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The systematic position of the Altay falcon (Falco altaicus lorenzi) is perhaps the most enigmatic question lingering in falcon taxonomy. First reported to science in 1811, it has been treated as a race of the gyrfalcon (F. rusticolus), as a race of the saker (F. cherrug), as two separate species (F. lorenzi and F. altaicus), and as one to three color morphs of either the saker or the gyrfalcon. Ironically, two or even more of these explanations may be correct. Of 53 specimens examined, at least two are misidentified gyrfalcons, a score I dismiss as typical sakers, but a sizeable group (N = 34) is retained as representing what I consider to be the true Altay falcon type. Three adult color morphs exist: red, brown and grey. The red-backed morph closely resembles some eastern sakers. The chocolate morph resembles the black gyrfalcon from Labrador. The grey morph resembles the grey morph of the gyrfalcon. Ecological, geographical and morphological information contribute to the conclusion that this core group represents a gyrfalcon-saker hybrid that is very likely being swamped into obscurity through back crosses with the saker. The breeding range reported herein (Altay-Sayan Mountains) is greatly contracted from that previously reported. The true identify of the Altay falcon will be resolved by molecular genetics.
Additional Publication Details
The Altay falcon: Origin, morphology and distribution