Bird Species of the World's Boreal Forests


Falco rusticolus


Distinguishing Features - Gyrfalcons are the largest falcon in the world, up to 56 cm in length. They have three plummage phases, gray, black and white. With the dark eye, notched beak, and pointed wings typical of falcons the size and color of this bird leave no doubt that as to its identity.

Several color variations from white to near black exist but most are classified simply as light or dark phases. Light gyrfalcons may be pure white, or white with black spotting on the crown, back and sides, and black bars on the primaries (longest wing feathers). Dark gyrfalcons may be black, or more commonly an ash-grey with white streaking on the undersides. The white or light phase is, common in the eastern high Arctic while the darkest birds are found in northern Labrador area.

Gyrfalcon Habitat

Gyrfalcons are found in arctic and subarctic regions around the world. In winter some North American birds migrate as far south as the U.S. Upper Mid-West. They prefer rocky sea coasts and islands near sea bird colonies, rivers with rocky bluffs, and mountains above the timberline. As with the other large falcons this bird relies on open space in which to hunt. The gyrfalcon lays its eggs on the bare rock of a cliff, although some birds use the old stick nest of a Raven or Golden Eagle.


Primarily birds, especially ptarmigan and sea birds; also small mammals, particularly lemmings, ground squirrels and hare.


Considered common in many parts of its range, and declining in others, the Gyrfalcon seems to have escaped the problems that befell the Peregrine in many parts of the world. In Scandinavia it has been designated a protected species and efforts have been made to restore and protect its habitat.

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