By John Lejeune Sr.
In the seventies, I was breeding peregrines by the basket, but I tried, without success, to breed gyrfalcons for more than 13 years. After that, I was convinced that it could not be done and was happy just to keep some alive. The Lord must have felt sorry for me, because finally in 1982, without doing anything different, one pair of gyrs courted and laid eggs. The male was a dark tiercel I had named “Charlie” and was obtained during my second Arctic trip from a nest south of the airport at Fort Chimo (new name is Kuujjuaq) near Ungava Bay. “Nanuk”, #7, the female was a white bird taken July 3, 1975, near Cape Christian, at the south shore of Hudson Straight with Dr. Rodger Titman from McGill University. I believe this pair were the first gyrfalcons ever in the world to produce young in captivity.
The dark and white color of this pair, still shows up in “Pinto” , a male, band # CX012253, 5 generations down the road. (Pinto is listed in our Genealogy book at the bottom of page 25 under Book #177. His parents are called GT1.
According to my records this pair laid 4 eggs for the first time in 1982. I cannot find any records of young gyrs for 1982 and presume therefore that the eggs were infertile. In 1983 the pair laid two clutches and I recorded artificial insemination (AI) twice during the second clutch, but again I have no record of young birds. The first young that I kept and that successfully transferred its genes to further generations from this pair was born in 1984. I named the bird GA (84) and filed it in the family tree of my gyrs as # 2. There were certainly more birds produced from this pair, but even with gyrs born in captivity in the first generations, I experienced great difficulties in those days health wise, especially with aspergillosis and bumble foot.
The success in breeding gyrs climbed steady as my records show.....
1989 - 8 gyrs
1990 - 13 gyrs
1991 - 23 gyrs
1992 - 41 gyrs
1993 - 54 gyrs
It must have been during the early eighties, shortly after I bred the first gyrs, that I realized the benefit of a proper breeding record and so started one. Today I am sorry that I kept these records only for the birds I had at the time and for the offspring I kept for further breeding and not for all the birds that I produced and sold.
Most gyrs I had received, had died because of diseases. Today I know this is normal with gyrfalcons taken from the wild, as these birds from the high arctic have no immunity to poultry diseases and other avian maladies that are common in our wild bird population here in the south.
Early explorers, RCMP, or missionaries often brought the flue or other diseases into an isolated Eskimo settlement. These diseases which seemed harmless to southerners, often wiped out most of the native population. This is the same in reverse to what happens with Gyrfalcons brought from their cold and almost sterile environment into southern regions.
Therefore anyone who buys a gyrfalcon should make sure that the bird he requires is furnished with a seamless band and has some kind of truly domestic history.
For awhile, it was believed that medieval falconers who collected gyrfalcons for European royalty had a special knowledge about handling and keeping these birds alive, as their success seemed far greater. The fact is however, that these early falcon collectors spent months on an ocean voyage, in Iceland and Greenland. They lived from May to October on boats, that looked like medieval farms with chickens, sheep and other animals. These royal falcon collectors started in June and July to take the young from the nest and thereafter trapping passage birds. These falcons got accustomed to southern diseases on the boat, Any falcons that did not make it during this time, were simply not recorded.
The entire nucleus of my breeding stock of gyrs goes back to nine birds. Five came from the wild (# 1, 6, 7, 8, 10,) and four I received in exchange for captive bred peregrines or bought from other breeders (# 3, 4, 5, 9,).
# 1) “Yukon” (1980), a dark female, received from the Yukon Government in exchange for captive bred peregrines.
# 2) GA #CA3833, (1984), a silver female, bred 1984 from a male Charlie #10 (dark) crossed with Nanuk # 7, a white female
# 3) “Manfred” a silver imprinted male I received from Anderson, eastern USA in exchange for domestic bred peregrines (one of these males was supposedly the first captive bred peregrine on record to breed successfully in the wild). Manfred’s genetic origin I was told, goes back to confiscated birds from Quebec.
# 4) “G Ni” (1984), a female I received from Neil Trenholm, Yukon or northern B.C. origin.
# 5) “G B” (1982-1984), a female I received from Brian Davies. Yukon Origin. Brian received the bird in exchange for a domestic bred peregrine “Blondy” which I produced in 1975.
# 6) “Tuka” (1975), a male I collected with Dr. Rodger Titman from McGill University in 1975 at the south shore of Hudson Strait/Quebec. I received the permit in exchange for captive bred peregrines.
# 7) “Nanuk” (1975), female nest sister of “Tuka” #6.
# 8) “Ulrike” (1988), a silver female I received from Ulrich Waterman in exchange for captive bred peregrines. I was told that the bird was confiscated from Quebec stock.
# 9) “Ni” (1984), a male I received like #4 from Neil Trenholm. I don’t know if “G Ni” and “Ni” were related.
# 10) “Charly” (1969) a dark male, taken from Quebec south of Fort Chimo.
Sorry I kept only records of the birds I held back originally for personal breeding stock and not for the birds I sold. Besides the birds I recorded, there are more than a thousand decedents of these original birds with other breeders, as over a twenty year period most breeders of gyrfalcons in North America, Europe and the Middle East have obtained birds from us. I can still establish the genetic heritage of many of these birds and where they fit into our records, especially the birds that were born in later years, as long as we know the year of birth and the proper band number.