Those who know the online me, know that I've adopted the Gyrfalcon, KIggavik in Inuktitut, as an online identity (if you will). Our Bed and Breakfast and other business names were called Kiggavik. A quick glance to this blog's URL will show you that it contains "Kiggavik", and pretty much anywhere I've needed a screen name that is what I've chosen. They are magnificent birds, filled with grace and power. And even though I see them annually in the wild I've had no idea of how truely powerful and awe inducing they are, until I held one in my hands this past week.
Thursday night, a Gyrfalcon was seen by two local youths, locked in battle with two Ravens. All three birds tumbled to the ground, on the shore of Arctic Bay and the youths were able to chase the Ravens away. The Gyrfalcon seemed unable to fly, so they took it to a local home, who took it to the local Wildlife Officer. I found out about it, as it happens so often these days, on Facebook.
I've helped with injured birds in the past, so I got a hold of the Wildlife Officer and offered to help, and the next morning was in his office, staring back at a beautiful, and large, raptor. I had no idea that it would be as large as it was. It is one thing to know that this is the largest of the falcons, but when you're constantly looking at them as they are a couple of hundred feet up a huge cliff, you can get a false idea of their size. I sure did. She stood over two feet tall, with a wingspan of well over four feet I'm guessing.
She (and I'm assuming she was a female based on her size) was an adult and was very alert. Luckily, I was able to pick the brain of someone with actual wildlife rehabilitation experience, my friend Dave (of Bird TLC and Around Anchorage fame). A quick exam showed there was no obvious injuries, that she was able to use her wings, and that she was somewhat undernourished. She had no shortage of strength and I discovered that her talons and beak were powerful reminders of that, even through leather gloves.
She hadn't eaten, but after having some water she downed the caribou meat that had been fed her, and later that night polished off an entire ptarmigan, followed by a pound of ground beef the next day. She also destroyed the cardboard that had lined the dog kennel she was temporarily housed in.
As she seemed strong, uninjured and only hungry enough to tackle a couple of Ravens, we decided to release her Sunday morning. Driving to the hills towards Nanisivik (choosing a spot with wide open tundra in case we had to try and capture her) we set the cage on the ground and opened the door.
She wasted no time in coming out, and stood on a low rock, calmly watching us and taking stock of her new found freedom. After waiting and watching a few moments she threw herself into the air, and flew with strong wing beats low over the tundra, sliding down into a small valley, and out of sight.