Gyr Falcon

Gyr Falcon has a circumpolar distribution, breeding in Iceland, Fennoscandia, Russia, Canada, and Greenland. The northern most populations are migratory, usually moving south during the winter, juveniles being more dispersive. North American and Greenland birds would appear to be more migratory than those in Europe, moving as far south as the northern United States, while Greenland birds may stray into the extreme north-west of Europe. (see map)

Seven subspecies of Gyr Falcon were previously described but all are now considered to be geographical variations with two main morphs, white (Greenland) and grey (Icelandic and European). The vast majority of Scottish records are of white morphs from the Greenland population with only circa 10% being assigned to the more sedentary Icelandic and northern European grey morph birds. This may be exaggerated by the fact that white morph birds are easier to locate while grey morph birds are more easily confused with other falcons, especially Perigrine. Here in the Outer Hebrides, grey morph birds have only been recorded on seven occasions and only twice in recent times.

Such is the confusion with other falcons, Baxter & Rintoul (1953) stated that “some of the old records of the Falcons are so confused that we prefer not to include them”.  In a review by the BOURC (2021) to find the first for Britain, all records prior to the 1835 Shetland adult male were found not proven.

Historically, there are many references in literature to Gyr Falcon having occurred in the Outer Hebrides, many without locations and/or dates, and are often thought to be confused with other species. There are also references to Gyr Falcon breeding on outliers such as St Kilda and Flannan Isles, but none have been proven. Most early records were of birds having been shot, most often for collections and less often for raiding chicken coups.

Gyr Falcon was considered to be fairly common in the Outer Hebrides (Harvie-Brown, A Vertebrate Fauna of the Outer Hebrides: 247), but the first accepted record was not until 1844 when a bird was shot on Benbecula. It has remained an irregular winter visitor since then with influxes in 1909/10 and early 1913 when Clarke (1912 (2): 221) under “Birds of St Kilda” noted that it was “a species which was unusually numerous in various parts of Scotland in the early months.”

In 2012, four birds were thought to be  present on the islands.  BBRC commented in their annual report “At first glance it appears that there was a small influx of Gyr Falcons in the far northwest in winter 2012/13, and we have accepted four separate individuals in November–December 2012 in the Outer Hebrides. But with such a mobile and wide-ranging species, one that is hard to pin down and see well, establishing the number of birds involved is difficult. In addition to the sightings published above, there were dates when birds were seen poorly, which are not published here. Overall, we have made a conservative attempt to estimate the numbers by linking separate sightings where it seemed appropriate, although some voters still felt that some perceived plumage differences could be explained by viewing conditions and also changes in a bird’s appearance over time, for example through plumage wear, soiling, etc. In particular, the bird at Ardivachar could be the same as the one seen at Balranald and Loch Paible. No matter how many were present, those observers lucky enough to see this magnificent falcon in such a remote setting are widely envied”. (British Birds 106: 587)

The Outer Hebrides remains Britain’s leading  county for this impressive falcon with almost a fifth of all records since 1950. (British Birds 111: 591)

The recording of Gyr Falcon has been further complicated since the turn of the century by the practice known as “wild hacking” whereby falconers have released Gyr Falcons as well as hybrids into the wild in various parts of Scotland in order to gain experience and improve their fitness, ultimately with the aim of them becoming independent hunters. Then, after time, the falcons are recaptured for falconry. This has led BBRC to adopt a far more cautious approach to all claims of wild birds.

Gry Falcon (white morph), Baleshare, North Uist 2016 © Hebridean Imaging

pre 1841North Uist, grey morph, shot, undated. (Annals & Magazine of Natural History, Vol. VIII: 10)
With no identification details, this record is no longer considered to be acceptable


Pabbay, grey-morph, seen, undated. (Annals & Magazine of Natural History 8: 10)
With no identification details for this sight record, it is no longer considered to be acceptable
1844Benbecula, “Greenland Falcon” shot, undated. (Harvie-Brown, A Vertebrate Fauna of the Outer Hebrides: 247)
1855Benbecula, shot, 21st October. (noted on BirdGuides British and Irish Records Archive as accepted – no other references found)
1859North Uist, white-morph, shot, end of March. (The Ibis, Vol I: 469)
1860South Uist, Greenland Falcon, shot, undated. (Harvie-Brown, A Vertebrate Fauna of the Outer Hebrides: 88)

Lochmaddy, North Uist, white-morph, shot, 10th or 12th October. (Proceedings of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh, Vol.II: 226)
1864North Uist, male, grey-morph, in October. (Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Glasgow 1: 99)

North Uist, Iceland Falcon, washed ashore, circa October. (Harvie-Brown, A Vertebrate Fauna of the Outer Hebrides: 88)
Some doubt has been cast on this record because it is not known how long the specimen had been dead and therefore perhaps did not die in Scottish waters. This record is no longer considered acceptable
1865Claddach Vallay, North Uist, grey-morph, September. (Gray, 1871: 22)
Pre 1871South Uist, shot, undated. (Gray, 1871: 22)
c1884Eoligarry, Barra, shot, undated. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XIV: 203)
Pre 1888Glen Meabhaig, Harris, shot, undated. (Harvie-Brown, A Vertebrate Fauna of the Outer Hebrides: 88).
Occurring after the first acceptable record in 1835 by the BOURC (2012), with no dates, nor is it known to have been seen by a competent authority, it is no longer considered to be acceptable
1889Aird, Benbecula, white-morph, shot, September. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XII: 74)

Barra, white-morph, shot, undated. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XIV:245)
1898Barra, white-morph, seen 8th March. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. VIII: 153)
1900Barra, one, seen, early October. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. X: 136)
1903Mingulay, white-morph, shot, 2nd April. ( Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XII:186)
1906Eye Peninsula, Lewis, grey-morph, obtained, 28th February. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XV:185)

Barra, white-morph, shot, 26th March. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XV: 237)
1907Scaliscro, Lewis, adult white-morph, seen, 21st January. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XVII: 198)

Eilean Mor, Flannan Isles, white-morph, shot, April. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XVII: 198)
1908Eilean Mor, Flannan Isles, adult male, white-morph, killed, 8th March. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XVII: 183). Now at National Museums of Scotland.

Eilean Mor, Flannan Isles, white-morph, seen, 18th April. ( Clarke (1912 (2): 265-266)

Eilan Mor, Flannan Isles, female, grey-morph, shot, circa 10th December. ( British Birds, Vol 2: 310-311)
1909Butt of Lewis, seen, March. (Scottish Naturalist, Vol. XXXV: 35)

Eilean Mor, Flannan Isles, white-morph, seen, 1st December.(Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XIX: 118-119)

Flannan Isles, grey-morph, seen, 1st December. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XIX: 136)

Eilean Mor, Flannan isles, white-morph, seen, 2nd December. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XIX. p. 136)

Butt of Lewis, white-morph, 4th December. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XIX. p. 136)

Eilean Mor, Flannan Isles, white-morph, seen, 14th December. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XIX. p. 136)

Barra, white-morph, shot, 15th December. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XIX:118-119)

Barra, white morph, seen, 25th December. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XIX:118-119)
1910South Uist, white-morph, seen, most of January. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XIX:118-119)

Eilean Mor, Flannan Isles, white-morph, seen, 25th January. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XIX:118-119)

Eilean Mor, Flannan Isles, white-morph, seen, 17th March. (Annals of Scottish Natural History, Vol. XX: 140)

St Kilda, white-morph, seen, early spring. (Murray, Birds of St Kilda: 22); Clarke (1912 (2): 221)

Butt of Lewis, white-morph, seen, December. (Scottish Naturalist, Vol. XXXV: 35)
1912Barra, adult male white-morph, obtained, 2nd April. (Scottish Naturalist, Vol. XXXII: 164) Now at National Museums of Scotland.
1913Barra, white-morph, seen, 21st February. (Scottish Naturalist, Vol. XXXIII: 141)

Barra, white-morph, seen, 24th March. (Scottish Naturalist, Vol. XXXIII: 141)

Eoligarry, Barra, adult male, grey-morph, seen, 31st March, later found dead, 1st April. (Scottish Naturalist, Vol. XXXIII: 141)

Flannan Isles, white-morph, seen, 1st-2nd June. (Baxter & Rintoul (1914: 13))

Galson, Lewis, white-morph, seen, 1st & 3rd June. (Baxter & Rintoul (1914: 13))
1914Eoligarry, Barra, white morph, 20th October. (Scottish Naturalist, Vol. XXXV: 154)
1920Vallay, North Uist, grey-morph, 29th October. (Scottish Naturalist, Vol. XLI: 108)
1921Newton, North Uist, one, 29th January to 28th February. (noted on BirdGuides listings as accepted – no other references found)

Vallay, North Uist, white-morphs, seen: singles 11th – 12th & 14th April; 25th & 30th May. (Scottish Naturalist, Vol. XLII: 72-73)
1922Vallay, North Uist, white-morph, seen, 21st March. ( Scottish Naturalist, Vol. XLII: 94)
1931North Uist, one, 12th February  – unsubstantiated. (British Birds, Vol.26: 370-371)
1943Shader, Lewis, white-morph, killed, 30th March. (P Cunningham, pers.comm..)
Cunningham (pers comm..) says: Lewis – on 30th March 1943 one was killed at Shader when raiding a poultry run (D. MacDonald in litt); it was preserved.”
1952Near Dalbeg, Lewis, found dead, mid-March. (Stornoway Gazette, 21st March 1952; P Cunningham pers.comm.)
Peter Cunningham (pers comm,,) says “in mid-March one was found dead near Dalbeg; a note with a photograph by John Angus was published in the Stornoway gazette on 21st March 1952.
1964St. Kilda, 1st December to 24th January 1965 (P. Grubb, D. G Wynne). (British Birds 58: 359)
1967Port of Ness, Lewis, one showing the characters of the Greenland race F. r. candicans, 11th May (A. Smith). (British Birds 61: 338)
1972Benbecula, undated  – unsubstantiated. (Stevenson A unpublished)
1973Off Outer Hebrides: immature male landed on trawler about 65 km west of Outer Hebrides about 16th February, brought into Aberdeen on 21st; released in Shetland 2nd March, seen 11th and 18th March by D. Coutts and R. J. Tulloch (R. H. Dennis, N. Picozzi et al.). (British Birds 67: 318)
1974Askernish, South Uist, undated – unsubstantiated. (Stevenson A unpublished)
1978Nunton, Benbecula, 13th May. (Cunningham:81) – unsubstantiated
1979Lochboisdale, South Uist, 16th September. (Cunningham:81) – unsubstantiated
1980Near Balranald, North Uist, white morph, 27th May (G.J. Speight, J. M. Turton et al.). (British Birds 74: 465)
1983St Kilda, 22nd – 23rd March. (Murray, Birds of St Kilda:22) – unsubstantiated

Rubh’ Ard Mhicheil, South Uist, first-year, white morph 7th April (D. Foster, T. I. Mills, C. Sykes et al.). (British Birds 77: 519)
1988Benbecula, February – March. (Hebridean Naturalist No10: 59) – unsubstantiated

North Uist, late October. (Hebridean Naturalist No10: 59) – unsubstantiated
1989Cheese Bay, North Uist, adult, 11th March (J.J. Gordon, P. S. Read). (British Birds 83: 459)

Grogarry, South Uist, 24th March (W. McLaughlin), presumed same, Eriskay, 24th (P. L. Wright). (British Birds 83: 459)

Balranald, North Uist, 8th April – Not proven. (British Birds 83: 493)

Gerinish and Drimsdale, South Uist, first-winter, white morph, 13th – 19th April (T. J. Dix, Dr D. B.Jackson), presumed same, Griminish, North Uist, 24th (G. P. Gatley). (British Birds 83: 459)

It is difficult to know whether there were three or four on the Western Isles, in a good year for this robust falcon. (British Birds 83: 459)
1992Hirta, St Kilda, first-year white-morph, 26th February to at least 25th March, presumed same, 25th April (T.J. Dix, Miss C. Lee, J. Vaughan et al.). (British Birds 86: 474)
1993 The publication of the colour morphs (white or grey) relating to the records of this species was abandoned as scientifically unnecessary after 1972. Recent renewed interest in this aspect, however, now prompts the update below, which is confined to those which can be ascribed unequivocally to white morph individuals. (Owing to the lack of extant information, it is not at present possible to ascribe to this, or to the grey form, records at Glen Tanar, Grampian, on 18th April 1973, on Tiree, Strathclyde, during 27th-31st December 1973, and at sea off Western Isles in February 1973.) The following were all white-morph individuals: near Balranald, North Uist, 27th May 1980 (British Birds 74: 465);  Rubh’ Ard Mhicheil, South Uist, 7th April 1983 (British Birds 77: 519);  Gerinish and Drimsdale, South Uist, 13th- 19th April 1989, 490); presumed same, Griminish, North Uist, 24th (British Birds 83: 459). (British Birds 87: 520)
1994Hirta, St Kilda, white-morph, 14th April (J. Vaughan). (British Birds 88: 508)

Drimsdale, South Uist, first-year male, white-morph, 31st December (T.J. Dix). (British Birds 89: 497)
1995St Kilda, white-morph, 31st March (K. Douglas). (British Birds  89: 497)
1997Hirta, St Kilda, white-morph, 19th April, photo. (K. Dougias, S. Murray). (British Birds  91: 471)

Howmore, South Uist, 24th November – Not proven. (British Birds 97: 625)
1998Near Tigharry, North Uist, first-winter white-morph, intermittently, 12th March to 16th April, photo. (B. J. & Mrs L. L. Lowe, B. Rabbitts et al.). (British Birds 92: 569)

St Kilda, 17th – 20th April. (Murray, Birds of St Kilda:22) – unsubstantiated
2000St Kilda, 8th April – Not proven. (British Birds 94: 501)

Snishival, South Uist, 21st March – Not proven. (British Birds 97: 624)
2002St Kilda, white-morph, 2nd, 4th – 5th April, photo. (British Birds 96: 563)

Loch Paible, North Uist, age uncertain, white-morph, 14th April. (British Birds 96: 563)
2004Aird An Runair, North Uist, white-morph, 21st December to 11th January 2005. (British Birds 98: 646)
2005Luskentyre, Harris, white-morph 21st January – unsubstantiated. (OH Bird Report 2006 / 2007: 210)

Stiogha Cnap, Lewis, 17th February. (British Birds 100: 34)

Baleshare, North Uist white-morph, 6th February – unsubstantiated. (OH Bird Report 2006 / 2007: 210)

St. Kilda, white-morph, 5th – 29th March – unsubstantiated. (OH Bird Report 2006 / 2007: 210)

Ness, Lewis, white-morph, 30th June – unsubstantiated. (OH Bird Report 2006 / 2007: 210)

Ness, Lewis, male, 21st December, photo, presumed same as other sites on Lewis, last seen 13th November 2005 (British Birds 100: 56–57). (British Birds 100: 725)
2006Baleshare, North Uist, intermittently 11th – 23rd January; same, Balranald, North Uist, 21st April, photo (B. Rabbitts et al.); same, Corran Aird a’Mhorain, North Uist, 7th July to November, photo. (British Birds 100: 725)

Bru, Lewis, immature male, intermittently from 9th November to 11th December (British Birds 100: plate 59). (British Birds 100: 725)

St Kilda, white-morph, 16th – 17th November – unsubstantiated. (OH Bird Report 2006 / 2007: 210)
2007St Kilda, adult white-morph, 17th February, photo. (British Birds 101: 534)

St Kilda, white-morph, 20th May, found dead, photo. (British Birds 101: 534)

Howmore, South Uist, grey-morph, 10th November. (BirdGuides) – unsubstantiated

Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, first-winter, grey-morph, 11th – 14th November, photo. (British Birds 102: 549)
2008Balranald, North Uist, first-winter, white-morph, 22nd April, photo. (British Birds 102: 549)

Ben Risary plantation, North Uist, white-morph (Different bird) 28th April- unsubstantiated. (OH Bird Report 2008-10: 149)
2010Europie, Ness, Lewis, white-morph, 25th April, photo. (British Birds 104: 576)
2011Near Loch Barvas, Lewis 19th March  – unsubstantiated. (OH Bird Report 2011-13: 365)

Butt of Lewis, Lewis, immature white-morph, 21st March, photo. (British Birds 105: 571)

Grenitote, North Uist, immature white-morph, 25th – 26th March, photo; presumed same Lochportain, North Uist, 16th April, photo. (British Birds 105: 571)

Port of Ness/Europie, Lewis, 12th – 14th April, – unsubstantiated. (OH Bird Report 2011-13: 365)

Clachan, North Uist, white-morph, 15th April; Loch Portain, North Uist, 16th April. (BirdGuides) – unsubstantiated

Swainbost, Lewis, 30th April – unsubstantiated. (OH Bird Report 2011-13: 363)

Skigersta, Lewis, 8th May – unsubstantiated. (OH Bird Report 2011-13: 363)
2012Malaclete, North Uist, 27th February – unsubstantiated. (OH Bird report 2011-13: 361)

Rueval, Benbecula, 6th April – unsubstantiated. (OH Bird report 2011-13: 361)

Bornish, South Uist, immature white-morph, 18th November, photo; presumed same Eoligarry, Barra, white-morph, 1st December, found dead, photo. (British Birds 106: 587)

Balranald, North Uist, immature white-morph, 1st December into 2013, photo; presumed same Ardivachar, South Uist, 3rd December. (British Birds 106: 587)

Balranald and Loch Paible, North Uist, immature white-morph, 11th December, photo. (British Birds 106: 587)

Kilpheder and Orasay, South Uist, immature white-morph, 17th – 18th December, photo. (British Birds 106: 587)
2013Balranald, North Uist, immature white-morph, 1st December 2012 to 10th January, photo (British Birds 106: 587), presumed same Askernish, South Uist, 10th January, photo. (British Birds 107: 613)

Balemore, North Uist, white-morph, 17th November, photo. (British Birds 107: 614)

Balelone, North Uist, 1CY grey-morph, 28th November, photo. (British Birds 110: 592)
2014Loch nam Feithean, North Uist, white-morph, 28th March – unsubstantiated.  (OH Bird Report 2014-16: 218)

Grenitote, North Uist, male, 10th – 12th May, photo, presumed same as North Uist, 2013 (British Birds 107: 610). (British Birds 108: 596)

Butt of Lewis, grey-morph 4th – 9th October – Not proven. (British Birds 108: 631)
2015Balranald, North Uist, 1CY female white-morph, 21st December into 2016, photo (British Birds 109: plate 95). (British Birds 109: 600)
2016Ardivachar Point, South Uist, 1CY female white-morph, 6th December 2015 to 9th April, photo (British Birds 109: plate 95; plate 319), presumed same Balranald, North Uist, 21st December 2015 to 25th February (British Birds 109: 600), and Clachan-a-Luib and nearby sites, North Uist, 2CY, 15th – 21st February, photo. (British Birds 110: 592)

Butt of Lewis, white-morph, 3rd February. (BirdGuides) – unsubstantiated
2017Balranald, North Uist, 2CY, 21st – 29th January, presumed same Toe Head, South Harris, 5th February, photo. (British Birds 111: 590)

Butt of Lewis and Loch Stiapabhat, Lewis, 2CY, 18th March to 8th April, photo. (British Birds 111: 590)

There can be few birds that evoke quite such a sense of drama and wilderness than a white morph Gyr Falcon; and the remote and windswept coastline of the Outer Hebrides is a perfect fit for this spectacular bird. The Outer Hebrides remains Britain’s leading county for this impressive falcon with almost a fifth of all records since 1950. (British Birds 111: 591)
2019Baleshare, North Uist, Outer Hebrides, 25th December 2019 & 4th January  2020, same Langass, North Uist, 3rd February 2020 – Not proven. (British Birds 114: 626)
An escaped bird could not be ruled out.