Iceland or Jer Falcon Plate CCCLXVI

Collection Spotlight

Iceland or Jer Falcon, plate CCCLXVI

Known today as a gyrfalcon, the jer falcon in John James Audubon’s painting conveys his impression of a species of bird he called “majestic.” A fast and strong bird, the gyrfalcon is the largest of all falcons. It is a formidable predator, making its home primarily in the tundra of the high north of the Arctic throughout North America, Europe and Asia.

Typically, gyrfalcons vary in colour from grey to brown or blackish. Some, like this specimen painted by Audubon in the 1830s, are an impressive snowy white. This is one of two samples of gyrfalcon painted by Audubon. The other is a darker variant and initially thought by Audubon to be a species of falcon native only to Labrador.

Audubon remarked on the power and force of the gyrfalcon, keenly observing that “their flight resembled the Peregrine Falcon but more elevated, majestic and rapid. They rarely sailed when travelling to and fro but used a constant beat of their wings . . . high in the air, they would hover almost motionless . . .”*

With his unique sense of the natural world, Audubon captures the flight of the gyrfalcon beautifully. Like all of Audubon’s paintings, the gyrfalcon is rendered life-sized. Its remarkable 1.2-m wingspan and its beautiful white and barred plumage are portrayed to full effect.


  • It is a full-sized portrait, measuring 97.9 cm high and 65.5 cm wide.
  • This print portrays an adult female gyrfalcon in two separate poses.
  • This plate was engraved, printed and coloured by R. Havell in 1837.
  • The plate is part of set 74.
  • In medieval times, the gyrfalcon became a prized hunting companion, used exclusively by royalty.

* John James Audubon, Ornithological Biography, or an Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America, Accompanied by Descriptions of the Objects Represented in the Work Entitled The Birds of America, and Interspersed with Delineations of American Scenery and Manners, Volume II, Adam & Charles Black, Edinburgh, 1835, p. 553.

Iceland or Jer Falcon Plate CCCLXVI
Iceland or Jer Falcon, plate CCCLXVI