Bird Families

Birds of Northwest Russia


Merlin Is a bird of prey, the largest falcon in the world. The so-called "ghostly" merlin, nicknamed for its specific "smoky" color, is one of the most violent birds of prey in the upper latitudes of the Arctic. During the hunt, chases prey down in flight or falls from the sky like a stone at breathtaking speed to hit the prey
on the ground. Breeds on remote cliffs in the far reaches of Canada and Alaska. Gyrfalcons in North America are protected from most of the threats posed by humans and climate warming. They are rare winter guests in the northern states of America.

Falco rusticolis
Order: Falconiformes.
Family: Falcon (Falconiformes).
Genus: Falcons.
View: Merlin.
Names in other languages: Gyrfalcon (English), Faucon gerfaut (French), Gerfalke (German), Halcoun Gerifalte (Spanish),
Name "Merlin"probably derived from Old Norse, but linguists do not fully agree with this statement.

Predator birds. Merlin

Male gyrfalcon reach sizes 48-61 cm, females about 51-64 cm,
Weight of males 800-1,325 g, females 1,000-2,100 g,
Adult males are much smaller than females: males weigh less than 1.5 kg on average, while females weigh about 2 kg on average. Both males and females tend to change color frequently, ranging from almost pure white to dark gray-brown.
The oldest merlin who happened to meet a man, a male, at least about 14 years old in Wisconsin in 2015.

Predator birds. Merlin

Although the classic color gyrfalcon It is white with black spots, there are individuals with shades of white, gray and dark brown. In North America, gray-colored birds are more common than the other two. Adult birds are more heavily rippled on the back, wings and tail. The legs and feet of adult birds are yellow, while juveniles are pale gray. White predominates in birds living in the upper latitudes of the Arctic, darker in birds in Labrador. Birds in Iceland are predominantly gray in color. Gyrfalcon white and gray colors are also equally distributed from west to east throughout Russia and Siberia in particular.

Predator birds. Gyrfalcon in flight

The habitat of the gyrfalcon is mainly the arctic tundra. When they fly south during the winter, they look for places such as open fields, coastlines, dunes, prairies, and bushy steppes.
Also, the natural habitat for birds of prey such as the gyrfalcon is the highlands, hills and mountains in the arctic and alpine tundra in northern Canada and Alaska, in areas with abundant populations of partridges or near colonies of nesting or waterfowl, rocky coasts, sea islands , barren rocky lands, river cliffs, cliffs at the shores of lakes and mountainous terrain up to 1,500 km. The vegetation in the habitat of these birds of prey is mostly undersized. These are various types of sedge, cotton grass, lichens, moss, willow and birch. But sometimes they risk hunting in small forests and spruce forests along beaches or dunes. In winter gyrfalcon leave the highest latitudes and heights, and can travel relatively far south, such as the north of the United States. There, they are usually found in open areas below 900 km above sea level and at altitudes with a large abundance of birds for hunting, including on the coasts, reservoirs, fields, meadows, bushes and river valleys.

Gyrfalcon food and hunting:

Hunt gyrfalcon mostly in open areas, sometimes flying high and attacking from above, but more often
move quickly and low, pressing to the ground. They often sit on the ground.

Predator birds. Gyrfalcon while hunting

The main prey of gyrfalcons are such species of partridges as white and tundra, but these birds of prey also hunt other birds, including sea birds, waterfowl, waders and even songbirds. As you know, they do not mind hunting, if possible, for such birds as black grouse, gamekeepers, gulls, terns, fulmars, auks, pheasants, crows, magpies, tap dancers, bush buntings and Lapland plantains. Even such birds of prey as hawks, owls and even their fellow falcons sometimes become prey for gyrfalcons. They can also hunt small animals such as hares, ground squirrels, lemmings, and young arctic foxes. Gyrfalcon hunt down their prey from very high positions, sitting on rocks or directly in the sky.

Gyrfalcon with prey

Attacks merlin on its target with a sharp blow from above, bringing it down to the ground and dragging it further along the ground, and not grabbing it in the air, kills the victim by breaking through the chest. Merlin can fly low and sneak up to the victims to drive the prey over long distances in order to drive it, or soar over it, harassing deceitful dives down.
During the breeding season, female gyrfalcones often hide leftovers of food that little chicks cannot eat at one time, in the vegetation near the nest, so that later you can not worry about looking for food for themselves or their chicks. Little is known about foraging outside the breeding season. In a number of cases, it was possible to catch a gyrfalcon butchering a frozen partridge in the middle of winter on the Aleutian Islands. During the breeding season, the gyrfalcon family needs an estimated 1-1.5 kg of food per day. This is about 2-3 partridges per day, which adds up to about 150-200 partridges eaten between post-natal grooming and pre-fledging.


Since ancient times, the gyrfalcon is one of the most famous and expensive hunting birds. White gyrfalcones are especially prized. These falcons are so expensive that even wealthy sheikhs in the Gulf countries keep them only as prestigious birds and very rarely hunt with them, preferring to let the more affordable and cheaper goshawks or saker falcons go for prey.

Gyrfalcon was mentioned as early as the 12th century in the famous "Lay of Igor's Host".

Where lives

This falcon inhabits the arctic and subarctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Gyrfalcon lives in the high latitudes of Eurasia and North America: on the Arctic coasts, in the tundra and forest-tundra to the northern boundaries of the taiga. During the non-nesting period, the gyrfalcon on migrations occurs both within the nesting area and further south, up to the steppe zone. The main habitat types of the gyrfalcon are rocky and sea coasts, river and lake valleys with cliffs, belt or island forests, mountain tundra.

External signs

Gyrfalcon is the largest falcon in our country (wingspan is up to 1.6 m). The color of these birds varies from almost white to darker with a brownish-gray top and a whitish, streaked bottom. Females are larger and usually darker than males. The size of birds from west to east of the country is gradually increasing, and the color of the plumage brightens. Young birds are brown, in addition, young birds differ from old ones in the color of their paws: in adult gyrfalcons they are yellow, in young ones - gray.

Gyrfalcon in flight


The voice of the gyrfalcon is rough, hoarse cries of "heck-heck" or "keek-keek-keek."

For nesting, the gyrfalcon chooses river cliffs and rocks. It occupies the old nests of the white-tailed eagle, golden eagle, buzzard, raven, and settles on geodetic towers.

Gyrfalcon nests are built on rocky cliffs or on ledges under overhanging cornices that protect from early spring weather, in the vicinity of open spaces rich in food.

If polar foxes or dogs approach the nest, the gyrfalcon dive on them, acting so decisively that the predators retreat. These large falcons drive away even reindeer that accidentally appeared at the nest.

The main prey of gyrfalcons in the tundra are white and tundra partridges, which predators hunt throughout the year (one pair of gyrfalcons can exterminate up to 150 pieces per season). Often, gyrfalcons catch ducks, gulls, guillemots, guillemots, waders, snow buntings and other birds, less often they feed on mammals - lemmings, voles, ermines, and hares.


Nesting begins early - in April - May, when there is still snow in the tundra. In the clutch of this bird there are 2-5 eggs of an off-white color with brick-red spots. The female incubates the clutch for 28-29 days. The male does not take part in incubating the clutch; he hunts at this time and brings prey to the female.

In the first days after hatching, the female is constantly in the nest with the chicks, and the male brings food to her and the brood. When the chicks grow up, both parents begin to fly out to hunt. Young gyrfalcons acquire the ability to fly at the age of 7 weeks.

In the Red Book of Russia

The total number of the species in our country is about 1000 pairs, the largest population (about 200 pairs) lives in Kamchatka.

The widespread decline in the number of Gyrfalcon is associated with the destruction of nests, uncontrolled capture and withdrawal of chicks for falconry. With the development of the North, the disturbance of gyrfalcons in nesting areas is becoming increasingly important. In addition, the gyrfalcons also fall under the shots of poachers and perish in traps.


Since the Middle Ages, gyrfalcons have been actively used in falconry and were highly valued as birds of prey. In fairness, it should be noted that falconry has never been a trade. Rather, a kind of ritual along with balls and receptions. The Gyrfalcon was an especially fashionable bird, a curiosity that its owner could boast and stand out from others. In the table of ranks of the European school of hunting, the white gyrfalcon has always occupied the first place.

Krechetov was presented as a gift, trying to reach agreement in diplomatic relations. And at the royal court in Russia there was even a special position of a falconer. The place where the gyrfalcons were kept was called krechatni.

Today the traditions of falconry are being revived, but in a new form. She has an amateur, athletic character. Many believe that modern falconry can help preserve the natural diversity of birds of prey and revive the true sense of unity with nature in the Russian soul. After all, what else can you feel, holding on your hand a strong, wise winged friend!


Kingdom: animals (Animalia).
A type: chordates (Chordata).
Class: birds (Aves).
Detachment: falconiformes (Falconiformes).
Family: falcon (Falconidae).
Genus: falcon (Falco).
View: gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus).


Gyrfalcon (lat.Falco rusticolus) belongs to the Falconidae family from the Falconiformes order. In horizontal flight, it surpasses the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) in speed and is able to plunge onto its prey almost vertically from a great height.

Gyrfalcon was highly valued by lovers of falconry about 4 thousand years ago. In the Middle Ages, birds with a white color were considered the most valuable.

They were very expensive and served as an important element of diplomatic relations. In 1396, Jean II Fearless, Count de Nevers, after being defeated in a battle with the Ottoman army near the Bulgarian city of Nikopol, was taken prisoner. The Ottomans refused to release him and receive a ransom for him in the amount of 200 thousand ducats, which was equal to approximately 700 kg of gold.

The valiant knight gained freedom only thanks to the unheard-of sacrifice of Sigismund I of Luxembourg, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The monarch donated a dozen white gyrfalcons to free the hero, causing sincere amazement among his subjects with his generosity. For ordinary gray birds, then in the Middle East they gave more than 1000 dinars (4.5 kg of gold), whites were priceless.

In the Russian Empire, valuable birds were officially considered the property of the tsar, and their catchers enjoyed special privileges. In Denmark, the gyrfalcon were an important item in the state treasury. They were caught in Iceland and then sold to all European countries or used as diplomatic gifts. From 1731 to 1793, the Danes captured about 5,000 predators in Iceland.


The habitat occupies most of the Palaearctic. It covers mainly the polar and arctic regions of Europe, Asia and North America, located in the tundra and near the border of forests.

Most populations live north of latitude 60 ° N. To the south, they are much less common.

In Eurasia, the main breeding grounds are in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. In North America, gyrfalcons nest in Alaska and Canada. A relatively large population has survived in Greenland.

There are 6 subspecies. The nominative subspecies lives in Lapland, in the north of Scandinavia and Russia. The total number is estimated at 50-60 thousand breeding pairs.


Outside the breeding season, gyrfalcons lead a solitary lifestyle. In most of their range, they are sedentary birds. In Scandinavia, mainly young birds migrate, while adults remain on their territory all year round. During the winter, juveniles are observed in Denmark, Ireland and England.

Populations that live in the tundra zone in Russia migrate to the taiga for wintering, flying off to the south by 1000-2000 km. Gyrfalcons, nesting in eastern Greenland, migrate to Iceland in September and return to their nests in April. The rest of the birds winter on the southern coast of the island.

Gyrfalcons can hunt from great heights, but more often they pursue their prey in horizontal flight very low above the ground.

Predators develop high speed and on the fly determine the exact location of their potential prey with the help of sharp eyes.

The main natural enemies are polar foxes (Vulpes lagopus), wolverines (Gulo gulo), American corsairs (Vulpes velox), and virgin owls (Bubo virginius). Their victims are mainly young and sick individuals. For adult birds, only golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) are dangerous.


The diet consists mainly of medium sized flying birds and small mammals. Gyrfalcons actively prey on gray partridges (Perdix perdix), field grouses (Lyrurus tetrix), partridges (Lagopus lagopus) and ducks (Anatinae).

Arctic white hares (Lepus arcticus), ground squirrels (Spermophilus) and lemmings (Lemmini) are often their prey.

The gyrfalcon eats about 200 g of feed per day.

He flies up to his victim from above, folds his wings and grabs with sharp claws in the fall. The predator finishes her off with a blow of a powerful beak to the neck or back of the head. He takes his hunting trophy to a safe place and there slowly eats it. Undigested bones, feathers and fur are regurgitated in pellets.

In a lack of food, the gyrfalcon does not disdain carrion.


Body length 48-61 cm. Weight 950-2150 g. The wingspan is 105-131 cm. Males are much smaller and lighter than females. Gyrfalcon is the largest member of the Falco genus.

The plumage color is extremely variable and ranges from whitish and grayish to dark brown and almost black. Dark morphs are common in Canada and East Asia, while whites are common in Greenland.

Females have a slightly more contrasting color. Young birds are colored darker than adults. The underside of the body is variegated.

A yellowish ring around the eyes. The wax is yellowish gray. The beak is grayish. Legs and feet are yellowish.

At rest, the wings do not reach the tip of the tail; during flight, they take on a tapering shape. The neck and tail are short.

The life span of a gyrfalcon in the wild is 15-20 years.

Main menu

  • Home page
  • Loons
  • Grebe
  • Pelican
  • Stork
  • Flamingos
  • Anseriformes
  • Falconiformes
    • Osprey
    • Common Wasp Eater
    • Black kite
    • Field harrier
    • Steppe harrier
    • Meadow harrier
    • Marsh harrier
    • Goshawk
    • Sparrowhawk
    • Buzzard
    • Buzzard
    • Serpentine
    • Great Spotted Eagle
    • Lesser Spotted Eagle
    • Golden eagle
    • White-tailed eagle
    • Merlin
    • Peregrine falcon
    • Hobby
    • Derbnik
    • Kobchik
    • Common kestrel
  • Chickens
  • Crane-like
  • Charadriiformes
  • Dove-like
  • Cuckoo
  • Owls
  • Goat-like
  • Swift
  • Crustaceans
  • Hoopoe
  • Woodpeckers
  • Passerine