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The Gray Gyrfalcon in Washington

J. L. Sloanaker
Publication Information
4 (July-August)
From Field and Study

The Gray Gyrfalcon in Washington

Gyrfalcons (Falco rusticolus) are so rare in the United States that, as Dr. Fisher has said, a man may consider himself fortunate if he sees one in a lifetime. It gives me pleasure, therefore, to record a specimen taken near Spokane about October 15, 1925, by Mr. R. L. Peel of Deer Park, Washington, which is now in my possession and which constitutes the second state record. According to Mr. Allan Brooks, gyrfalcons are rare but of regular occurrence along the boundary line of Washington and British Columbia, and likely, therefore, to be found south of it. He has four skins in his collection, and states that there are a number of records for Alberta and a few for eastern British Columbia. Professor Wm. Rowan, of the University of Alberta, Edmonton, writes me that he knows of at least seven gyrfalcons from that province, the skins being scattered in various Canadian and American collections. There are only two records for Montana, one of them a sight record. The trouble is that, although hawks and owls are generally knocked down by hunters and the best looking ones mounted, there are so few bird students in the regions mentioned that the records never get into print.

The first for Washington was a bird discovered in a taxidermist's shop in Spokane, about December 18, 1896, by the late Dr. J. C. Merrill, U. S. A., then stationed at Fort Sherman, Idaho. According to Withers Brothers, taxidermists here, this was a light colored bird and purchased by Dr. Merrill for a friend in Massachusetts. It is now in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Cambridge. My bird, a dark colored immature which has been examined by H. S. Swarth at Berkeley, California, may be described as follows: Length 24 inches, wing 16, tail 9.50, bill 1.60, and tarsus 2.60. Plumage above slate-colored, excepting a few white feathers on head, and tip of tail white. Below heavily spotted with reddish-brown, Tarsus with large tufts of feathers on the side. Sex undetermined.

Conditions here which might account for the appearance of this bird are interesting. The whole northwest, from Washington to Alaska, is having one of the mildest winters on record. The ice on the Peace River went out in December. Eastern Washington did not have the usual fall migration of northern ducks. Canada in general is just entering on the down phase of its ten-year animal cycle, so that food for Raptores may be getting scarce. Washington State has had an invasion of goshawks and rough-legs this winter, as well as quite a few Snowy Owls and Hawk Owls, the first in three years. Besides the gyrfalcon, a Great Gray Owl was brought in, as well as a Ferruginous Rough-leg, on January 22, both rare here, there being no state record for the latter bird after July. The rolline hills and vast treeless plains of eastern Washington, with their numerous jack-rabbits, may be the attraction.

J. L. Sloanaker

Spokane, Washington, February 1, 1926

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