Merlin — At Long Last

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A friend and I were driving through agricultural country northwest of Tucson last weekend when he suddenly exclaimed “Merlin!” and pointed to the top of a mostly dead pecan tree.  Sure enough, a Merlin was perching there and we excitedly photographed it before it flew.

There are six species of falcons in North America, including Merlins (the others are: Peregrine Falcon, Gyrfalcon, Prairie Falcon, Aplomado Falcon, and American Kestrel).  Merlins are among the most diminutive.  Only American Kestrels are smaller.  Merlins are handsome little birds, about the size of a Mourning Dove or very slightly larger.  There are subspecies of Merlins, including one that inhabits the northern plains during the summer months and another that lives in the Pacific northwest during summer.  The dark brown and white plumage of the bird that we photographed suggests that the bird is of the prairie variant and quite possibly a female.  It’s possible also that this could be a juvenile bird.

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One only sees these birds in autumn and winter in southern Arizona and only very infrequently at that.  Although they share winter habitat with their close relatives, American Kestrels, Merlins are far less common in these parts.  I probably see one Merlin for every 100 Kestrels that I observe.  Indeed, this individual is the first Merlin that I’ve seen in more than two years.

Merlins are pugnacious little predators.  They feed almost entirely on small birds although they have been known to attack birds that are larger than they are.  They are renown for their flying ability, especially their maneuverability in flight.  For me, seeing this bird was a rare treat.

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Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400 f4-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 1000, f8 @ 1/2500.

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