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© Tom Grey
Merlins, compact birds of prey about ten inches long with a two-foot wingspan, are swift, powerful fliers, true thunderbolts on long, pointed wings. These small falcons nest in Canada and the far northern US. But they return south to hunt through the winter, even right in the city. The Merlin's diet is mostly small birds. It is renowned for boldness, and will readily assail even a much larger eagle that has strayed into its airspace. Learn more at Cornell's AllAboutBirds.
By Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote!
[Snapping contact calls of Dark-eyed Juncos]
On a cool mid-October morning, a flock of small birds is busily pecking at a scattering of seeds on the ground. The flock’s nervous twittering betrays the small birds’ ever cautious behavior when feeding on open ground.
Suddenly the entire flock startles, taking flight in all directions, as a small, dark falcon – a Merlin – hurtles into their midst. The frantic birds find safety in a dense thicket, as their pursuer banks upward and resumes its favorite perch at the tip of the tallest tree nearby.
The Merlin is a compact and powerful bird of prey, a true thunderbolt on long pointed wings. [Cry of the Merlin] These dynamic, small falcons nest in northern forests*. By October, many have begun to migrate south, all across North America. Merlins winter along both coasts and in the prairie states, as well as along the southern rim of the country on into Mexico. They will hunt through the winter over fields, tideflats, and even right in the city.
Their diet is mostly small birds, although in early fall, you might see one over a marsh, hawking dragonflies in midair. The Merlin is renowned for boldness, and will readily launch out from its perch to assail even a much larger eagle that has strayed into its airspace.
[Cries of a Merlin]
Startle yourself with a good look at a Merlin by coming to our website birdnote.org. I’m Michael Stein.
Calls of the birds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Dark-eyed Junco recorded by W.L. Hershberger, Merlin by G.A. Keller.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2010 Tune In to Nature.org October 2010
* Editor's note: They have been found nesting in cities, including a pair in Seattle, starting in 2009; several pairs now nest in that city.