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What's this big falcon from Hokkaido, Japan? (1 Viewer)

Bryon Wright

Well-known member
thanks for pointing this out to me.
Still intrigued with this because the primary tips were pristine yet the wing feathers often go through wire mesh.
Near where I live there is a lab where they knock birds like these out for middle-eastern market at a thirty thousand pounds a throw. Every couple of years or so we come across escaped birds like these.


occasional moderator
Staff member
An update on this bird.............

I didn't hear anything from the Japanese Falconry Association but I did ask the main falconer's group on facebook their opinion. They had some interesting things to say. Unfortunately it's a closed group (the name is 'falconry hub') so unless you want to join the group on facebook you'll have to make do with my cutting and pasting.

Of course their views come from a different perspective than us birders but they were very interested in the bird and were also very helpful.

I asked directly if anyone thought it was an escapee and/or hybrid. Nobody thought it was a hybrid, not a single one and many commented on the post I created. One poster keeps Gyrfalcons and owns hybrids too.

One interesting point made by several people is that all birds kept by falconers in Japan and neighbouring countries are ringed and this bird clearly wasn't. This guy had lived in Japan and is a falconer from Canada.

" Not many falconers flying big falcons on Hokkaido. Further to that, falconry birds are always banded with closed rings in Japan, and no matter what, are never just released - they simply are too valuable a commodity"

Re the tail feathers suggesting it was an escapee. One poster made the following interesting point:

"Primaries seem to be perfect, tail is a little damaged maybe off the tussles with those gulls, you can see where the ends are broke, that could easily have been done on a tussle with prey especially on that dark gritty ‘beach’ it looks to be on... I’ve had a tiercel do that with prey on a gravel path but trying to keep the wings in the air and safe but using the tail as an anchor to try and steady and hold the prey so they get ‘tipped’"

The beach where it stayed was made up of coarse volcanic sand and it seemed to hunt gulls who fed on fish offal at a nearby seafood processing factory (where they were feeding on concrete/gravel), it did spend a lot of the time resting on the ground too.

Several people did comment on the unusual colouring.

"The morphology says gyr to me. The “golden saker” I believe is a genetic mutation, I wonder as they are both members of hierofalcon if Gyrs could throw this same mutation on occasion"

So the falconers' views are a) it isn't a hybrid and b) it isn't an escapee either and c) the colouring is very unusual.

Anyway, it was useful to hear some different opinions. I haven't unticked it yet.


occasional moderator
Staff member
One of the falconers has got in touch with Clayton White, a falcon expert in the US who has studied Gyrfalcons.

He stated that birds "from the far Aleutian islands. Clayton noted that some of these birds, as well as the Peal's Peregrine took on a bleached appearance"


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Bryon Wright

Well-known member
Falcon id

Thanks for the replies. It was identified at the time as an immature Gyrfalcon and of course I was delighted with that.

By coincidence I found this picture whilst poking around the internet this afternoon: a hybrid Gyr/Saker. It does look rather similar to my bird. Now the doubts have set in. The bird I saw was rather tame I recall.............

Hi all,
This continues to interest me and we seemed to have exhausted all speculation about plumage wear.
Every 10 years or so people ask if this Tunnicliffe, shown below, is a saker falcon. Tunnicliffe in fact produced this post juvenal\Ist year of the white gyr form from a known gyr specimen, verbatim. Also regarding the gyr-saker hybrid as in Rafael's posting above. There is another type of saker similar to the supposedly hybrid type in Rafael's posting . The bedouin in Kuwait brought these into the WP. before commercial captive breeding became common place. Sporting a jess or not I discounted all my own saker records as a result.
The bare part colourings in the OP bird are the only concrete points that make me think of gyr and note how close they are to the Tunnicliffe. I am surprised given the amount of detailed differences now published in specialist guides between the two in flight, more has not been made of this by those with more recent experience. The plain, unmarked upperparts to me suggest saker and perhaps all true gyr falcons should have those paler markings on the upperparts like in the Tunnicliffe drawing?


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occasional moderator
Staff member
One of the falconry guys just sent me this message;

"I have two more votes on pure Gyr. One is from one of the largest Gyrfalcon breeders in the US he said in 30 years breeding he has produced 2 that color. Second is from head field biologist from The Peregrine Fund. Still waiting on the PhDs to get back to me."
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