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A couple of weeks ago I posted some images of a Merlin and I expressed how elated I was to find and photograph that bird. It had been two years since I’d seen my last Merlin. Merlins are not only hard to find, they are hard to photograph. They are like all falcons in that respect — high strung and jumpy. One almost never waits around long enough for a photographer to get set up to take its picture.
So, imagine my surprise and delight when I photographed a second Merlin last Sunday. For me, it was as if I’d won the lottery.
I encountered this little falcon less than a mile from the spot where I’d seen the other Merlin. As was the case with the first bird, this Merlin was roosting on a dead branch near the top of a pecan tree.
My first reaction when I saw it was that I was looking at the same bird that I’d photographed previously. Merlins, like other raptors, tend to have territories, and it seemed logical that Merlin # 2 and Merlin # 1 were the same bird, given their proximity to each other.
However, when I examined my images it became obvious that the two birds were distinct individuals. The Merlin that I photographed a couple of weeks ago had the plumage of a female or a juvenile bird. By contrast, this Merlin had all of the earmarks of an adult male.
The dark gray cap on the bird’s head plus the faint rufous tinge to its breast and abdomen say “male” to me. One thing else is evident: the markings on this second bird’s breast and abdomen do not match the markings on the Merlin I photographed two weeks ago. For comparison purposes, here, again, is the first Merlin.
And, here’s last Sunday’s bird.
The differences are subtle, but apparent, I think.
One anatomical aspect to these birds that is worthy of comment: check out their huge feet! Those oversized mitts serve a purpose. Merlin prey on other birds, which they often seize in flight. Having gigantic feet enables them to catch and hold fast moving prey.
I remain thrilled to have gotten these images. This will be a banner year for me if I photograph nothing else.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm f4-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 1000, f8 @ 1/2000.