Arctic wanderer takes up residence on the Western Isles

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A rare and spectacular bird of prey, a gyr falcon, has taken up residence on North Uist in the Western Isles where it has been delighting local birdwatchers.

The bird, thought to be female, has been seen tussling with local birds of prey, including a buzzard, and has been hunting geese over the machair croftlands of the island.

Although gyr falcons appear most winters in the islands it is unusual for one to stay more than a few days. The current bird has been present for more than four months.

RSPB Scotland’s man on the spot, local warden Stuart Taylor, said: “In my younger days, my dream was to see a white gyr falcon, the ultimate bird! But since moving to the Western Isles I have been fortunate enough to see a bird in most of the years I have been here.

“There is no-where else in Britain with as many records of gyr falcon as the Western Isles. They are almost annual visitors here.

“Gyr falcons occur in three colour phases and the ones which arrive on the Western Isles are the whitest and come predominantly from Greenland.

“They are very much an arctic raptor which breeds on the tundra and mountains of the Northern hemisphere.

“In the winter birds move south and this is probably what this individual did.

“Most previous birds have spent up to a week or soon the islands, but the individual now residing on North Uist has been here for four months!

“It is very mobile however, disappearing for a day or two and then reappearing again.

“On all birds of prey, the female is larger than the male and this bird is probably a female, judging by the size.

“Sometimes it is seen just sitting on rocks and fence posts, but has been observed hunting and eating prey such as greylag geese and wigeon.”

Stuart added: “Anyone wishing to see a gyr falcon should try and visit the Western Isles in winter or early spring. Finding one yourself is a real thrill!”

Pictured is a gyr falcon feeding on greylag goose. Image courtesy of Steve Duffield.