New York State Avian Records Committee

a committee of the New York State Ornithological Association

Gallery of New York Rarities

Gyrfalcon - 25 December 1995 at Centerport,
Suffolk County

This immature Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) was discovered by Dan Brady on 24 December 1995 at the Mill pond near Centerport, Suffolk County on the northshore of Long Island, New York.

Whilst collecting his morning paper, Dan's attention was drawn to a raptor, which he quickly identified as a Gyrfalcon, being aggressively scolded by the local American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos). The bird was perched on the top of a large evergreen on the opposite side of the frozen pond and had apparently killed a male Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), which lay on the ice some 30-50 feet from the roadway (see Fig. 5). Other than a brief sighting later that day over Centerport Beach, the bird was not relocated. At dawn the next moring the bird had returned to the Mill pond and was seen by a number of local birders including Angus Wilson who obtained these photos. It made several hunting forays, none of which were successful. Around 8:30 am, it flew across the pond where it was welcomed by an angry group of crows, disappeared into some confers and was never seen again.

Figure 1 Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) standing on the frozen Mill Pond in Centerport, Long Island. Notice the heavily-feathered (shaggy) legs. The chalky blue-green cere, feet and lower tarsi identify this as an immature. Photograph copyright of Angus Wilson © 2000

Figure 2 Photographed just after dawn on a dead tree overlooking the frozen pond. Notice the deep-bodied look and relatively short wings. Photograph copyright of Angus Wilson © 2000

Figure 3 Wings raised in preparation for launching after a male Canvasback (Anas valisineria) that was circling the pond. In a dramatic pursuit, the falcon managed to strike the unfortunate duck with an outstretched foot. The duck bounced alarmingly off the ice and was attacked again by the falcon as it floundered on the slippery ice, unable to get sufficient purchase to regain flight. Although the falcon attacked repeatedly, it did not take hold of the duck or land, eventually giving up and returning to a perch. Photograph copyright of Angus Wilson © 2000

Figure 4 Better light showing details of barring on the wing coverts and the broad vertical streaks on breast. Whilst in this tree, the falcon was heavily mobbed by some rather brave European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)! Photograph copyright of Angus Wilson© 2000

Figure 5 Two American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) picking at the carcass of a Mallard killed and partially eaten by the falcon on the previous day.
Photograph copyright of Angus Wilson © 2000

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