[Tweeters] Southbound (Gyr?)falcon, Ellensburg

Walter Szeliga walter.szeliga at gmail.com
Fri Oct 13 07:24:45 PDT 2017

Hi Tweeters,
While returning to my office around 4:15PM on the CWU campus in Ellensburg yesterday (10/12), I was waylaid by another faculty member. While talking, we both noticed a large falcon circling and making its way southward across campus, barely above the tops of Science Phase II and the Student Union (SURC). These buildings are on the order of 50–60 ft tall.

This bird was at least Red-tailed Hawk size in girth, length and wing span, with long, pointed wings which were narrow for its body size (it was sufficiently long-tailed to give the appearance of narrow wings). The head projection (from the shoulders) seemed long as well, adding to the narrow winged effect. The bird maneuvered in circles with a flared, wedge-shaped tail and had the wildest, snappiest wing-beat cadence I’ve ever seen; very powerful, but almost awkward with quite a bit of wrist motion. Due to the heavy overcast with light drizzle, all coloration was lost. The wing motion and size were so large that not only did my conversation partner (a non-birder) comment, but at least half a dozen students along the Walnut Mall had also stopped and were commenting on the bird. It takes a heck of a sight to get college students to pick up their heads!

Other raptors were in the sky at the same time, including 2 Red-tailed Hawks, and a Northern Harrier, all of whom were much higher up. After about 5 minutes of approach from the north mixed with circling, the (Gyr?)falcon gained altitude and loosely joined the other raptors, heading south and angling towards Manastash. Over the next few minutes, at least two Cooper’s Hawks also circled and flew by—southbound.

I understand that large Peregrine females can overlap with small male Gyr’s, and we are still about a week and a half early for Gyrfalcons (and they are rare as heck), but it was an exciting and intriguing sighting nonetheless. I would say points for Gyrfalcon would be the shear size, stiff, but falcon-like wing beat, large body, and broad tail. Points for (large) Peregrine would be the narrow appearance of the wings and the observation date and abundance relative to Gyrfalcon. Points for (very large) Prairie Falcon would be the stiff wing beat and abundance relative to Gyrfalcon.

Walter Szeliga
Ellensburg, WA

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