Hybrid Falcons

Gyr-Saker Hybrid Falcon
Gyr-Saker Hybrid Falcon

I'd like to thank Chris for the following clarification of my explanation of hybrid vigour.

Inbreeding depression is the result of "closely related matings" and directly inbreeding per se', possibly (but not exclusively) brining to the fore the worst traits of both parents and the previous line. Hybrid vigour is a result of "out breeding" or cross breeding, bringing out the best of the genetic "footprint" i.e. bringing in new blood as it is sometimes called, thereby generally speaking suppressing the worse traits.(normally) It is also possible to bring out the worse from two diverse lines, getting the worse of both worlds so to speak.

Any given true line ( brother sister, mother son etc mating) of, say, pure peregrine, would start to show certain weakness or genetic defects after a few generations however small they may be. Add genes from a saker for example and hybrid vigour starts to kick in, diluting and suppressing the defects

Viewed from a falconer's aspect, each of the falcons has its good qualities & its bad qualities. In order to get the best performance out of the falcons used in falconry, cross-breeding techniques are used to produce hybrids, which hopefully have the better qualities of each species, while avoiding the less good qualities. There is a phenomenon in genetics known as "hybrid vigour" (technically speaking, "heterosis"), wherby particularly strong traits, especially those related to survival, are actually emphasised in cross-bred animals. "Hybrid vigour" is especially noticeable in the young of parents that have a high degree of inbreeding, which is often the case with pure-bred captive birds.

Amongst others, Gyr (Falco rusticolus), Peregrine, Saker (Falco cherrug), Lanner (Falco biamicus) & Lugger (Falco jugger) falcons are regularly crossed, creating such hybrids as Lanner-Lugger falcons.

Occasionally, the hybrids are further crossed, creating hybrids such as Saker-Lanner-Lugger falcons (1/2 Saker, 1/4 Lanner, 1/4 Lugger).

Aside from the ethical implications, it is illegal to release hybrids into the wild, mainly due to the possibility of breeding with native species.

Peregrine-Saker Hybrid Falcon
Two Peregrine-Saker tiercels + closeup of one.
Some of the first ever hybrids from 1971.
Photos courtesy of John Morris.

The first hybrid falcons were produced in the early 1970s in Ireland when Ronald Stevens & John Morris housed a Peregrine & a Saker in the same moulting mews, it was not expected that the two would mate & produce young.

Now hybrids are, for the most part, produced by artificial insemination. (In answer to JPJ, AI is that excellent invention by men that allows women to do everything for themselves, freeing men to get on with the important things)

[I have a vague memory, that another reason for hybridisation, especially in the USA, is that there are less stringent regulations regarding import/export of hybrids compared to pure bred birds]

The qualities being looked for in the hybrids of each species are :

Size : the Gyrfalcon is the largest of the falcons native to the Western Palearctic.
Speed & endurance : the Peregrine is the fastest of the falcons & often persistent & agile in chasing its prey, resulting in a contest of endurance between the falcon & its prey, though they lac the stamina of the Saker & rarely tail chase their prey.
Agility & timing : with the exception of the Lanner, all falcons attack prey in flight from behind, flying in the same direction as the prey. The Lanner falcon is prepared to take its prey from the front, flying in the opposite direction, giving a much higher relative velocity, requiring improved agility & timing to catch the prey.
Strength, stamina & size : a strong falcon, with sufficient stamina to tail chase its prey to exhaustion.

Hybridisation is not limited to falcons, in May 2001, after 4 years of trying biologists & falconers in Scotland successfully crossed a male Golden Eagle with a female Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis). This was also the first raptor to be successfully reared from frozen sperm. Other breeders have successful crossed Red-tailed hawks with Harris Hawks.

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