Saturday, March 6, 2010

Buzzed by a Merlin

        The merlin is a small falcon 20 to 30cm long and with a wingspan of  58 to 66 cm. The males have a blue gray back and the females are light brown . Both have streaked underparts. They are superb beautiful fliers. Their prey is usually small birds taken on the wing. They take the prey to a favorite tree or pole and pluck the feathers. So if you have a tree where you find feathers it's probably used by a merlin as a plucking tree.

       Now my story. I was delivering papers about 10:30 AM one morning when a saw the resident merlin buzzing a large spruce tree that had several house sparrows in it. None of the sparrows flushed so the merlin did not make a catch and swiftly flew up and over the house on the opposite side of the street. I continued on my route and had only gone about 20 steps when the merlin returned and flew at eye level almost within arm's length from me. I must say that I was shocked at the suddeness of the flight and his loud ki ki ki which is used to alarm birds so that they flush from cover and the merlin can make a kill. When I stopped to think about it I was standing beside another large spruce tree that had house sparrows in it . The sparrows gave an alarm call but they did not flush from the tree. If the sparrows had flushed I would have observed a kill at very close range.

      I was surprised that the merlin flew so close to me,but I guess he was attempting to use me as a distraction for the sparrows and in so doing would have a better chance to make a kill.

    I have often watched merlins in the area as they are awesome fliers. When they hunt bohemian waxwings they get under the flock and this causes the flock to rise. Sooner or later one bird in the flock will tire and drop down. The merlin flies like a bullet to the falling bird and makes a kill. Beautiful.!

    So watch for these birds in your urban neighborhood. They are noticeable by their rapid flight and noisey ki ki ki .