for 3 or 4 days and then seemed to disappear. Fortunately it was seen again (or another individual) in the Buctouche area by the same birder on January 8. There it has been spotted almost daily since.
Referring to the photo above (thank you, Jean-Guy Gallant) this bird is a juvenile white morph. The Gyrfalcon comes in three morphs (or plumage types), white, gray and dark. The present bird is a typical white showing a very white white with spots and streaks in dark reddish brown and dark gray. It has dark wing tips with a smudging of colour on its head, nape, belly and tail. The bill and feet are a light grayish colour, making it a juvenile. If it were an adult these would be bright yellow. Please see a previous post (February 24, 2017) for more detailed information on this species.
The Gyrfalcon is our largest falcon. Our other falcons are the Peregrine, the Merlin and the Kestrel. The Gyrfalcon is 51-64 cm long (20"-25"). It has more body than our other falcons. Note the heavy body and broad wings. That makes it a powerful predator which can take down flying prey easily. It feeds mainly on waterfowl, pigeons, and rodents.
We saw this bird on January 12 and it was chasing pigeons. The area it is frequenting in Buctouche is ideal habitat. There is a highway bridge and a walking bridge, 2 lagoons, a pond, a large bay and the ocean all close by. That day the Gyrfalcon was making a pass at a large flock of about 50 pigeons. When I saw it, it was in the middle of the flock, in the air. The flock was flaring in all directions and the falcon was right in the middle trying to grab one of the pigeons. It appeared fast and powerful! Its pattern seems to be to make a couple of passes at the pigeons or ducks in the morning and sometimes again late in the day. The window of opportunity (to see and photograph the bird) is very short and the weather is not conducive to standing out watching for long periods. However, to see the bird makes the effort well worthwhile. We saw the flock of pigeons in wild chaos again about an hour later that morning and suspect the Gyrfalcon was after them again but did not see it among the flock.
The Gyrfalcon's range is all of Arctic Canada, Alaska, Greenland and the very northern part of the prairie provinces, Ontario, Quebec and Labrador. It is a holarctic species so also occurs in the most northern part of Europe and Asia. It rarely comes south but occasionally vagrants show up in Newfoundland or the Maritime provinces. We are lucky this is one of those years! To view this bird is a rare opportunity which may not come again for many years.