First pre-modern record of the gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) in north-east Greenland

  • Gina E. Moseley Institute of Geology, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
  • Jørgen Rosvold Department of Terrestrial Biodiversity, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Trondheim, Norway
  • Anne Birgitte Gotfredsen Globe Institute, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Irka Hajdas Laboratory of Ion Bean Physics, Zurich, Switzerland
  • Olivier Gilg Chrono-environment Lab, Université de Franche-Comté, France; Groupe de Recherche en Écologie Arctique, Francheville, France
  • Kristian M. Gregersen Department of Biology, Natural History Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Christoph Spötl Institute of Geology, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
  • R. Lawrence Edwards School of Earth Sciences, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA
Keywords: Arctic, Arctic ecology, climate change, cave, Arctic Circle, geochronology


Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) is the largest falcon in the world. It inhabits a wide range of climate zones in the Northern Hemisphere, from boreal forests in the south of its range to the arid polar deserts of the High Arctic. In Greenland, because of the harsh, remote environments in which gyrfalcons live, research related to the contemporary and pre-modern periods has been limited to the north-west, central west and central east coasts, with no specific investigations being conducted for the north-east. Here, we report the first pre-modern record of a gyrfalcon in north-east Greenland, located at 80.4°N in Kronprins Christian Land. Skin tissue from a decaying gyrfalcon’s body was radiocarbon dated to 769–944 CE (common era) using a terrestrial-only calibration curve, and 1182–1456 CE using a marine-only calibration curve. Since the gyrfalcon has a mixed terrestrial/marine diet, the actual age can be said to belong between these two groups. This limited data, therefore places the presence of the gyrfalcon in north-east Greenland during a period of prolonged elevated temperatures and climate stress associated with the Medieval Climate Anomaly. Whether the gyrfalcon was part of a larger population or a straggler, and whether the species survived the whole of the Medieval Climate Anomaly in north-east Greenland, is unknown.


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How to Cite
Moseley, G. E., Rosvold, J., Gotfredsen, A. B., Hajdas, I., Gilg, O., Gregersen, K. M., Spötl, C., & Edwards, R. L. (2019). First pre-modern record of the gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) in north-east Greenland. Polar Research, 38.
Research Articles