Out on a limb

A typical pose for a Merlin, scoping out the landscape below its bare branch for little birdies flying below.

We had a rare opportunity to photograph this little falcon while it scanned for small birds from its perch in a dead tree.  Merlins are known for chasing their prey in rapid flight, so you don’t often get a chance for a decent photo of them.

Those spear-shaped wings and their powerful pectoral muscle are what give this bird the ability to chase and capture small birds. (Photo by Debbie Reynolds)

Smaller than a Peregrine, but as swift and agile, Merlins prey on sparrow-sized birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even insects in a variety of habitats from beach shrub-grassy area to coniferous forests throughout the Northern Hemisphere of the Americas, Europe, and Asia.  They are about the same size as the American Kestrel (Sparrow Hawk), but are much stockier, with large pectoral muscles.

Merlins were a preferred falconry bird because of their size and relatively gentle disposition, especially favored by noble ladies in Medieval Europe.  Even today, they are used to hunt small game birds like quail and doves, because of their ability to climb faster than the prey and then dive (stoop) down on them to knock them to the ground.

5 thoughts on “Out on a limb

    • I think I may have seen them and mis-identified them as a Cooper’s Hawk or something else. They are darkly streaked on the breast, which other hawks are not, and their wings are sharply tapered at the ends, while other hawks are rounder. So, perhaps you also have seen them and not realized it. Apparently they are not as rare as we might think.

  1. Hi Sue,
    I have only photographed a Merlin once. They used to predominate over our local area but the Coopers Hawk has subsequently taken over their dominance.
    My best,

    • That’s interesting. I suppose since Cooper’s Hawks are bigger, they might intimidate the smaller Merlin although Merlins are probably faster and more agile than Cooper’s Hawks. Wikipedia says they are vulnerable to habitat loss for nesting and hunting, so that might also explain the decline in your numbers locally.

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