Nest-site fidelity and dispersal of Gyrfalcons estimated by noninvasive genetic sampling

Travis L. Booms, Sandra L. Talbot, George K. Sage, Brian J. McCaffery, Kevin G. McCracken, Philip F. Schempf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


We used feathers from adult Gyrfalcons (Falco rusticolus) molted in breeding territories and blood samples from nestlings to document nest-site fidelity and dispersal of breeding adults and juveniles at three areas 100- 350 km apart in Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, 2003-2007. We used genotypes from seven polymorphic microsatellite loci that provided a mean probability of identity of 0.91 ×10 -5. Breeding Gyrfalcons were highly faithful to study area and territory; we documented no dispersals of breeding birds among study areas and only one dispersal between territories. But their fidelity to nest sites was low; 22% of birds returned to the same nest site the following year. Distance among alternate nests within a territory averaged 750 m and was similar for both sexes. Mean tenure in a territory was 2.8 years, similar for both sexes, and distributed bimodally with peaks at 1 and 4 years. Mean annual turnover rate at the Ingakslugwat Hills (Volcanoes) study area was 20%. We detected three young that established breeding territories at distances ranging from 0 to 254 km from their natal territory, representing 2.5% apparent recruitment. Gyrfalcons in the Askinuk Mountains study area were slightly but statistically significantly differentiated genetically from those in the Volcanoes and Kilbuck Mountain study areas. These data are the first published on the nest-site fidelity, breeding dispersal, and natal dispersal of the Gyrfalcon in North America and demonstrate the utility of noninvasive genetic sampling to greatly improve our understanding of avian dispersal and its underlying mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)768-778
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Alaska
  • Arctic
  • Falco rusticolus
  • Falcon
  • Genetic tagging
  • Movements
  • Raptor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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