Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus)

Gyrfalcons are big birds.  A male Gyrfalcon, the smaller of the pair, can clock in at 24 inches tall and weigh up to 3 pounds. Females can get up to 4.5 pounds and a couple of inches taller. After spending most of my time watching them at an aerie some 150 feet up a cliff I never really appreciated just how big they are until I held an injured one in my hands.Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)

 A Gyrfalcon pair nearly 150 feet up a cliff face near their long established aerie

Being big, they can take some pretty big prey. They’ll tackle Ravens (although some times Ravens will tackle them – like the aforementioned injured one), ptarmigan, Glaucous Gulls, and frequently Arctic Hare. Now Arctic Hare, a favoured prey item of Gyrfalcons, are no slouches in the size department themselves. Hares of twelve pounds are not uncommon. Peter Cottontails these are not.

Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus)

 A pair of Arctic Hare, the one on the right has its photo displayed on an aircraft tail fin up here

Last year was a pretty good year for the hare population, following the year after a huge lemming year and subsequent crash. Prey and predator populations wax and wane up here, following each other in a rather complex dance. While generally you can say they peak every four years it is really much more complicated than that. But when the lemmings have a great year, it takes a lot of pressure off other prey, such as Arctic Hare, allowing their population to grow.  More prey means predators have an easier time so when the lemmings go, usually the hare crash the following year. I saw more Arctic Hare last year than I’ve seen in all my time here, which intuitively told me this year would be a lean year for them.

Feeding Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus)Three Arctic Hare feed in the spring sunlight

Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus)

An Arctic Hare alert and ready to bolt away

Intuition has proven wrong however, as this year there are even more around. Last year in an area near town I’d commonly see six hare. This year we’ve seen over seventeen in the same area.  Clearly the hare haven’t gotten the memo that they were supposed to crash. Which is a good thing as it’s providing excellent opportunities for photographing them. There are plenty around here, and once the weather begins to cooperate, and the daylight increase I’ll travel to an area where we saw a herd of over 125 last spring.

Herd of Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus)This is a small portion of a herd of Arctic Hare over 125 strong

If they’ve followed suit, it should be an amazing concentration of animals. And a bounty for the many resident pairs of Gyrfalcons and Rough-legged Hawks that breed there.

Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus)

This hare, still changing to a summer coat despite it being late July, feeds unconcerned about 100 yards from a Rough-legged Hawk nestAn urban Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus)

Some of our hare are urban dwellers, this one in the industrial section at the edge of townAn alert Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus)

A hare photographed in poor light this last weekendArctic Hare (Lepus arcticus)

Hare spend a good deal of time resting to conserve heat in the winterArctic Hare changing to summer pelt

This hare is just starting to change to its summer grey coat

Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus)

When it will look much like this one does

Written by Clare K
Clare Kines is a retired Mountie and a failed businessman, which apparently qualifies him to be the Economic Development Officer for Arctic Bay Nunavut. Raised in Manitoba, Clare has lived in three provinces and two territories, managing to get kicked out of all them except this last one. So far. He has had a lifelong love of nature, never growing out a child’s curiosity. Given a Peterson’s guide by his grandfather, he made birds a big part of that love. He’s led tours to the high Arctic and Cuba, and writes probably the most northerly blog in the world, The House and other Arctic musings. He considers himself the luckiest man alive, having found great love twice in his life. His first wife, Janice, passed away in 1996. After moving north he met and fell for Leah. They have two fantastic children. He lives in an incredibly beautiful, magical part of the world - a place few people get to know.