Middle English gerfaucun, from Anglo-French girfauc, girfaucon, probably from gir vulture (from Old High German gīr) + faucon falcon
First Known Use: 14th century
Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) with prey.—Shelly Grossman/Woodfin Camp & Associates
Arctic bird of prey (Falco rusticolus), the largest falcon. It may reach 2 ft (60 cm) in length. It breeds only in the North Pole region (and in some Central Asian highlands) but is sometimes seen at lower latitudes when food is scarce. It varies from pure white with black speckling to dark gray with barring. Its legs are fully feathered. It hunts near the ground for hares, rodents, and birds of the tundra and seacoast. In traditional falconry, the gyrfalcon was the bird of kings.