Snowy Owl
Peregrine Falcon Chicks

Birds of Prey

Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca)
Updated January 2008
Community-based Information
In 2003, the Wildlife Management Advisory Council (North Slope) and the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee undertook a project to record traditional knowledge of certain birds and animals on the Yukon North Slope. The observations, comments and concerns expressed by Aklavik residents as part of this study were as follows:
·        People see a solitary owl or two when on a trip. They are seen in almost every month of the year and always on the flats near the coast. Snowy Owls are rarely seen in the delta in the winter.
·        Two owls (one white and one grey) were reported to have been seen together in the delta in the winter of 2002.
·        Herschel was the only location where Snowy Owls were reported as being numerous in some summers (30-50, 100). The arrival of some birds in late June or early July may be too late for breeding.
Community-based information on this species may also be found in the reports of the annual community-based monitoring program conducted in Aklavik and neighbouring communities by the Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op.
Related Literature and Information Sources
Eckert, C.D., 2007. Personal communication, Government of Yukon, Department of Environment.
Wildlife Management Advisory Council (North Slope) and the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee. 2003. Aklavik Inuvialuit describe the status of certain birds and animals on the Yukon North Slope, March, 2003. Final Report. Wildlife Management Advisory Council (North Slope), Whitehorse, Yukon.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus tundrius) - Kirgavik
Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)
Updated January 2007
Population Status
Distribution: Gyrfalcon nesting sites are widespread at relatively even densities across the North Slope, but are most common along the major river drainages. The Gyrfalcon with its particularly long nesting period is believed to winter on the North Slope during periods of prey (ptarmigan) abundance. The Tundra-subspecies of Peregrine Falcon is strictly a summer resident of the Yukon North Slope where nesting sites are restricted to low elevations (<700 m) along the major river drainages and bluffs around Herschel Island.
Population size:Tundra Peregrines have not been abundant on the Yukon North Slope in recent times. In 1975, young were produced in only 5 of 14 known nesting sites. Following there was a steady decline in the population size, with the last known nest producing young in 1979. From 1980 through 1988 there were no records of peregrine breeding pairs on the Yukon North Slope. In 1989, 1 known eyrie supported a pair of Peregrines. In surveys from 1992 to 1994, 2-3 territorial pairs were observed during surveys, with 1-2 pairs successfully producing broods of young each year. This marked the beginning of a possible population recovery. In 1995, 5 nesting pairs were found and by 2000 there were 9.
Gyrfalcons are relatively prolific on the Yukon North Slope, reaching the highest known breeding density in the Yukon at about 1 pair/167-211 km2 in suitable habitat. As many as 107 gyrfalcon nesting territories have been located on the Yukon North Slope. The highest nesting densities are along the Firth and Anker rivers, which coincides with a high nesting density of golden eagles.
Population trend:Peregrine Falcon populations declined significantly since the early 1970s, reaching their lowest levels in 1980. The absence of peregrines on the Yukon North Slope during 1980 to 1989 was in contrast to the partial or full recovery of peregrine populations in the NWT and along the coast of Alaska. Surveys in the early 1990s indicate that Tundra Peregrines are returning to the Yukon North Slope. Gyrfalcons are presumably at natural densities. By nature they cycle numerically, driven by the availability of ptarmigan, which experience significant and cyclic changes in abundance. This produces considerable annual variation in breeding numbers, productivity, and presumably survival rates. For example, from peak to trough in the ptarmigan cycle, gyrfalcon productivity on the North Slope has varied by as much as 70%.
Unique or special characteristics:
  • The tundra race of Peregrine Falcon is currently designated as a species of special concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Its status was recently down-listed from threatened, indicating a partial recovery of the subspecies.
  • Tundra Peregrine Falcons are thought to have the longest migration of any Peregrine subspecies. They are believed to winter deep in South America where it is subject to greater risk of contamination from agricultural pesticides.
  • Gyrfalcons and, to a lesser extent, Peregrines are highly valued for sport falconry. Their high value may predispose them to poaching losses from the wild.
  • It appears that the Tundra Peregrine is again establishing a foothold on the Yukon North Slope, marking the beginning of a possible re-establishment of this subspecies in the Yukon.
  • Both species offer excellent top-food chain species with a long data base for monitoring ecological stability in the North Slope system.
Habitat Features
Both Tundra Peregrines and Gyrfalcons are habitat specialists, nesting on steep cliffs in tundra environments. Neither species builds its own nests but rather uses ledges or the nests of Golden Eagles, Common Ravens, and Rough-legged Hawks. Peregrines typically require wide valleys or sea coast to facilitate hunting opportunities, as they are mainly avian predators. Gyrfalcons hunt both avian and mammalian prey, but because of a very long nesting period and therefore advanced egg laying, they require nest sites that offer adequate protection against winter conditions. Gyrfalcons have specialized food habits during part of their annual life history and are, over most of their range, restricted to areas where ptarmigan are common. Peregrines are most common in areas that feature wetlands where their preferred prey is waterbirds, mostly shorebirds. Of interest, the re-establishing Peregrine pairs seem to be occupying old nest sites but are also found in different habitats from those traditionally used. The distinction between these traditional and current habitats is unclear.
Gyrfalcons and Peregrines hold significant value for tourists. Gyrfalcons are rarely seen in the south and are therefore a preferred attraction to birders travelling in the north. Peregrines, and in particular Tundra Peregrines, are likewise a valuable attraction to naturalists. Opportunities for seeing these birds of prey are good along the Firth River and at Herschel Island.
The biggest threat to Peregrine Falcons is the indiscriminate use of pesticides in their winter range. However, this subspecies was not as affected by DDT bioaccumulation as was that of the Peregrine Falcon anatum subspecies, but a decline was documented. The population is now stable or increasing in most parts of its range. Exposure to organochlorine pesticides on wintering grounds and the possibility of capture for falconry during migration are causes for concern. Gyrfalcons are for the most part dependent on non-migratory prey and are therefore less predisposed to chemical contamination. Both falcons are potentially threatened by nest site disturbance or poaching of nestlings from nest sites for captive breeding or falconry.
The increased erosion of cliffs, for example at Herschel Island, associated with climate change can have a negative impact on nesting Peregrine Falcons. Frequently, nests are lost as eroding cliffs slide into the sea.
Species at Risk Status
Yukon: Special Concern. Also specially protected by the Yukon Wildlife Act
COSEWIC: Special Concern
CITES: Appendix II
Research and Monitoring
Population monitoring: Peregrine Falcon surveys have been conducted on the Yukon North Slope since 1972. This survey formed part of the Canadian Peregrine Falcon Survey, a national effort to monitor the status of Peregrine Falcon populations in North America every 5 years.
In mid-July 2005, Parks Canada and the Yukon Government surveyed the Yukon North Slope in order to document the number of Peregrine Falcons and other species of raptors breeding in the region. The survey area included the coastal and foothills areas of several drainages including the Malcolm, Trail and Babbage rivers. Herschel Island was also surveyed. The Firth River was surveyed by raft from Margaret Lake to Nunaluk Spit. Breeding pairs of peregrines with chicks were found in about half of the known nesting areas in Ivvavik National Park. Golden Eagle, Gyrfalcon and Rough-legged Hawks were also observed during the survey. Information from Ivvavik will be combined with similar information collected in areas of the Yukon North Slope that are outside of the park to give an overall count for the area.
There is also an ongoing program to record species observed on Herschel Island.
Research: Ecological data such as prey use and nest site characteristics has been collected incidental to periodic census of falcon breeding pairs. A management project involving the cross-fostering of captive-raised Tundra Peregrine chicks into Gyrfalcon nests on the Yukon North Slope was continued for three years during which time 32 young were fostered. There has been no systematic tracking of these individuals, although a band return indicates that at least one Peregrine was successfully fledged and attained adult status. Aircraft disturbance studies involving Gyrfalcons have been conducted.
Deficiencies:Further study of the Peregrine Falcon population recovery and habitat use on the North Slope would be valuable.

Occurrence in jurisdictional areas
Ivvavik National Park
Herschel Island Territorial Park
East of the Babbage River
Adjoining NWT
International agreements/ management plans
Applicable legislation
Yukon Wildlife Act
National Parks Act
Wild Animal and Plant Protection Act
NWT Wildlife Act
Lead enforcement agencies
Ivvavik National Park
Parks Canada
Herschel Island Territorial Park
East of the Babbage River
Adjoining NWT

The harvest of non-game birds is prohibited under the Yukon Wildlife Act and the National Parks Act. Canada, as a signatory to CITES, has complied with legislation (Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act) to prohibit the export and import of wild-raised gyrfalcons in the Yukon. While there is no commercial harvest allowed, an individual may capture a falcon, with a permit, for personal use outside of National Parks.
Related Literature and Information Sources
Eckert, C.D., 2007. Personal communication, Government of Yukon, Department of Environment.

Hawkings, J. 2002. Personal Communication, Canadian Wildlife Service, Whitehorse.
Parks Canada. 2003. Annual Report of Research and Monitoring in National Parks of the Western Arctic 2003.
Sinclair P.H., W.A. Nixon, C.D. Eckert and N.L. Hughes (eds). 2003. Birds of the Yukon Territory. UBC Press Vancouver. 596 pp.
Yukon Bird Club. 2000. Check list of the birds of Herschel Island.