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Gyrfalcon Breeding at 40-Year High

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Gyrfalcon Breeding at 40-Year High

Gyrfalcon nestling

A Gyrfalcon chick on a nest in Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, USA. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters/Wikimedia.

There appear to be more gyrfalcon chicks and eggs in Iceland this spring than at any time since the early 1980s, Vísir reports. Human theft of gyrfalcon eggs has been an endemic problem in Iceland, but newly-installed security cameras have been successful at keeping thieves at bay.

Ólafur Karl Nielsen, ecologist at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, is now keeping busy tagging chicks in the Northeast. “I can hardly think of an equally productive season for falcons since we started tracking them in 1981,” Ólafur says. He adds that favourable weather in the winter and spring as well as an increase in ptarmigan numbers have spurred breeding among the birds.

While gyrfalcon clutches can range from 1-5 eggs, they usually contain 2-4. Many of the pairs Ólafur has visited have four chicks in the nest, while one nest had five. “I have only seen that twice before.”

While around 40 chicks have been tagged, Ólafur expects their numbers to reach between 90-100. “That is to say if the productivity is the same in the nests I know of that we still have to go to as the nests we have already visited.” In the past, he says, around 60 chicks have been tagged per year.

Gyrfalcons are sought after among breeders and falconers. They are quite expensive to purchase, making their eggs prone to human theft. The Icelandic Gyrfalcon Centre raised funds this spring to purchase motion-sensitive security cameras to protect the nests from would-be thieves. Since the devices were installed, there are no indications that any egg theft has occurred.

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