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Kurt Burnham — in Arctic Program - Greenland    Share
Gyrfalcon with satellite-received transmitter
Gyrfalcon with satellite-received transmitter
The Gyrfalcon is the largest species of falcon. It breeds in the Arctic with the more northern nesting birds and has a white plumage while more gray colored falcons nest in the southern portions of its range. In Greenland near the Arctic Circle we see about 50:50 white and gray Gyrfalcons.

For some years we have been trying to better understand the ecology of the Gyrfalcon in Greenland, to include its seasonal movements and wintering areas. We have accomplished studies in West Greenland just above the Arctic Circle, in the High Arctic of North Greenland, and in East Greenland. With the end of October we are now completing our 2004 field season by capturing and marking migrating Gyrfalcons in the Scoresbysund area in East Greenland (70.5°N), an area where hundreds of Gyrfalcons were shot for museum collections in the first half of the 20th Century.

The Scoresbysund area has numerous high mountain peaks and reportedly the largest fjord system in the world, covering an area of about 38,000 square kilometers. The summer is short and the period when the sun does not rise above the horizon lasts from 23 November to 17 January. The first snows typically occur in September and the drifts disappear near sea level in July. There is a large open water area (polynya) near the mouth of the Kangersuttuaq Fjord that remains open year-round while the rest of the ocean freezes. The polynya provides a wintering area for ring seals and walrus, a focal point for spring migration of polar bears, and a summer home for narwhals and additional seal species. There are large numbers of seabirds that breed in the area in the spring and summer.

Jim Willmarth with a Snowy Owl
Jim Willmarth with a Snowy Owl
The Scoresbysund area is believed to have been visited first by people about 4,500 years ago; then they disappeared with later immigrations to follow. In 1823 an explorer landed in the area and found a group of 12 Eskimos living in tents who disappeared a few days later. No further people were seen in the area until 1925 when people arrived from the more southern community of Ammassalik. The new inhabitants were transported there to take advantage of the abundant wildlife. Today about 550 people live in the town of Ittoqqortoormiit/Scoresbysund and the two villages of Ittaajimmiit and Uuarteq. The primary form of travel is boat (July through November) and in winter by dog sled. There are annually about 600 sled dogs in the community.

We operated the falcon capture station from 19 September through 24 October 2004. During that time we captured 39 different Gyrfalcons, one Snowy Owl, and a number of ravens. From each Gyrfalcon we collected a few drops of blood for genetic analysis and comparison to Gyrfalcons elsewhere in Greenland and the world, took body measurements for the same purpose, attached Danish metal number bands/rings, and attached satellite-received transmitters to ten falcons. This was the first such effort ever attempted in East Greenland. For your interest we have included several images from the work. Participating in the capture and banding were Jim Willmarth, Bill Heinrich, Cal Sandfort, Bill Burnham, and Kurt Burnham.

Scoresbysund Community
Scoresbysund Community

Jim Willmarth with immature female Gyrfalcon
Jim Willmarth with immature female Gyrfalcon

Bill Heinrich preparing to release<br />an immature male Gyrfalcon
Bill Heinrich preparing to release
an immature male Gyrfalcon

Scoresbysund area in the moonlight
Scoresbysund area in the moonlight

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