• NMI_FalkiRjupa

The White Falcon and the Ptarmigan

Jóhann Brandsson 1986

The arranged image of the falcon with his ptarmigan prey reflects the natural way of life but has cultural roots as well. The falcon and the ptarmigan have for centuries played a large role in Icelandic culture and both birds are reoccurring in Icelandic folk lore. One of the best known of these stories is the story of the Virgin Mary and ptarmigan as well as the falcon. Sigfús Sigfússon’s collection of folk stories tells the story in the following way:

The ptarmigan, the falcon’s sister, is both pretty and fast. In defence of her brother the falcon, she turns white as snow during winter but changes into her earth coloured suit during summer so he has trouble seeing her. An old tale says that God invited Saint Mary to summon all birds and test their obedience by giving them a few trials. Saint Mary asked them to walk through fire and all obeyed except the ptarmigan. She claimed that her feathered legs would be scorched. “Then you shall hereafter have furry feet” said Mary. “And because you have disobeyed me your brother will hunt you and eat you without knowing the truth until he eats your heart.” This became so.

The falcon (Falco rusticolus) is a bird of prey, found in the Arctic region. The species is split into a few subspecies and the one who breeds in Iceland is Falco rusticolus islandicus. This particular stuffed falcon is a subspecies that breeds in Greenland (Falco rusticolus candicans) and is called Greenland gyrfalcon, snow falcon or white falcon. The Greenland gyrfalcon has a much lighter colour than the Icelandic one. Greenland gyrfalcons wander to Iceland every now and then and in the past 40 years there are 70 recorded sightings. This Greenland gyrfalcon is female and was found badly injured in Sandgerði, Iceland, in the spring of 1986. The ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) is a herbivore and the falcons’ main food source.

NÍ RM-9096, The Icelandic Institute of Natural History,
The Icelandic Museum of Natural History