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DATE: January 21, 2005

UM-Dearborn ornithologist spies rare Arctic falcon in Dearborn

DEARBORN---When University of Michigan-Dearborn ornithologist Julie Craves and other trained observers spotted a very rare gyrfalcon near the campus on New Year's Day, they couldn't believe their eyes.

Gyrfalcons, the largest species of falcons, are very rarely seen in Michigan, and there have been fewer than a half-dozen sightings ever recorded in Wayne County.

"Initially, the bird puzzled all of us," Craves said. "While I thought it might be a gyrfalcon early on, the idea was so outrageous that it took us an hour of watching the bird move from a small woodlot to various trees, light posts, and buildings in the Parklane Towers office complex to convince ourselves they were actually looking at a gyrfalcon."

Craves and other observers were taking part in the National Audubon Society's annual Christmas Bird Count when they found the gyrfalcon, a raptor that typically nests near the Arctic circle.

Craves, supervisor of avian research at the Rouge River Bird Observatory (RRBO) at UM-Dearborn's Environmental Interpretive Center, was observing with Darrin O'Brien, a member of the Southern Michigan Raptor Research organization, and Kim Hall, an ornithologist at Michigan State University.

They reported the sighting on the RRBO Web site and before the bird left the area around Jan. 4, it was seen by dozens of birders from throughout the metropolitan area. "Birders came from as far away as southern Ohio and Kentucky to try to see it," Craves said.

Craves coordinates the Dearborn portion of the count, an annual activity involving thousands of birders across the country around the end of the year.

"In the Arctic, gyrfalcons feed on large birds and small mammals, but here, the bird was likely feeding on rabbits, squirrels, pigeons, and ducks," Craves said. "Like many other Arctic birds, the gyrfalcon is not very afraid of humans. With little patience, you can get great looks at it."

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