With a 4-foot wingspan, the gyrfalcon is the largest falcon in the world. Although it is primarily an Arctic species, it occasionally is seen in northern Minnesota in winter.
General description: Like other falcons, the gyrfalcon has pointed wings and a long tail that can help you distinguish it from hawks in flight. Its yellow legs and feet form a V on its underside when it flies.
Size: The gyrfalcon is 20 to 25 inches tall and has a 4-foot wingspan.
Color: Most gyrfalcons seen in Minnesota are gray with a lighter, gray-speckled breast and dark wingtips. The end of a gyrfalcon's tail has dark lines going across it.
Sounds: The gyrfalcon makes a kyak-kyak-kyak alarm call.
The female lays four light-colored eggs on a flat place in the rocks or in the old nest of another bird.
Birds (especially ptarmigan) are the primary food of gyrfalcons. In Minnesota, they often prey on ruffed grouse and pigeons (rock doves).
Young gyrfalcons may be killed by predators such as foxes, owls and eagles.
Gyrfalcons live mainly on the Arctic tundra and on cliffs. A few migrate south into northern Minnesota in the winter.
The gyrfalcon is fairly common in the far northern latitudes. It seems to have escaped the severe population declines many birds of prey experienced due to eggshell thinning caused by the pesticide DDT in the last half of the 20th century.
Although most gyrfalcons are gray, the species also has white and dark phases, or variations. The white phase is found mainly in Greenland. The dark phase is most common in Labrador.